One of my mentors, early in my life as an entrepreneur, told me, “Entrepreneurship is lonely.” This idea stuck with me and proved to be true. As an entrepreneur, you will make big decisions by yourself. There isn’t always another employee to celebrate a big “Win” with, and there isn’t always someone to push you when you aren’t feeling motivated to get up and get to work yourself. As your business grows, and you finally have the money to hire some people to support you, another adage, “It’s lonely at the top,” kicks in. There may be a constant pressure to put on your happy face and convince your employees and your customers that everything about you and your business is perfect.
Everyone needs support. The best CEOs look for advice from management teams and consultants. Business owners need like-minded people to unwind with. Leaders need mentors who will support them to grow and solve problems. In short, “We All Need Somebody to Lean On…”
There a number of strategies you can use to find allies and form supportive relationships.
There are many formalized networking groups that host events throughout the region. Some involve meetings with set agendas; others host mix and mingle social events. Some allow anyone to drop in; others require memberships and even specify which industries can participate. The Halton Region Small Business Centre maintains a list of business networking groups in our resource library.
Not all interactions with other business owners need to be for the purpose of selling your wares. Filling your social circle with entrepreneurs in similar stages of business development as you, will give you people to unwind with and seek support from. It is okay to put the business cards away and grab a casual pint. This might even be the way you find someone to let close enough to you to help with working through your bigger challenges.
If you are ready to move your business out of your home into a small office space, finding a rental arrangement that is shared with other complementary businesses or other like-minded entrepreneurs can make you feel like you have a destination. There are people around to check in with or to join for lunch.
Seek a Mentor
Mentors drive success. Mentoring relationships can look different to different people. Often business owners or professionals who have been in your shoes are happy to give their time to share their insights, experiences and expertise. I personally have sought the advice of older people in my industry as well as professional coaches who have challenged me to focus on my business plan, commit to my ideas and overcome obstacles.
Use Support Services
There are countless services available to business owners, many of which can be accessed for free. The Halton Region Small Business Centre is part of a network of 57 business centres located throughout Ontario. All of these centres offer one-on-one consulting services with qualified consultants that can help you work through your opportunities and challenges.
If the support system you are looking for doesn’t exist, you can take responsibility to create it. I was working in a city where a number of business owners, specifically young entrepreneurs, felt that they weren’t getting the positive social support they needed from some of the more formal networks in town. A small group decided they would get together once a month, usually at a restaurant or bar. They would mix and mingle without business cards, than sit down around a table to discuss an interesting topic. They created a group to fulfill their own needs.
Entrepreneurship can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. And if all else fails, you can listen to some Bill Withers.
For more information about any of Halton Region’s Small Business Centre resources and services, and how we can help direct you to the right resources, contact us at 1-866-4HALTON (42-5866), www.haltonsmallbusiness.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at 1151 Bronte Road, Oakville. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @haltonecdev and Facebook at www.facebook.com/HaltonSBEC.
What’s your support system? Do you belong to an informal network or a professional association? Tell us about it! At the end of the month we’ll submit all entries into a draw for a chance to win a voucher for one of our upcoming seminars (value $25).