No one can keep going long term as a lone-ranger. We all need people who keep us going and help us keep our business growing. But who are your people and where do you find them?
We’ve thought elsewhere about the loneliness and isolation that inevitably come with running your own business, and the conclusion was that we all need people to help us navigate the journey. But who should these people be and where can we find them?
Online networks can be a help but real life communities are better. Online networks can help founders and business owners in all manner of practical ways; the much reviled internet is often a treasure trove of human generosity, people sharing useful tips, expert know-how and best practice – much of it for free. This can be astonishingly helpful. It can even alleviate the basic loneliness of thinking you’re the first and only person to face a particular business issue. Being online can also link us to people who then become part of our real life networks.
However, ultimately, online networks cannot address the fundamental loneliness of entrepreneurship. For that you need real people, maybe at the other end of a phone, maybe across a table. I would argue that every founder/ small business owner needs a consistent community of people (it can be as small as 2 or 3) with whom they can share something of what they’re doing. I call these a connectwork – a network of people who can help you with your business and who you actually connect with in real life .
In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God looks at Adam and declares that “It is not good for man to be alone” and so creates Eve as a “helpmeet”. The context is not that the first man is a bit lonely and needs a romantic companion but that, if he is to do the work God has ordained for him of cultivating and ordering the world, he’s going to need help. Basically, one man can’t do all the work on his own. It’s a good lesson for entrepreneurs who often find themselves wearing all the hats in a business – strategising, executing, administrating.
All the evidence shows that we need people to help us navigate the ups and downs of any work let alone the particular pressures of the founder/ business owner journey. Without them, that loneliness – some of which is inevitable – can become debilitating and damage both us and our businesses.
Work out who those people are for you – if you’re struggling, a good business coach can be a help here both as a temporary part of that connectwork and as a means of helping you work out who else could be in it.
A few tips for establishing your connectwork. Firstly, a connectwork should be a mutual thing in which you support each other professionally. If you want a scenario in which the focus is entirely on you and and your business, get a coach.
Secondly, try and establish some sort of framework for how and when you meet – every month? Every fortnight? Will you divide time equally or will you primarily focus on one business each meeting with shorter feedback from the others?
Thirdly, contract with each other to keep anything you discuss confidential. A connectwork works because people feel comfortable being honest about their business and clearly established parameters of trust and confidentiality are a big part of that.
Fourthly and finally, whilst it’s good to vary people, ideally include at least a couple of other entrepreneurs/ entrepreneurially minded people. You don’t all have to meet at once, although it’s great to think about how you can connect people to each other.
Think about different sorts of people for different areas. So, for instance, while close family and friends may be a great comfort in tough times, they may not be the best people on whom to test out a new idea. With a few exceptions, people who love us most are often the most risk averse for us; they want to protect us, they don’t want to see us fail, plus they may also have skin in the game.
Please don’t mishear me on this. When making big decisions for your business, you should of course talk to your parents who’ve invested in your business or your spouse who will inevitably be invested in your business but maybe don’t talk to them first. Also, think about people who will both challenge and support you.
Once you’ve worked out your connectwork, make use of them, make the most of them and be generous and grateful in return. You will find that as you cultivate this community, as you acknowledge their service and perspectives, as you try and serve them and use what you learn to serve others through your business, the loneliness of your entrepreneurial journey will diminish and you and your business will benefit immeasurably as a result.