The Misunderstood Entrepreneur
“I do have a job!” I’ve had to say that more times than I’d care to admit since starting my own business in 2013. And I know I’m not alone as an entrepreneur. The number one complaint I get from my fellow misunderstood entrepreneur friends is that their friends and family don’t think they’re really working.
This is more than just an annoyance (although it is annoying).
When your friends and loved ones don’t understand what you do for a living, it can be detrimental to your business in two ways: First, they can unintentionally hinder your goals, either by interfering with your work or repeatedly trying to help you in inapplicable ways. They can also cause you to lose faith in your own business which can lead to feelings of rejection at a time when you need validation the most as an entrepreneur.
I remember early on in my business, a concerned friend had a heart-to-heart with me one night and urged me to go to my previous employer and ask for my job back. His lack of confidence in my ability to succeed made me question whether my business was viable, and the stress of constantly fearing I was letting my loved ones down ate away at me. Now I’m more than four years into my freelance writing and marketing business, and my mom still alerts me about job openings I have zero interest in.
Dealing with critics as an entrepreneur is never easy, but when those critics are your very own friends and family, it can sting like nothing else. It’s important to address this issue early on if you want to set yourself up for a healthy business and personal life. So what should you do if your loved ones don’t understand your entrepreneurial lifestyle?
Here are some tips and strategies that helped me.
Gain Confidence by Tweaking Your Messaging
People don’t know what the heck you do? It may not be that they’re unsupportive; you may have a messaging problem. How do you talk about your business? I think many new, misunderstood entrepreneurs tend to downplay their roles. We say things like, “Oh, it’s just this little website I started,” or “Oh, I freelance on the side.” Own it! Show confidence when you talk about your business and people will listen and take it seriously.
Last year, a friend messaged me because he was upset that his friends and family didn’t think he was working, even though he had started a web development business. The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t even know he had started a business! So I suggested maybe the problem was that he himself wasn’t taking his business seriously, considering people clearly didn’t even know he had launched.
Maybe you are telling people you started a business—great! But if they still don’t get it, it’s time to tweak your messaging. Keep in mind, entrepreneurship is not the norm. Most people spend their lives as employees working their jobs, so they don’t have a handy frame of reference to understand self-employment. It’s your job to help them understand.
In no other setting does this become more apparent than at a party, where that trite question, “What do you do?” almost always comes up. This question makes so many of us entrepreneurs’ faces flush, sending us shiftily looking around the room for the closest exit. A simple answer of, “I’m an entrepreneur,” will rarely satisfy, eliciting confused looks.
One solution to this problem, recommended by online business expert Melyssa Griffin, is emphasizing the value you provide, rather than the title you go by. For example, instead of saying “I’m the owner of an online clothing store,” you could say, “I design ethically produced clothing to help women look their best while giving back to the community.”
Instead of saying, “I’m a health consultant,” you could say, “I help businesses in the health industry find ways they can save time and money.”
And instead of saying, “I’m a UI/UX designer,” you could say, “Have you ever visited a website that was so confusing you couldn’t find what you were looking for and ended up leaving? I’m the person businesses hire to prevent that.”
Are You Inviting Disrespect From Others?
It’s like the old adage goes, if you want respect, you have to earn it. If you make jokes about working in your sweatpants and rolling out of bed at 10 a.m., people are going to assume your “business” is just code word for “unemployed.” You have to believe it before anyone else can.
So how can you create a business image more likely to gain the respect of your friends and family?
Get dressed for work—even if you work from home as an entrepreneur
Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Cheever would put on a suit every morning and “commute” to work by taking an elevator down to the basement, which he used as his writing space. Mr. Cheever had it right. Dressing up has been proven by research to improve how others perceive you. A study conducted by Ben Fletcher and co-authors found that participants made “snap judgments” that were more favorable toward men wearing well-tailored suits than men wearing regular, off-the-rack ones.
Dressing up may even improve how you feel about your business. Another study, conducted by Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl, on how people felt when dressed in business versus casual clothing concluded: “Respondents felt most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire.”
While it may be overkill for you to suit up every day in your home office, a little bit can go a long way. Try waking up at a set time, taking a shower, and getting dressed just as you would if you were going to go out for the day.
Rent an office or join a coworking space
It helps to have a separation between work and personal space. Consider renting office space nearby or joining a coworking space. This can also help lend legitimacy to your business. Some resources for finding an office or coworking spaces:
- Desks Near Me lets you search for private desks, shared office spaces, and meeting rooms close to you.
- ShareDesk lets you book a shared office space or meeting room.
- Coworker lets you find coworking spaces with online reviews.
- Breather lets you book private meeting spaces by the hour.
- LiquidSpace lets you book shared or private space for short-term or long-term use.
If you don’t want to pay for office space, dedicate one area of your home as your home office. Not only will it help you stay focused, it also will let your family know that when you’re in your home office, you’re at work, and it’s not a time to disturb you.
Set a schedule—and stick to it!
