Break Free From Isolation And Watch Your Business Thrive
Being an entrepreneur is thrilling. It’s fulfilling, lively, and ever-changing. The moment when you see your ideas come to life, feel the power and confidence of being in charge, and finally notice the fruits of your hard work is unparalleled. There isn’t really anything quite like it.
Despite the thrills of entrepreneurship, it can also be a lonely existence.
Have you ever felt that way? Like a lonely entrepreneur? It’s okay to admit it.
After a year of operating alone, I’ve sure noticed it. Entrepreneurship is a lonely career path, especially if you’re a one-person show. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact, if you can break out of that bubble of isolation, you’ll see your personal happiness and your profits thrive like they never have before.
Don’t Be An Island; Community Is Where It’s At
Let me share my story.
I started my two current businesses when I was still in college. One was linked to a capstone project, and the other sprouted from my love of writing. Both proved more fulfilling that school itself, but I never considered them enough to be a full-time career. (Turns out I made that judgment based mostly on fear.)
After a year in a stale, corporate environment—while still operating my businesses on nights and weekends—I decided to quit and pursue entrepreneurship full-time. It was exciting, hectic, and kind of a blur, now that I think about it. Regardless, I succeeded and ended up making more in the first few months than I was making at my day job.
I was happy. I was also lonely. I worked hours upon hours alone, in my office and sometimes at coffee shops. I realized quickly that I missed the camaraderie, teamwork, and community that my old office environment provided. But I knew that operating as a lone wolf was necessary for growing my businesses. I couldn’t possibly return to work and still be as successful while running them as side projects.
Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give up on myself in the midst of those hard times. Instead of running back to the fluorescent lights and free coffee of my old 9-to-5, I worked even harder to create a sense of camaraderie and community, on my own terms.
I learned that your community doesn’t have to center on your work, necessarily; it can focus on what drives you. It can flourish under the heat of an intellectual discussion, idea-swapping, or even a completely unrelated hobby.
Why You Need Community to Succeed in Entrepreneurship
Truth is, establishing community has to be intentional and can be just as much work as establishing your business. But it’s worth it!
For one, humans need community. So, if the rest of my article falls on deaf ears, at least hear me when I say: Being alone is bad for your health. Spending too much time alone can actually increase stress levels and destroy the efficiency of your sleep.
And, sorry, your mailman and Postmates delivery girl don’t count.
Health benefits aside, the community can also do wonders for your business, helping you break free from “lonely entrepreneur” status, and instead nurture a rich fabric of creativity and support.
Spending time with others gets your ideas out of your head and onto paper (or a whiteboard, if you’re feeling fancy). Problem-solving with others can help you arrive at unique solutions you may have not otherwise reached. The community also sharpens your skills. I don’t know about you, but not once have I improved my pitching, negotiating, or social skills by bantering with myself in the mirror.
A recent study found that, for 78% of startups, informal networks and communities have been vital for success. Surrounding yourself with people who challenge, educate, advise, and support you is not only healthy for you but also for your business and its success.
Lastly, the community reminds you of how much you need to improve. There’s a saying that goes “Never be the smartest person in the room.” Always (always) make it a priority to spend time with people who you not only admire but are also better than you. It may sound like a blow to your pride now, but once you’re sipping on coffee across the table from a more esteemed, skilled entrepreneur, you’ll be thrilled to learn the ways in which you can be better. Because even the best entrepreneur knows they can improve.
“Alright, Allie, I get it. I need more friends.” I hear ya. I was there, and I’ve got some great pointers on how to grow your community, regardless of where you live and work. Here’s how.
How to Get Connected, No Matter Where You Are
Thanks to advances in technology, the community can exist in many different ways. And having a network of people who can help, advise, and empathize with you is extremely valuable. Here are some ways you can build a network, regardless of physical location, schedule, or budget.
