There’s no manual for how to build a business. Well, to be fair, there are lots of them. Like, a bajillion books on entrepreneurship, management, leadership, and business. Many of them are great, but none of them are the manual for how to build YOUR business. This means you’ve got to figure most of it out on your own.
When I was trying to figure out ‘my manual,’ one of the of the first places I looked was podcasts. I found information, insight and perspective, and also something else I didn’t even know I was looking for -- community.
This blog series has explored the dangers of isolation in solopreneurship, as well as potential antidotes, like co-working, coaching and also group coaching. There’s a common thread in all of these; the imperative of building, and maintaining, community in solopreneurship.
Community can live in weird places!
It may seem counterintuitive that one of the secrets to creating community can begin with a relatively solitary activity -- driving around, doing chores around the house, or going for a run while listening to a podcast. But that’s exactly what I did, and it’s been one of the greatest sources of support in my solopreneurial life.
One of the best podcasts I discovered in my search is called BizChix, and it focuses on female entrepreneurs, as the title may imply. At first, I loved the smart content, the on-air coaching calls, the interviews, the practical tips, and the warm, encouraging tone of its host, Natalie Eckdahl.
Like many podcasts, BizChix has a free facebook group, where listeners can connect, ask questions, engage with the host, share tips, etc. It didn’t take long before I joined the facebook group, and found a really great community there. There were women in there with all different kinds of businesses, from all over the world, and at different stages in their success, but one thing everyone had in common was that same warmth and generosity of spirit that's such a hallmark of the podcast.
When you find your people, put yourself out there
After listening to the podcast consistently for about six months, I surprised myself, and bought a ticket to the show’s inaugural conference, Bizchix Live. It felt totally weird to buy a plane ticket to go to a conference across the country, where I would know absolutely no one, just because I liked a podcast! But off I went, and it was a total game changer for me, and my business.
BizChix Live was amazing! The group of women I met were exactly what I had kind of imagined they would be -- warm, smart, diverse, passionate, vulnerable, ambitious. I immediately felt at home.
However, the conference was just the beginning. The facebook group became an easy, natural way to keep up with the female entrepreneurs I’d met. Several of them became dear friends, and since then, one woman and I have business ‘ biz buddy’ calls about every eight weeks to support each other. The podcast has also taken on a new dimension in my life — once I really felt like I was part of the BizChix community, it became ‘My’ podcast.
Isn’t that all so weird? Can you imagine that happening even five years ago? Some random woman on the internet, I buy tickets to a conference I know very little about, and make lifelong friends, colleagues and business connections? It does seem bizarre, but the story goes on.
About six months ago, Natalie, the host, posted in the facebook group that one of her mastermind groups was planning a retreat in Boston, and did anyone know of space that might be suitable to hold their sessions. I live in Boston, and happen to have an amazing office space, and so, without hesitating, I replied, c’mon down!
Several months later, a small flock of BizChix turned up at my office, and it was so cool, again, to see this virtual connection manifest IRL. Being able to give something back deepened my connection to the community.
Just recently, I was at another conference that a bunch of BizChix were also attending, and we had a breakfast meetup. I made some cool, new contacts and re-connected with some familiar faces as well.
Community is the silver bullet
I’m sharing this with you because I am a better, stronger, happier, and more resilient business woman because I sought out, found, and then invested in community. I showed up, put myself out there, and said hi, this is me, this is who I am, who are you?
We have more opportunities than ever before to make our relationships in the online world real, and to nurture them into genuine connection. Community is, 100%, the silver bullet in battling isolation as a solopreneur, and in the 21st century, be prepared for it to show up in unexpected places!
In our last post in this series, we talked about the impact that working with a coach can have in fighting isolation, and leveling-up your business. However, another powerful way to access community, inspiration and direction is group business coaching.
In group coaching, your coach facilitates a small group, usually 6-8 clients, on a video conference call. The group usually meets several times a month, and clients can be supported with monthly private coaching check-ins as well.
What’s in it for me?
When I first heard about group coaching, I thought ‘no way.’ Why would I pay money to hear other people get coached? I want my coach to be solely focused on me, my business, my challenges, my needs. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and for reasons I never could have anticipated…
A coaching group gives you a cohort, a community, a built-in network of people like you, who are in the trenches alongside you, hustling, sweating, building their businesses. They get you. And when you watch them work through an issue they are having, it is very often similar to something you are wrestling with yourself. You get all the benefit of being coached to a solution, but with an objectivity that is, quite frankly, nearly impossible to obtain when you’re the one on the hotseat!
Plenty of time for you
Your coach’s job is to make sure that everyone on the call gets what they need that day -- the inspiration, the insight, or the resolution to a thorny practical issue. However, being part of a group is like a force multiplier for your business. I often find that I get more from group calls than even my private sessions with my coach.