One of the biggest frustrations about working from home or being an entrepreneur is that people tend to assume you’re free anytime. This can open you up to a million distractions, from phone calls to unwanted visits. That’s why it’s important to set a schedule for when you’ll be working, and let your friends and family know that those are your “office hours” so they know not to disturb you during that time.
I like to keep my iPhone in “Do Not Disturb” mode while I’m working, so I’m not tempted to take calls or reply to text messages.
If you’re looking for free tools to create a schedule and stay organized, here are the ones I’d recommend: I use Toggl to track my work and pull monthly reports to see which clients and tasks I spent the most time on. I use Trello to create a content calendar for my blog, so I can plan out what articles I’ll be publishing for the coming month. Finally, if I need to schedule any business meetings, I use Calendly to send a link to a client so they can select an available time to meet with me.
Invite the Right Kinds of Support From Loved Ones
One of the more irritating and detrimental side effects of friends and family not understanding your work is when they offer unhelpful support. For starters, this wastes the time of everyone involved. But remember, your network (business and personal) is crucial to your success as an entrepreneur. If your network doesn’t understand what your true needs are, you’re missing huge potential opportunities.
Many of these disconnects arise out of simple misunderstanding. When your sister-in-law forwards you a job posting, it may not be because she doesn’t support your business, but because she cares about your success and wants to help you. She just doesn’t know how.
Next time someone tries to pass off a job opportunity on you, try turning it around. Thank them, and then let them know you already have a job. Explain what your business does, and then ask them if they know anyone who would like to hire or collaborate with you.
At the beginning of my business, I got a couple of awesome clients thanks to a friend. I simply let her know that I was doing social media management and copywriting, and she connected me with a friend of hers who was running a family business and needed help with social media. Later, she connected me with her brother who was launching a Kickstarter campaign and needed a copywriter. I owe a lot to her, because she was able to support me in the ways I needed at the time. Let your own friends and family be that for you too.
Don’t expect the people you love to be able to read your mind. If you feel they’re being unsupportive of your business venture, take a deep breath and explain to them what kind of support you actually need.
Surround Yourself With Supportive Fellow Entrepreneurs
If you’re not finding support for your business from friends and family, and you can’t seem to break free from being a misunderstood entrepreneur, your best refuge may be a group of fellow entrepreneurs. That’s because they’ll be able to understand your highs and lows, and support you in ways no one else can. Here’s a few ways to establish a network of entrepreneurs:
Find an accountability partner who is an entrepreneur
One of the biggest boosts to my business came from finding an accountability partner. In my case, it was friend and fellow business owner, Megan. We meet once a week via video chat to discuss what worked for us the previous week and what didn’t, and what our goals for the following week are. I’m able to commiserate over things that frustrate her too, and it’s a big source of comfort to know I have someone who can understand me in that way.
To find your own accountability partner, start looking at fellow entrepreneurs you already know. This may be a friend who owns a business, or even someone you met through an online group. Reach out to them directly and float the idea of meeting to talk about business goals. If it goes well, ask them if they’d like to meet once a week or once a month. If you don’t know anyone who runs a business, try posting your request to Facebook groups for entrepreneurs. One group that I really like, and in which I see a lot of requests for accountability partners, is Online Business BFFs. Another Facebook group you could try posting your request to is Screw the Nine to Five, a group for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Go to local business meetups
Search meetup.com for business meetups in your area.
You can also check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see what entrepreneur events they have coming up. Another great resource is through coworking spaces, which often host networking events.
Join a mastermind group
There are plenty of free entrepreneurship groups on Facebook. Just do a search for terms like “entrepreneur,” “small business owners,” or something more specific to your business such as “marketing” or “ecommerce.” Then be sure to select the tab that says “Groups.”
Hire a business coach or find a mentor
If you’re willing to invest the money, you can hire a business coach to help you reach your goals. Finding a mentor is also a great, and usually free, alternative. Check out Coach.me for a relatively inexpensive online tool for finding coaches in various areas of your life, including business.
So you’ve tried to help people understand what you do, you’re treating your business as your job, you’ve expressed what kind of support you need, and you’ve surrounded yourself with fellow entrepreneurs—but your friends and family still don’t think you have a “real job”?
Well, my friend, I’ve got one final word for you: acceptance.
It may be time to accept that you can’t change people. When all’s said and done, the truth is that your friends and family care about you. They are not your customers. They are not there to be your business advisers. They’re there to love you. Dig deep to find out why it hurts you so much that they don’t understand your business. While you can’t change them, you can change the way you handle their negative feedback.
As important as your network is, some of the biggest growth has happened in my business without my friends or family even knowing about it. It happened after I realized my loved ones are not my ideal customers—and that’s okay! I no longer bring up my business to certain friends and family unless they specifically ask, because I don’t need their validation. Plus, I’d rather keep my business and personal life separate. There’s plenty of proof to show that mixing friends and business may not be a good idea anyway.