Digital Communities: Social Media
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other channels have proven very effective for staying connected to other entrepreneurs. But the community is about the give-and-take, the conversation. Among all available social media channels, this is best fostered on Facebook in the form of Facebook groups. Why? Well, Facebook is the most used social media network. Almost 1.3 billion people log on every day. Also, Facebook group settings allow conversation, questions, comments, and discussion. And only when you dig in and interact with others in your community will you reap the benefits of your network.
One awesome group that I’m part of is called The Copywriter Club. I swear, over 200 conversations take place in this group each day. Countless comments and questions keep people connected. Members range in age, experience, and hometown, but we’re all linked by one thing: We all love writing and make a living at it.
Pause. Let’s take a breather and tackle an important issue. Does interacting with a community help your competition?
This is something I was concerned about when I first started working with my mentor. She recommended that I connect and befriend a few copywriters. I initially found that threatening and awkward, but truthfully, I’ve found more work through my “colleagues” than I ever could’ve alone. People tend to recommend people they know for a job or project, and I’ve experienced this first-hand.
So, no, the community doesn’t create competition. And if you’re looking at it in that light, then you’re underestimating the power of community in the first place.
Digital Communities: Slack
On their website, Slack is defined as “team communication for the 21st century.” It’s essentially instant messaging for professionals, but it isn’t limited to one team or corporation. Some enterprise-level companies, like Capital One and PayPal, use Slack for their in-house communications. But more commonly, Slack connects communities around the world.
Slack communities typically circulate around one topic, such as technology or entrepreneurship, or around one location, like a city, state, or university.
Discussion on these channels is similar to Facebook, but responses are more likely to be in real-time, given that people are typically “signed on” during the day. Slack channels are also typically smaller than Facebook groups, allowing members to get to know each other a little better. They also reduce noise such as ads or spam, as the platform simply allows conversation between members.
For example, I’m currently part of two awesome channels: For Real Freelancers and Creative Class. For Real Freelancers shares a lot of members with The Copywriter Club group, and Creative Class is a community of people all taking the same online course (which we’ll discuss below). There are hundreds that exist for entrepreneurs, but I’ll share a few of my favorites here. If you’re looking to join a few valuable Slack communities, I would check out #FemaleFounders, #Launch, #Startup, or #nomads.
Note: Many Slack channels require a fee to join, but I’d say it’s worth it. A few bucks to have unlimited access to hundreds of like-minded people with thousands of brilliant ideas? That’s a no-brainer.
Digital Communities: Online Courses
When you think of an online course, you may not consider its potential as a new community. Sure, online courses are, well, online. And, you typically take them, well, alone. But, they’re actually great sources of new, intimate communities.
When I quit my job and started writing full time, I hired a mentor and took her course. We emailed, video chatted, and talked in-depth about my writing future. I expected to gain invaluable knowledge about growing my business, but what I didn’t expect was to be thrust into a thriving community of other (read: better) writers and freelancers.
My mentorship was hardly an island; it was more like a party. After four simple weeks with my mentor, I was a shiny new member of a Slack channel, two Facebook groups, a super valuable email list, multiple hilarious Twitter conversations, and an international book club.
When I signed up for her course, I hardly knew I’d be walking away with new friends, connections, and networks. The same even happened when I took a larger, more (potentially) lonesome online course called Creative Class.
Don’t discount online courses as sources of community and new networks. Today, most course creators and directors will provide ways for their students to connect and chat. And I promise this kind of group work is exponentially better than anything you experienced in school.
Looking for some great courses to join? There are numerous great free online courses available to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Foundr also offers some amazing courses for budding entrepreneurs like you!
Physical Communities: Local Networking
While technology has enabled people to connect with a simple click, nothing beats face-to-face community. If you’re looking to expand your in-person network, start locally.
Most cities have networking and young professionals groups that are easy to join. A simple way to connect with people is through Meetup. From Small Business to Referral Networking to Women Entrepreneurs, Meetup provides thousands of topics through which people build community in hundreds of countries.
