There’s a lot to be excited about for those seeking a small-business adventure. The concept of being your own boss and building something from the ground up are two big examples.
The challenges, naturally, can be daunting, and not just in terms of financial success. Those that take the solo route to starting a business may find that the lack of daily interaction and communication may leave them with a sense of loneliness.
Here’s how Meredith Fineman describes it in a story for Fast Company: “It’s very lonely to stick your neck out there, to take on the world, even if you have a cofounder. You’re in the trenches. You’re trying to do something that has never been done before. So how could anyone else understand?”
Here’s a look at several ways to deal with the “lonely entrepreneur” feelings.
Build a support system
Having people to turn to is important for anyone, but it can take on additional meaning for a new small business owner. Mentors are essential to gain perspective and advice on how to move forward. Fineman describes her circle as a “career octopus,” as in each mentor becomes a different arm.
“When you’re really ‘in it,’ it helps to surround yourself with people whom you admire but who also care about you beyond whether or not you’re in the black,” she writes. “I have a written list tacked to my bulletin board of people that I can call when I feel overwhelmed in business. I’m lucky that I continue to add to it. These mentors have talked me down from fears of failure, fears of screwing it all up, or just plain fear.”
Consider a partner
This could be a big adjustment for someone who has successfully launched a small business. But there can be benefits to finding someone to share the burden, and also to supply a collaborative spirit. Ray Hennessey explores this in a story for Entrepreneur.
“While your instinct might be to always go it alone, you run the risk of self-imposed isolation, which almost always leads its close cousin, depression,” he explains. “Rather than isolate yourself, take on a partner or co-founder. For one thing, you’ll have someone to talk with who is invested in your success. Second, it gives you the opportunity to get someone with complementary skills. Maybe you’re a tech whiz, so you need someone who is a skilled marketer.”
Don’t avoid emotion
The stresses of starting a business can build, and for some entrepreneurs there may be an urge to bottle it up inside. There’s no shame in letting it all out when times are tough. As Hennessy writes, just don’t allow emotions to play a leading role for an extended period of time.
“We go through a range of emotions, but they really only get us in trouble if we let them manage us, rather than the other way around,” he notes. “Loneliness is a feeling, nothing more. After all, you can be lonely in a crowd of friends. Like all feelings, they need to be felt and then addressed. Cry it out. Have that pity party for yourself. Then wipe your nose and move forward.”
Find a new space
Small business owners that run the operation from their homes can have this loneliness amplified. Without the daily interaction of an office environment, they may feel a great sense of isolation. Janis Kupferer writes about this for The Huffington Post, noting that she likes the action of a workplace, “to hear other people tapping on their keyboards, the song of simultaneous phone ringing, and the flutter of pants and papers as people rush to one meeting or another.”
Her solution is to find co-working spaces, where other entrepreneurs and businesses rent space and share the same environment: “There I find that I can share in the rewards of having co-workers, without actually sharing work. I can smile and nod a friendly hello, I can comment on the ‘unusually cool’ weather, I can observe fashion trends that I’ll only acquire next year … and I feel connected.”
Reflect, yet look forward
When the burden of being a solo entrepreneur reaches stressful moments, it can help to take a step back in an attempt to gain perspective. In a story for Entrepreneur, Catherine Clifford shares the experiences of Brian Bordainick, who began a “data-driven dining startup called Dinner Lab.” Bordainick was proud to carry a heavy load, Clifford writes, but “reached a point where he couldn’t keep up.” He enlisted a CEO coach, who suggested he “write and reflect on what he had already accomplished — in addition to where he wanted to go.”
“Being an entrepreneur is like climbing a mountain, right,” Bordainick says in the story. “You are always looking up, and when you hit a peak, you want to climb the next one. But every now and then, you have to look back and say, wow, we are really far off the ground. You can’t look back for too long because someone will step on your head and go past you. But that balance of celebrating past successes and setting up systems where you are holding yourself accountable to just be in a moment, be really present.”
Focus on health
Diet and exercise are important for everyone, regardless of profession. But there are other ways for entrepreneurs to address their mental health. This can include escaping the pressures for a break from the stress, as Fineman explains in her Fast Company piece.
“This can mean walks or exercise,” she writes. “It can mean cooking to blow off stress, or seeing a funny movie in the middle of the day because you’ve worked this hard to become your own boss. It also means checking in with your overall happiness. Entrepreneurs are under a tremendous amount of stress — and that needs to be recognized.”
Ask for help
There could be a point when an entrepreneur’s loneliness evolves into a state of depression. Turning to others for advice, whether it’s a family member or a close friend, could help. And though seeking professional therapy might be an intimidating prospect, it could be the smartest plan of attack, as Hennessy writes.
“If loneliness is leading to a true mental-health condition, find a therapist,” he says. “If you just need to talk about where your life or business is heading, hire a coach. … The greatest loss that comes from loneliness or depression is perspective. Only someone who isn’t you can truly see you without the biases our internal mirrors show us. My experience has been that people generally want to help others, so unburdening is rarely a burden.”