Community Over Competition with Natalie Franke

On The DMV Wedding Pros Podcast this week, I got to chat with Natalie Franke. Natalie is best known as a creative, entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. She is the Co-Founder of The Rising Tide Society and Head of Community at Honeybook. All of her projects and features can be found on her website.

We talked about The Rising Tide Society, and how Natalie sparked #CommunityOverCompetition. We talked all things community and connection, showing up for yourself and your business, being transparent online, and so much more.

Hey Natalie! I'm so excited you could join us today. Give yourself an introduction.

I am Natalie Franke. I am a wedding photographer by trade, turned community builder by choice. I created a community of small business owners called The Rising Tide Society alongside some really incredible co-founders five years ago in Annapolis. It has grown and evolved into this really extraordinary group of people that champion a mindset of community over competition in over 400 cities now around the world. Over 77,000 members. My day to day work looks like supporting our community, and building resources that help small business owners to thrive and beat the statistics, as we like to say, and to support one another as we rise together.

That's awesome. As a fellow Annapolitan and as someone in the wedding industry, I'm really excited to chat with you and bring listeners into this conversation. I'd love to just chat about how this spark started with this philosophy of community over competition, which I'm assuming started with your wedding photography business. So if you could share that with us.

Absolutely. I started photographing weddings toward the end of high school, prior to going to college. I mention that because for a number of years throughout my time at Penn and while I was studying at school, I was building my business. I was trying to figure out if this was something I could take full time. If this was just a dream, just a naive hope that I had that I could be a full time photographer, or if this was a sustainable livelihood that I could step into and that I could grow into. So for years and years and years I hustled incredibly hard to build my business, and when I finally graduated I had booked up more than enough weddings in order to step in and be completely full time, and not have to go and look for a full time job, which to me was winning, adulting on all cylinders. It was the dream, and the goal.

What I didn't quite realize in taking that step and jumping in full time was that entrepreneurship can be incredibly lonely. It can be so unbelievably isolating. It can be so difficult and stressful and overwhelming. It feels like there's no escape from that endless rat race of getting ahead, of working harder and faster than our competition. I experienced that first hand when I was building that photography business, especially when I leapt into the full time role and had bills to pay, and at that point student loans to pay, and a lot of responsibility on my shoulders.

Truthfully, I was just craving to be a part of something that was bigger than myself. To be a part of a community, to belong, to be welcomed, to be able to support others and be supported in return. I didn't know where to turn for that. I saw some groups that existed in a creative industry, but it was always industry specific. It was photographers sitting with photographer or designers sitting with designers, or it was veterans in business who had been doing this for ten years and they weren't open to newcomers coming in and shaking things up. I couldn't really find a place where I saw a real environment of welcoming others that I wanted to see, that invited all different industry types and people to sit at the table. Somewhere you really could sit next to an artist, or cinematographer, or consultant, or a strategist, or a maker, and have a conversation about small business ownership where everyone was open and giving and didn't feel like they needed to hide their secrets, and really wanted one another to win, really was rooting for everyone to make it.

And so, over a conversation with friends, we ultimately decided to try and build that community in Annapolis. That is where Rising Tide began. It was never meant to be this massive community or international movement or hashtag with four million posts on it for Community Over Competition. It was really a coffee meet up in Annapolis, Maryland, meant to change the way that small business owners connected and supported each other in our hometown. What ended up happening was, we started it, we started taking those steps, and we started getting people together at a coffee shop. And others noticed. They saw us doing this on social media, Instagram in particular, and within hours of our first meetup we had people reaching out to us saying, "Hey, I want this where I live. I want a group that gets together that supports each other. I've been looking for what you're creating. How do I build it, or how do I start a group here?"

From that moment on, I think we realized there really was a need for this. And a need for someone to facilitate it. For years I had looked around and said, "When is somebody going to fix this? When is somebody going to create this group?" and I realized nobody was going to create it but us. We adopted that mentality very much with Rising Tide, where whenever we got those messages we just said, "Hey, do you want to be the leader of this group? Would you like to start one in your area? Do you want to create a chapter? This is our mission, these are our core values, this is what we stand for. If this sounds like the type of world you want to live in too, then it's time for you to step up and lead."

We were blown away as different creatives and small business owners raised their hands to create their own groups, and Rising Tide has been growing for the past five years ever since.

That is amazing. What year was that first meeting held?

