When I first started my own business, I underestimated just how lonely the entrepreneurial life could be.
I had abandoned a familiar office environment where I could make small talk at the water cooler, share some good-natured gossip at lunch, and even get a happy hour drink (or two) with colleagues when the workday was over. Some of my coworkers even became good friends. When I ventured out on my own, I quickly learned that while I missed the natural camaraderie of the workplace there was something else missing.
What do you think I missed the most?
Feedback. Guidance. Suggestions. That’s right, I missed having a Manager and interested coworkers to review my work, question my assumptions, call me out on my pricing, and make valuable recommendations to help clarify my thought process. I missed being part of a team that worked together for a common purpose.
For a short while after I started my business, my work suffered. Even though I was able to land clients, I continually and annoyingly second-guessed myself, reading and then rereading what I submitted, never feeling really confident that I had “nailed it.” I must admit to you: it’s not a good feeling, especially when you are deeply committed to building a successful, sustainable business.
(It’s important to remember that I launched my business almost thirty years ago, long before technology kept people connected—through email, project management software, Dropbox accounts, Google docs, and more.)
I struggled and found myself a bit discouraged, yet I soldiered on until a light bulb went off and it became clear what I needed to do. I am sharing these ideas because I think many of today’s budding entrepreneurs suffer despite the proliferation of collaboration tools. Maybe these will work for you too:
I reached out to a group of people and asked them if they would review my work and make constructive critiques as needed. The group included friends working in similar industries and businesspeople whom I respected and were willing to take a bit of time to provide their expertise and guidance. In return, I scheduled quarterly dinners with each of them to uncover new information about their own business pursuits and how I might be able to assist them too.
I took courses so that I could both increase my knowledge and skills and meet like-minded entrepreneurs with whom I could brainstorm and share ideas. Most of the professional development opportunities were continuing education classes; in addition, I continued to pursue a Master’s degree. (Again, consider there were no “online courses” of any type.)
I started attending networking events and becoming a member of various industry groups. Networking wasn’t as common when I opened by business; sure there were groups but nowhere near as many as exist today. I quickly found these connections and relationships were extremely instrumental in helping to grow my business. I made introductions and grew leads and created an informal “board of advisors” that I could reach out to in the same way my former coworkers were a support system at my old company.
Still, perhaps the most important thing that I did was learn to ask for help. People aren’t mind readers and won’t know when you need a guiding hand. I learned that when I asked, help was readily available and my sense of having to “go it alone” began to dissipate.
Don’t get me wrong. Occasionally I still second guess my decisions and can find myself at my desk late at night feeling very alone. That feeling can be very discomforting if you don’t know how to get past it.
My advice – start to build your “people” now.