Ask an...Outside consultant

UST MBC Director Dr. Michael Porter answers reader questions in the Star Tribune:

Q I am starting an international trade association for green marketers. Once we're up and running and have sufficient members, there will be lots of reasons to join. But right now in the beginning stage, how do I show enough value to persuade people to join?

A Your dilemma is common with for-profit or nonprofit start-ups that depend on engagement of an audience in "community." No one wants to be the first to make camp if there are questions about who else or whether anyone else is coming.

So to stick with the camping analogy, the venue must have attractive features for the first to arrive -- regardless of whether anyone else shows up. Communities build up around resources or aesthetic benefits first. You can't force the evolution of a real community, but you can create an environment that attracts like-minded people.

That puts us back to the core question, how to "show" value on something that doesn't quite exist yet. First, you should register a domain and at least put up a placeholder site and active e-mail on that domain. That way, when you generate press (like this) it doesn't drive people to a site where you are selling something else, like a book, which can have a chilling effect on both media folks and potential members of your association.

Then get to the business of identifying what your audience wants and needs -- other than connecting to a network of other "green" marketers. Are there resources you can develop or access through partnership that deliver something useful?

Preferably these resources will bring people back periodically, so you have the opportunity to engage them in the activities of a community -- commenting on blog posts, exchanging ideas on message boards and volunteering for association leadership.