I just got off the phone with Kent, who in addition to his day job doing online marketing, runs pdxMindShare – Portland’s network event and emails. It’s a free local newsletter with several thousand subscribers.
Kent told me that the only purpose of the newsletter is to help connect the community… that it doesn’t have a profit motive. A quick look, though, shows that this isn’t really true. By building something that connects his community, by building a permission asset with the right people (and not asking anything in return), Kent builds his reputation. He makes it more likely that people will trust him, talk to him and hire his firm. In an industry in which anyone can claim to be an expert, his firm’s connections and relationships confirm that they are the real deal.
The most important part of the story is this: he doesn’t do the community work for that reason. He does it for the right reason–because it feels good to help his community. The magic of the zero-marginal-cost scalable nature of the web is that your volunteer effort goes a long way and generosity almost always pays off, even when it might feel like it doesn’t.