One unique networking opportunity is called Wok + Wine, which holds business networking events in over 10 countries. Another is called CreativeMornings, which defines itself as “a breakfast lecture series for the creative community” and holds meetings across 173 cities.
If you’re wary about putting yourself out there, networking opportunities are a great place to start. These events provide a straight-forward, no-fluff way to meet like-minded people. All you have to do is bring some business cards and a friendly attitude.
Physical Communities: Global Conferences
Between conferences, summits, gatherings, and “un”conferences, there’s always a new must-attend event popping up around the world. Many entrepreneurs have written off these conferences as boring corporate events, but truthfully, attending and participating in the right conferences can do wonders for your community and business.
Conferences are especially helpful for lonely entrepreneurs stuck in a one-person rut. They force you way out of your comfort zone, not only forcing you to travel but also to engage, mingle, and participate. Attending the right conferences also challenges your ideas and work patterns by thrusting you upon industry innovators and thought-leaders.
Lastly, conferences are prime real estate for marketing and promoting your business as they introduce your brand to a brand new audience. If you’re exhausted by the conference circle, take a look at a few we recommend.
Dent, held in Idaho, brings together global business leaders, politicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs who want to be more effective leaders and “dent the universe.” Intimate dinners, typically capped at 25 people, foster authentic discussion and are designed to create meaningful relationships. The Entrepreneur’s Un-Convention is Australia and New Zealand’s largest gathering for entrepreneurs. It promises to “connect like-minded entrepreneurs in order to build business momentum and expand networks.”
Lastly, MADE Festival, held in the UK, is a conference and skills course combined. Featuring a range of classes dedicated to boosting brand awareness, working with customers, developing new products, and maximizing one’s impact through small business, MADE allows attendees to build community through networking and through improving their businesses.
Physical Communities: Coworking Spaces
Productivity is a common discussion topic among lonely entrepreneurs, especially those who work from home. Many consider a home office to be a blessing, given the solitude, flexibility, and cost savings. But working from home may be what’s hindering your ability to connect and build community, not to mention your discipline and health. Working from a coffee shop is an option, but a budget of $5 lattes and sub-par wi-fi surely can’t be sustained for long.
If you’re feeling the aftershocks of being alone day in and day out, consider moving your office to a shared working space. For the same amount you’d spend on coffee, you can rent a desk in a space that’s solely dedicated to a healthy, independent, yet connected work environment. With more than 13,000 spaces available worldwide, a coworking space is a common source of community for entrepreneurs. Here are a few popular options.
ImpactHub offers 86 locations worldwide. This company is big on community connections and encourages new members to open additional locations through a franchise opportunity.
WeWork, which is based mostly in the US, Israel, UK, and Netherlands, offers multiple coworking solutions that range from freelancer to enterprise. Their spaces are designed to bring people together and often include recreation rooms, exercise opportunities, and arcade games.
Another unique coworking opportunity is called CoPass. Purchasing this pass gives you access to over 500 coworking spaces around the world, and given its flexible membership options, is perfect for the digital nomad.
Not only can you get a break from pricey coffee and pastries, but you can also expand your community to include locals you may meet while you’re working.
In order to be successful, you have to surround yourself with three types of people—the mentor, the peer, and the protégé. As you work to surround yourself with mentors and peers, what about your protégé?
Think about if leading entrepreneurs never founded the communities we’ve discussed here? We’d most likely still be operating as one-person shows, lonely entrepreneurs, never to have met or collaborated.
As you overflow, ensure you give back. As you learn and grow, always be sure you’re pouring into those who are on the same journey as you. Whether you contribute to a blog or publication, create an online course or webinar, or simply mentor one or two students a year, your efforts in creating community won’t go unnoticed. As entrepreneurs, it’s up to us to continue to foster the connection.
The Lonely Entrepreneur: Breaking Free From Business Isolation was originally published on Foundr.