Have you ever launched an online community independently, with no budget? Without someone else’s money? Without a team supporting you? Without the resources of a larger organization? If you’ve never done it, and you really want to grow as a professional, give it a try. If you run community for a big brand, start an unrelated community on the side, in your free time.

I’m not talking about a Twitter following or a blog or something like that. I’m talking about a hosted online community where all contributions are equal and people engage with one another. A place where you are responsible for everything. Something goes wrong? You have to fix it.

When I say “no budget,” I mean that you only have yourself and the small amount of money the average person might be able to invest in a side hobby. You can pay for a domain name, web hosting and, if you want, software. Of course, it won’t be enterprise software. Might cost you $200 or so. Outside of small add-ons for the software you decide to use and asking for help in their support forums, you don’t have “developer resources” to allocate. You don’t have “marketing spend.”

This is how most online communities start. This is how many large, popular communities started.

Choose your software. Install it. Customize the theme. Create your policies. Invite friends and people you know who might be interested. Seed it. Post yourself. Launch. Engage with people. Welcome members. Grow activity. Moderate. Build a volunteer staff of moderators. Monitor, help and guide them. Launch new features. Make changes. Deal with challenges.

Many online community professionals have done this. Especially a lot of veterans in the space. And if you haven’t, it’s alright. I’m not criticizing anyone. It’s not like you have to do it. I just want you to have that experience because it’s really valuable and enriching. It’s super-instructive, probably more so than taking a class or reading a book. You’ll pick up first-hand experiences that you just can’t get any other way. When you are responsible to just yourself and your members, you earn a unique perspective. If you succeed, it provides you with a different level of confidence.

Who knows, maybe you’ll launch the next great online community, leave your job and work on it full time. There are plenty of stories like that. Maybe it doesn’t work out and you close it. But if you pursue it in good faith, no matter what happens, you’ll have learned plenty. It’ll make you a better, more confident, more resourceful community professional.