2015. We officially launched in June of 2015, but our first meeting was earlier that year, I want to say around April or March. At that moment it wasn't even called Rising Tide, I think the name was like Creative Cafe. I know, original name. But that's what it was. Five years was sort of the official launch, and it's been wild. I can't believe it's been half a decade. It feels both like a lifetime, and also like we just started.

For some reason I expected it to be longer. The amount of growth and community that has happened in the past five years is... that's so crazy to me. So cool. Do you remember the kind of coining of this #CommunityOverCompetition?

Yeah. It's funny. I had just attended a conference called Creative At Heart. At the time it was right amidst these conversations emerging where we wanted something better for our industry. The actual hashtag, and the coining of that phrase, started as an Instagram challenge, and it originated as me simply going on Instagram and saying today instead of posting about yourself or using your platform to talk about your business, what if we turn the tide and use this as an opportunity to talk about somebody else? What if you went on Instagram and used your platform to cheer for your competition, to actually lift them up, to support them? What if we created this world?

What was crazy is at first it was a hand full of just my closest friends that were doing it, and no one else was doing it. Suddenly other people saw them doing this and thought, "Oh my gosh, this is awesome. This is really different, and they did it, too." And before we knew it, it was dozens of people and then hundreds of people. We realized there was something to this, and the phrase itself felt like it fit with our core values and what we were really trying to accomplish in our industry. While we were simultaneously thinking about Rising Tide, this was all happening in parallel, we kind of brought it under the umbrella of Rising Tide and made it the mantra of the community. It stuck ever since.

For those who may not know exactly what Rising Tide's mission is, or what actually goes on at a Rising Tide meeting or in a Rising Tide group, how would you describe that to newcomers?

Rising Tide is on a mission to educate and empower creative entrepreneurs and small business owners to rise together doing what they love. And how we do that, in the day to day, looks like a hybrid model of in-person and online community support. The in-person component is the 400 meetups that I talked about. Those take place in cities all around the United States, Canada, and in some cities around the world. They're led by grassroots volunteer leaders - I always say the best of us, the best of humanity - just amazing business owners that care so much about changing the culture of their local communities, and reframing competition under this sort of putting people first mentality. The meetings themselves are held, for the most part, on the second Tuesday of every month. In a non-pandemic year, they are held in person, although for the safety of everyone in our community we've moved virtually for the time being. They don't look like a traditional networking meeting, so don't show up with business cards expecting to network in the traditional sense. We are about relationship building and about education sharing, so we have a topic every month that we cover that varies month to month. It has to do with business, for the most part, although there are things that we think connect to business that are critical to talk about, like mental health and mental wellness, philanthropy and giving back. Those sort of topics that aren't as tactical, but yet still incredibly important. Otherwise you can expect to show up, and have - like we've covered social media marketing, brand voice and copywriting, email marketing strategies, client experience, workflow systems, automations, like you name it, we've probably covered it. That's sort of the in-person component. We meet, we gather, we talk about an educational topic, we share information with one another, we ask questions. We have a safe space to share, to be heard, and to learn.

And then online we also have sort of the other half of Rising Tide, which is the online support. We have local groups that actually facilitate those in-person meetings that are online, and then we have a large Facebook group with about 70,000 people in it that really serves as a catch-all for question asking, and getting support, getting answers in different areas of your business where you might feel stuck, or if you just want to learn something new.

We also have a couple communities that are experience-based, so life experience-based and not necessarily geographically connected. That includes our military chapter, which is for small business owners that are either in the military or a part of a military family, as well as our Creatives and Chronically Ill chapter for creatives who have a chronic illness and navigate running a business with a chronic illness. That group alone has changed my own life, and I am a member of that group not a leader of that group. It has just been incredible to see the power of community unfold both in person and online.

I didn't even know that those existed!

Yeah, most people don't know. I think most people think we're just geographical groups, but that's sort of been an evolving understanding, that there are needs that our community has that transcend geography. And I'll say too, for both the military chapter and our creatives that are chronically ill, for many of them getting together in person in the same group in the same city every month just isn't possible. We really care deeply about accessibility, and that is something that we've been growing in as a community, working to improve across the board in all facets of our content. We believe as a core tenant in our values that a virtual community is incredibly important, critical, and necessary to the health of our world. We really do believe that. I know that social media gets a bad rep, but we really believe that when not used to consume but instead used to connect, social media gives us this gateway to really support one another and create accessible avenues for people to engage in connection, community, and friendship. For a lot of folks that isn't possible in person. It's so important to us to champion those groups, and just to continue building online community, too.

Definitely. Just personally in my ow