There’s efficiency in working as a group; you gain perspective on everyone’s challenges, as well as your own. Even if the issues aren’t relevant to you that day, they almost always will be at some point soon, and then, voila -- you know exactly what to do! This is key -- I often hear solopreneurs struggle when sticky questions crop up in their business, and it’s partly because they’re not immersed in a community feeding them the answers every day.
There’s also an amazing bond that comes from being with your group on these calls. Offering suggestions and encouragement in the chat box, and feeling like you are part of their journey and they are part of yours. People in my coaching groups have become some of my dearest friends -- I am invested in their lives, and in the success of their business. Isn’t that what fighting isolation in solopreneurship is all about?
You are amazing!
One of the best kept secrets about group coaching is what it does for your own confidence. As you get to know everyone, you come to admire and respect them as people, as friends, as entrepreneurs, and vice versa.
You will almost certainly come to believe that these people are impressive, smart, capable human beings. So when you see them wrestle with mindset issues, accurately valuing their offering, or managing a sales funnel, it will surprise you. You’ll think, ‘But they’re amazing — how can they possibly doubt themselves?’
Then you realize that they are thinking the same about you.
And then you realize that you are also a smart, capable, impressive human being, and you suddenly feel ready to conquer the world!
Have you ever been part of a group coaching experience? What has been the most valuable part of coaching with others for your business?
I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the first article in this series -- ‘One is the Loneliest Number: The Dangers of Isolation in Solopreneurship.’ Clearly, the topic has resonated deeply with so many entrepreneurs working to build businesses, and struggling with all the mindset challenges that working alone can bring.
This series explores solutions to the loneliness that often plagues solopreneurs, so I’d like to share one of the factors that has made a huge impact for me in building my business -- co-working.
When I first ventured out on my own, I had a perfectly good dining room table at home, fast internet, and a laptop, and it would never have occurred to me to pay for a co-working space.
Many people who work from home report feeling the lure of laundry and dishes. I’ve always had the opposite problem; I open my eyes and my laptop in the same breath, and then don’t look up again until it’s 4pm, only to find that I’m still in my pyjamas, unshowered and hungry. I used to wonder where the day had gone, and then feel a little depressed that I hadn’t gone to the gym or brushed my teeth.
Still, I couldn’t see the value in paying money to go sit somewhere else, at a desk that wasn’t even mine, surrounded by strangers. It seemed sort of desperate, sad, and like a waste of money.
Then one day, an entrepreneurial acquaintance who was working out of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC,) invited me to visit for lunch. I had never heard of CIC, but quickly learned that it is iconic in the Boston startup world. Next door to MIT, it claims to be home to ‘more startups than anywhere else on earth,’ and is one of the first innovation centers in the country.
When I visited CIC’s dedicated co-working space for the first time, my whole world changed. I suddenly realized that you aren’t really paying for a desk and use of the odd conference room -- you are paying to be part of a community. Perhaps it’s the nature of being an ‘innovation center,’ but CIC is exceptionally focused on creating an ecosystem of entrepreneurs that take their responsibility as members of the community seriously.
Not all co-working spaces are created equal; I know I’m lucky to be part of such an awesome community. However, the shift in my mindset from ‘working at home’ to ‘having an office’ is, I believe, relevant to many solopreneurs.
When I joined CIC, I voluntarily started to commute an hour each way -- I take the bus and then transfer to the subway, at least three days a week. I use the time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks, brainstorm business ideas, mentally plan my day, and sometimes just stare out the window and day dream. My commute has become one of my favorite rituals as an entrepreneur. More than once, I have caught myself, walking from the subway station to my office, smiling for no reason, just happy to be part of the rhythm of the city.
I love the feeling of walking into my ‘office’ and seeing familiar faces. I usually sit at the same desk, and near the same group of people. I consider them my co-workers, and if I’m out of town for several days, I will often get a text from one of them asking where I am.
Some days I go in, work all day and leave without ever actually talking to another person, and still feel happier and more alive than if I had done the same thing sitting in my house. Other days I relish walking around the co-working space saying hi to people, and stopping for coffee chats in the kitchen.
Of course, there are definitely other business benefits to being part of a co-working community; the relationships I’ve developed, clients I’ve met, and the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of my customers’ needs have all been vital. There are never-ending events and workshops, so I’m constantly learning. I also draw inspiration from other entrepreneurs facing the same challenges as me.
Certainly the routine of brushing my teeth and leaving the house every day to go to a co-working space has been helpful in beating isolation, but I believe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the bus ride, maybe it’s the coffee chats, maybe it’s just being surrounded by other entrepreneurs. I suspect it’s a combination of all of those factors that has made me better at dreaming up creative solutions to business problems, and helped me maintain a healthy perspective on the highs and lows of building a business.
