When I first decided to take my 30 Day Money Cleanse online, I was worried. While I knew that the program was extremely effective for clients, I was concerned that, without the accountability a live course provides, many people wouldn’t actually complete it. It’s easy to enroll in a course, but it’s even easier to get behind, lose motivation, and watch the entire course go by. I’ve been guilty of this myself! I’ve rarely completed online courses, and that was more guilt-inducing than motivating. That isn’t what I wanted for those in my program.

Despite these worries, I knew it was time to take the program online. The course structure was perfect for an online setting, and I found that many clients liked to digest the content at their leisure. An online course also creates opportunity for more people to engage and learn. I was ready for the Money Cleanse to reach more people who could become part of the larger Money Cleanse community.

Fortunately, social engineer and community expert Ben Bechar was the perfect person to help me make the online version of the Money Cleanse even more effective and fun than the live version. Over coffee we discussed my concerns and developed a strategy for the January 2017 online launch. Ben, who specializes in understanding how social interaction and community can improve our lives, strengthen brands, and catapult companies to new heights and success, helped me see how taking the course online could improve it.

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Ben reminded me that there’s a difference between a community and a network. Often we use the word community when we are actually referring to a network. When I was the only one connected to the Money Cleansers, that was my network. Without the relationships and interactions between participants, it wouldn't be possible to reap the benefits of community.

Why Community Matters

Ben showed me that community could be one of the most valuable parts of the Money Cleanse. The program is comprised of individuals interested in achieving specific financial goals and who are going through similar experiences. These similarities provide a tremendous opportunity for support, camaraderie, and connection.

We can create communities by aligning with people who aspire to achieve similar goals. This creates a space where we can provide encouragement and foster connection. It turns out that it’s much easier, faster, and more fun to work towards a goal if we lean on—and contribute to—a supportive community.

Create the Space

To set the stage for a powerful Money Cleanse community, we first had to create the space. In my original course planning, I had envisioned an evergreen course that people could join as they wished. Instead, at Ben’s urging, we created specific launches and cohorts so that mini-communities of Money Cleansers could complete the program together. From the beginning, cohort members were part of a community, sharing sense of excitement, encountering challenges, and celebrating successes as a group. The camaraderie is powerful!

Facilitate Conversations

In the past, most Money Cleansers interacted with me but not each other. To change that, Ben showed me how to facilitate conversations between individuals to strengthen the community as a whole. He used the analogy of the dinner party host. Rather than a professor running the program, I should function like a dinner host, facilitating conversations between others. One specific way I was able to facilitate conversations was through gamification of the course. During the program, Money Cleansers earn raffle tickets for participation and cans. win weekly cash prizes, which provides a real incentive to participate and be engaged. As a result, the group is incredibly active, and there’s even some camaraderie built through friendly competition. It makes it that much easier, as the party host, to facilitate conversations.

Foster Connectedness

We decided when we founded the online course that the online community would be cumulative. Each cohort of the live course of the Money Cleanse had its own separate group. But this arrangement didn’t take advantage of all the group wisdom that’s acquired as participants complete the program. Now that the group is cumulative, Money Cleanse graduates can chime in and support people who are just starting. In this way, the group itself has gotten smarter and offers so much more value to members than I could offer them on my own. We’ve increased the value of the pie, if you will, without me even being involved. This is a tremendously efficient form of value creation.

We have also increased the group’s autonomy by giving them the opportunity to direct new content. Each month, I release a bonus class to Money Cleansers past and present based on their wants and needs. When they told me they were struggling to grocery shop for healthy and cost-effective meals, I brought them a foodie and health coach to present a class on meal planning. When they said they wanted to earn more money, I brought them a career coach who taught a class on negotiations. Through the process of deciding what content they wanted to receive, community members played key roles in shaping their community. They got to own the space, increasing their commitment to the group, to others in the community, and to their own money journey.

The Result: Engagement and Retention.

Through strong communities, we feel a sense of connectedness and we become invested in our own success and that of other group members. We become more engaged. We check in on each other, support one another, and are more present to our goals. This sense of connection strengthens the success of the group as a whole, and that’s a big win for everyone. Having a vested interest in the success of others starkly differentiates a community from a network. When someone knows they can count on you for support and advice, it’s a completely different ball game.

This all brings us back to my biggest initial concern, retention. How was I going to keep the people in the Money Cleanse engaged even though the course was going to be online? You can imagine if you have an entire community invested in your success, you are lot more likely to stick with your goal. This also holds true with the Money Cleanse. Out of the initial 25 participants, only two people have yet to complete the classes—one due to scheduling conflicts and one due to a family emergency. While the sample size is small, a 92% retention rate is quite a success and I was thrilled to see my retention actually increase since the launch of the live course. The benefits of having a strong, engaged community that’s out to to support each other could not be more clear!

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Ashley Feinstein Gerstley is a money coach and founder of the Fiscal Femme where she demystifies the world of personal finance and money for her clients in a fun and accessible way that empowers them to achieve their financial goals. The Fiscal Femme offers corporate financial wellness programs as well as corporate financial wellness consulting.