How Corey Haines built Swipe Files

Community
August 16, 2021
Erin Mikail Staples
Community Advocate
How Corey Haines built Swipe Files
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As part of Community Built, Patrick and Rosie had the opportunity to dive into a live discussion on how Corey Haines built Swipe Files — a professional development community for marketing professionals.

What is Swipe Files?

Swipe Files is a community that provides not only marketing ideas, but also an online course, a newsletter, and content for those who are looking to master the art of marketing.

Corey’s focus has been to tap into his authenticity and curiosity in order to create a community, sans the hustle culture marketing communities often become known for. 

Since starting just over a year ago, Swipe Files now boasts more than 5,000 email subscribers and a paid community with more than 300 members, which enables Corey to cover about half of his living expenses. 

How did Swipe Files get its start?

Before starting Swipe Files, Corey was a part of a few different marketing communities, but wasn’t satisfied with any of them. Other communities felt spammy, or a bit too hustle culture-ish. They didn’t actually allow for more room for authentic and nuanced conversations. 

So he embarked on a community discovery process which led him to realize that yes, there could be a new approach to marketing communities.

Corey’s community discovery process set out to discover:

  • What do people want and need?
  • What things can I validate? 
  • What things need to be calculated guesses?
  • What needs does this community need to fulfill? 
  • How will these needs be met?

During the community discovery process, Corey asked a lot of questions of potential community members. 

Reaching out one by one via DM he asked:

  • What are you looking for in a marketing community?
  • What is missing from the marketing conversation?
  • Why have you stopped checking in in this community?
  • Would you like to be a founding member?

One question in particular stood out to him as particularly important — What would keep you coming back? This question often told him what was currently missing from the marketing community group.

This question helped him narrow down what folks were really looking for in a community, which included:

  • Specific advice / examples in regards to individual situations
  • More in-depth conversations in regards to platforms or techniques
  • Ability to discuss the nuances of marketing.

Through being explicit with his ask and establishing relationships with his ideal community members, Corey was able to make the transition from a 1:1 conversation to many:many conversations — a community — a bit more seamlessly.

By fostering these early relationships, members felt at ease, and when they joined the community, already had some familiarity with Corey, what he was up to and the space. This led to higher early participation and engagement within the community, fostering many:many relationships.

The dilemma of a free versus paid community

One thing that we see discussed a lot in the community world is the difference between free and paid communities. Asking folks to pay for access to a community can be hard — there can be a lot of discussion, controversies and even facing your own insecurities when developing a paid community.

Looking to build a successful paid community? Here’s a few dilemmas you may face:

  • Initial adoption of your community can be harder 
  • Harder to promote if the contents of your community are behind a paywall
  • Must consistently be providing value to your community as it grows

Looking to build a successful free community? Here’s dilemmas you may face:

  • Spaces can become bloated or veer off course from their original intentions
  • If you’re considering making this a source of income, need to rely on other 
  • Can require more work in moderation and safety since everyone can join

Here’s how I’d summarize the trade-offs: initially, paid communities can be harder for folks to adopt and to get buy-in, but for those who make it work and make things happen — they can be areas of meaningful conversation, as well as more sustainable from revenue coming in.
Knowing these things, and taking time to explore and discover what was already out there, he found that a lot of the existing resources and communities were free communities, which initially made him feel hesitant about starting a paid community. His next step was to explore why these free communities weren’t satisfying so many folk’s needs.

Turns out, these free communities weren’t prioritizing the quality of relationships or information. Many of them had become bloated and spammy, and it wasn’t clear who else was in the space, making it hard to ask questions that may be a bit more sensitive in nature.

He decided after this early research to lean into a paid community, and so far it’s been paying off. Corey publishes his community stats on an Open Swipe Files Page, encouraging transparency.Because of this — Corey chose to lean into a paid community, and so far — it’s paid off.

As of June 2021 — Corey has managed to make good progress to his 1000 true fans goal:

  • 300 paid members paying $99/year
  • The community revenue covers half his living expenses
  • Monthly revenue fluctuates between $4K-$10K per month

Looking back at his own community, he reflected on how he wished that he started as a free community to drive early growth before transitioning into a paid community, which may have not only relieved some stress but also allowed him to grow and test out different community building tactics a bit more before charging for access.

No matter what type of community that you are running, Corey emphasizes the danger of starting out with a paid community or monetization in mind. Doing so too early can kill the joy and lead to undue monetary stress early on.

Community building tactics that worked

Throughout this journey — Corey found a few specific things that worked for him in this journey that has helped Swipe Files grow, scale and remain connected as a community.

  • The core of community, according to Corey, comes down to 3 things: showing up, being present, and helping people.
  • Think less about funnels more about flywheels.
  • Leverage current news events as conversation starters — folks often want to discuss what is going on in the world.
  • Maintain your presence in the community as it scales — Corey’s community was built off of his own early relationships, it’s important to maintain these relationships as it grows.
  • Provide opportunities for folks to shout out their achievements — Corey shouts out the top members in his community each month in order to get them to share.
  • Keep channels lean — focus on what is needed and what is actively working. 
  • Communities as inspiration — learning from how other communities build communities is a valid approach to figuring stuff out

Community Stack

Here’s what he’s using to keep Swipe Files up and running:

Parting thoughts

Corey continues to grow Swipe Files with the goal of being able to fully sustain himself through the end of the year through the community.  In order to do so, Corey plans on prioritizing the value the community provides to its members through discussion and education — which in turn, can generate a flywheel effect from folks talking about it.

If there’s anything that we can take from this conversation, well it’s the importance of conversations. Corey was able to move in the right direction and have such wonderful early success because of all the work he did talking to people and truly understanding what his members needed.

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