The loneliness of the long distance founder is definitely an issue for most if not everyone who runs their own business. How do you manage and mitigate the isolation that comes with working for yourself?
“Your own company” has two meanings in English and running your own business will teach you about both. The fact is, running your own thing can be pretty lonely. I know that both as a business coach speaking to clients and as a founder myself. Even if you are working with a team, even if you’re well supported by family and friends, it can be a lonely ride.
Now, some of that loneliness is inevitable, especially in the early days of setting up and I would suggest that every person thinking of working for themselves acknowledges this and weighs up if they can hack it. The mass experiment in working from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will have been one way to test your capacity for this although, even with some of the isolation that brought, most people still had colleagues they could call up or reach out to via Zoom.
A good initial question to ask as you consider working for yourself would be: “Am I essentially an introvert or an extravert or somewhere in between?” It’s worth remembering that this is nothing to do with social ability and everything to do with where you get your energy. Classically, introverts draw energy from time on their own and extraverts from other people. I’m a classic extrovert.
It’s also worth asking how much you value and thrive off collaboration and how comfortable you are with ultimate responsibility.
Another good questions is “What sort of thought patterns and behaviours do loneliness and isolation trigger in me?” and finally “How do I tend to deal with feeling of loneliness? Where do I go or to whom do I go?”
These are pretty intense questions but, even if you start your business as part of a team, trust me that loneliness and isolation are generally part and parcel of the entrepreneurial life. Even if you manage to surround yourself with people or are running a very social business, ultimately when it comes to decision making you are so often on your own. There are some really good things too but it really is worth considering whether you’re willing to take on this downside.
That aside, even if you’re the most introverted person in the world, we all need people to talk to about our business – to bounce ideas off, to share ideas with, to ask if our latest plan is crazy, to challenge and to channel us, to cheer us on and call us on our nonsense. We all need people to tell us to get some sleep or take a walk because that problem that’s hounding us will be a lot more manageable after one or both. These key people don’t always have to agree with us (in fact it’s good if they don’t). They don’t have to know everything about the business (it often helps if they don’t); they need not be financially invested in it (in fact it often helps if they aren’t) but they do need to be committed to helping us figure it out.
Without them, under the relentless pressure of envisioning things, planning things and running things, finding things and funding things, getting business and keeping business, we fizzle out, burn out, become anxious fearful and delusional, succumb to our narcissism or our neuroses. Running your own thing can be lonely and loneliness can break businesses and those who run them. So who are those people for you? A business or strategy coach? A mentor? A couple of particularly patient (and interested) friends? A family member? An alliance of other small business owners and founders? A Mastermind group of people doing something similar? If you’re going to go the distance as a founder or business owner, figuring out this support system is as vital as figuring out your business plan and marketing strategy. For some ideas about how to build a support network, look here.