Building Community

By: Jeni Britton Bauer

The word company means community. It means that you are not alone. At Jeni’s we started with just two of us (my husband, Charly and me) and we’ve grown to more than 500 strong. We all come together around a singular goal: to make better ice cream. We can only do it because we have built a community of ice cream makers, bee keepers, producers, growers, cheese makers, shopkeepers, wine makers, chocolate roasters, world class travelers and thinkers who care about the ice cream we make, and the work that we do together. Building community is about nurturing relationships and there is not one right way to do it. Here are some tips from my experience.

Show up (in person) 
While commenting and cavorting and collaborating in the virtual world has its advantages (namely that you don’t have to be in the same city to be friends), nothing beats face-to-face interactions. I have met so many chefs and movers and shakers just by showing up regularly at events across the country. My friend Chef Jenn Louis, who owns Lincoln Restaurant in Portland, is very good at this. She is constantly a part of the conversation online, but she also always shows up at events in Miami, Aspen, Columbus, or wherever. She’s a go-getter who’s always game, and that’s why everyone knows her and she knows everyone.

Be worthy
You’ve got to earn the right to work with the best people: writers, artists, farmers, producers, clients, vendors, customers, et al. It’s about lifting each other up. If you do it, do it well. Be worthy of the community you wish to build and people will want to hitch their wagon to it.

Give more than you get
Go into every relationship knowing that you are going to give more than what might be returned to you. Your gift, given freely to the world, will always come back in some way or another—you can expect that. There are things we can charge for and pay for and then there are things that we must give and let go of. Service is a gift.

Always pay for work that you receive
Always pay for things that you can pay for. Do not ask people to work for you for free, whether it's design, photography, writing, etc. (Unless you have an agreement that they are an intern, in which case you owe them some form of payment in experience.) Free work is rarely professional-caliber work anyway, and it creates a awkward barrier to community. Always insist on paying fairly for everything. This builds trust and transparency.

Share the stories of your failures with others
Because they are so much a part of the fun of life. And because they are the only reason that you are a success.

Build a team you consider your go-to inner circle.
These people—members of your community online or in your ‘hood that you can count on to help—can always be relied on to jump on board and help you pull off your idea, no matter how lame or quirky or wonderful your idea may be. You need these folks and they need you. Pool together your resources (time, talent, and budget) to pull it off. Then, don’t forget, you will owe them one (or two) in return.

Go for “no’s”
It takes 100 no’s to get to one yes. So, go for a lot of no’s. Dream big and engage others in your ideas. Most will fail, but you won't have a chance if you don't try and try often. Just ask. The worst that can happen is a no. And the more no’s you get, the more yeses. Boom.

Never, ever burn bridges
There are almost no reasons to sever a relationship forever. And if you do find yourself at that point, swiftly and softly let it go. Don’t blow it all up. Smile, and retreat. You may find that the wind changes later.

Don’t be afraid to share your secret recipes
The ice cream recipe isn’t the hardest thing about having an ice cream business. Not by a long shot. Building community is. Managing cash and staying on course is. Making all that ice cream is hard, yes, but coming up with new recipes, that’s an honor. While I’m not saying that anyone can do it—I’ve studied hard for this—I’d openly share everything with everyone with no worry that someone will copy our flavors. The truth is, they will and do. The difference is when you build a community through honesty and transparency you inspire others with good work and that’s bullet proof.