It turns out, I'm not alone in this discovery; recently the Harvard Business Review published its findings on the value of co-working in combatting isolation, and with some pretty compelling statistics -- 84% of respondents reported that working in a co-working space improved their work engagement and motivation. Most also reported being able to concentrate better due to fewer distractions compared to working from home or in coffee shops.
There are more shared workspace options available than ever before, and clearly, the demand is growing. Co-working spaces are generally month-to-month memberships, so it’s easy to try one out and see if it works for you. They also often offer different pricing tiers depending on how often you use the space, so you can still control your costs, and your schedule.
For me, the investment has been a game changer, and I don’t know where I’d be in my business if I had stubbornly refused to leave my dining room table.
What’s your experience of co-working? Have you found a balance of ‘home’ and ‘office’ time that has worked for you? Do you love working from home and don’t really get why anyone would want to go to an office? What works for you?
This is the second in a series of posts about the dangers of isolation in solopreneurship, and how to combat them. Read the first article here. If you have tips and tricks that have helped to keep you a happy, thriving solopreneur, please share them, and we may include in a future post.
Don’t go it alone -- join our group!
Due to popular demand, we are about to launch a new group membership program called Solopreneur Connection -- we'd love to have you join us! Click here to learn more about the program, and to submit an expression of interest.
I've become convinced that isolation is a silent dream killer for solopreneurs. Working alone is like the opposite of ‘groupthink’ -- but no less destructive to a small business.
You know the story, a small, service-based solopreneur works out of their second bedroom, or maybe the occasional Starbucks. They plug away, always on the hunt for clients, ‘doing all the doing,’ reading the right business books, constantly working ‘in’ the business, not ‘on’ the business and just hoping they’re getting it right. They worry about revenue, that they’re working too hard, and ultimately wondering if it’s all worthwhile -- whether they might not be better off working for someone else...
Whenever I hear solopreneurs report this kind of grind, I’m almost certain that the root of their frustration and anxiety is prolonged isolation. Why? Because the number one challenge that all entrepreneurs share is mindset. The laundry list of common issues includes imposter syndrome, burnout, inertia, creative blocks, anxiety and depression.
And it’s no wonder. Building a business brings up everyone’s deepest fears and insecurities -- am I good enough? Will anyone pay me what I think I’m worth? Is there a sustainable market for what I’m offering? Will I have consistent revenue? None of these are helped by sitting at home alone, toiling away in isolation.
Entrepreneurship is a team sport, which doesn’t mean that you have to hire a staff, but it does mean that you need community. Here’s why:
That laundry list of mindset issues? They’re a lot easier to manage when you know you’re not alone. When you have a community of peers, you realize that anyone building a business who doesn’t have imposter syndrome is playing it too safe, and at the expense of their bottom line. When you’re growing, you’re always going to be doing new things that you’ve never done before, so it’s a good idea to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. This is a lot easier to do when you have other entrepreneurs -- people in the same boat -- to talk to.
There are a million ways to build a business, but you only know what you know. Fortunately, there are lots of other entrepreneurs out there trying to solve the same problems, and sharing information and ideas is a great way to break free of creative and productivity blocks. For example, you may be struggling with keeping on top of emails and calendaring, but someone else in your community may have already successfully used an automation platform that could do all this for you. No one can keep on top of everything, so knowledge sharing is vital to success.
When you work alone, you’re also stuck just thinking your own thoughts every day, which creates huge blind spots. It’s hard to solve business problems creatively when you’re stuck in your own head, with not enough external input.
Referrals and Partnerships
You may know your own market, but have no idea how to access adjacent markets, or even that they exist. When you have a community of entrepreneurial peers, you’ve instantly increased your pool of potential customers. Similarly, you’ll also be able to start tapping into vibrant referral networks -- hard to do sitting at home alone at your laptop.
That all sounds helpful, but how do you make the leap from thinking your own thoughts all day every day to breaking into the wellspring of ideas, innovation, empathy and encouragement that you need?
More to come!
Welcome to the first in a series of posts in which we’ll explore some of the ways that I, and other entrepreneurs, have found effective in beating isolation, and building our businesses. We’ll look at the benefits of co-working, coaching, and community-building. We’ll also examine the role that mindset and resilience play in the success of solopreneurs.
In the meantime, what are your top tips for combating isolation as a solopreneur? What tricks have you discovered to master your mindset? Share them here and we may contact you to be part of a future post.
Due to popular demand, we are getting ready to launch a new group membership program called 'Solopreneur Connection' -- we'd love to have you join us! Click here to learn more about the program, and to submit an expression of interest.
Victoria Dew is the Founder and CEO of Dewpoint Communications.