6 Community Building Tips: Interview with Emily Merrell, Queen of Community Building

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Emily Merrell is the founder of Six Degrees Society, an offline women’s group that offers networking-matchmaking.

Merrell’s mission is to create a safe and anxiety-free space for people to network. “In networking there is a heavy focus on transacting,” Merrell says. She wants “people to be who they are not who their company tells them to be.”

From working in the corporate world at brands like Club Monaco, Tory Burch, and INTERMIX, Merrell not only brings a foundation in corporate career development to her community but also a personal sense of the needs of the Six Degrees Society members, women in the corporate world looking to navigate within it and/or make the leap out on their own.

Six Degrees Society hosts a diversified series of monthly programming across the country and at every event each attendee is matched with at least two to three new people who have been thoughtfully considered for an introduction based on their complementary backgrounds and networking goals.

Merrell launched Six Degrees Society in 2014, as a side hustle, in her flagship city, New York City. Since 2016 she’s taken it into a full-time hustle and grown the community into 10 chapters across the country: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia, has hosted over 5,000 women, and has partnered with such brands as Ann Taylor, Parker, and Kendra Scott.

Whether you are building a membership community liked Six Degrees Society or a commerce or media brand, nurturing the needs of a tribe that shares the mindset and desires of your brand is table stakes for growth. Merrell shares golden nuggets of community-building wisdom applicable to any type of business strategy in our Q&A below.

What’s the secret sauce to building community? What are the steps one needs to take to build a strong community?

Listen. Community building is focused on listening to the needs of the community and adapting accordingly. I started off building the community for me, yet as we’ve grown and expanded I’m much more cognizant that the topics that might interest me might not interest the community and I have to pivot to continue growing.

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In building a strong community you need honesty, vulnerability and transparency. My community knows that I’m a human and that I mess up. I mess up A LOT actually, but I think that humanizes me and people seem to want to help and be a part of something bigger. When building a community, it’s not about selling it’s about nurturing to grow.

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How have you grown the most since starting out on your entrepreneurial journey?

My mind is like a sponge, I’m eager to hear thoughts, feedback, reactions and more without taking it personally. My business is me and I’m my business but I’ve learned to separate the feelings.

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I’m constantly learning and have learned to walk away from business plans and models that don’t work. It’s all about pivoting, evaluating and pivoting some more. It’s been nearly three years since Six Degrees Society has been a full-time venture and I’ve never felt more alive or excited about the offerings we have and the community we’ve cultivated and the road ahead.

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What’s been the hardest part about building Six Degrees?

The hardest part about building Six Degrees has been building it alone. I’ve gone back and forth on the idea of bringing on a co-founder, but at the end of the day I like things done a certain way and like being the only captain of the ship. However, “delegate” has been my official word of 2018. I recently brought on a VA that has changed my life and my perspective on asking for help. Although, when things go wrong it’s hard not to think, well I should just do this myself. At the end of the day, when working on each task it’s important to do a little internal check in and ask “is this a CEO task” and if it’s not, DELEGATE.

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The other challenge has been managing community from afar, I rely on my ambassadors to be my eyes and ears and understand what makes each city tick. Community building from scratch is tough and I’m always trying to expand my circles virtually, which can be hard to learn the nuances of a city and it’s communities when you’re not there.

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What are you most excited about with where you’re at currently on your entrepreneurial journey?

It’s a journey that keeps evolving and changing. What started off as just events for members has evolved into an app, on online community, retreats, a blog, consulting and so much more. I feel like I’m climbing this incredible mountain but the peak keeps shifting and the climb never ends. Building a business leaves me incredibly hungry and passionate to provide the best service and community that I can.

The most magical aspect of this journey is hearing others talk about their involvement with Six Degrees Society or having someone say they’ve heard of us and still feeling stunned that this was something I came up with. So, despite the hardships and the moments of doubts, and believe me there are those moments, I can’t imagine life without Six Degrees Society and I’m eager to see what the future holds.

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