I grew up always wanting to be a cowboy. That all-American image of the lone cowboy drifting from place to place, righting wrongs and doing great deeds held the same allure for me that it did for so many other boys before me. He was beholden to no one and tied down to nowhere yet he was always happy, strong, and confident. He was also, it turns out, largely fictional. (Which is just as well as my plans to be a cowboy turned out to be just as fictional.) In reality, human beings are created to be more interdependent than independent and function best in environments where they are in mutually beneficial, authentic relationships.
A recent survey conducted by the health insurer Cigna found the same thing with a slightly more scientific methodology. According to their research, almost half (46%) of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone. And the problem isn’t getting better. Generation Z, comprised of adults ranging from ages 18-22, holds the dubious title as the loneliest generation. We won’t even get into the real impact that this has on our daily lives. The fact that a health insurer is interested enough in this topic to conduct the survey tells you all you need to know about the mental and physical effects of this lack of interpersonal connectedness.
This sense of isolation is also prevalent among small business owners. Even those that are aware of their need for social interaction and relationship can seldom find the time. More often than not the pressures of keeping all of the balls in the air relegates relationship to the back burner. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We all need a team. While there is no substitute for developing quality relationships with family and friends, there is a way to build your business AND your network of relationships at the same time.
Surround yourself with others going the same way.
Chambers of Commerce & Trade Organizations
Owning a business is lonely work. Doubts and questions are always lingering. Am I doing enough? Will people even want my product or service? Why don’t I just go and get a “real” job? If you don’t have a team of people who are travelling the path you are travelling it can be difficult to ward off these doubts. Let’s face it, try as they might, your well-meaning friends working their 9 to 5 just can’t understand the responsibility of running a business. They haven’t experienced bringing a product to market. They don’t need to worry about making payroll. They can leave their work…at work. You need to find other business owners and leaders that are on the same path as you but who has the time?
Organizations like your local chamber of commerce do a great job of finding ways for busy business leaders to connect with minimal interruption to their normal flow of work and life. To be clear, simply paying the membership fee and joining is not enough – you have to get involved at some level. But being a part of these organizations gives you the opportunity to connect with others in your situation over lunch or at events specifically designed with you in mind. It allows you to build a team for your small business journey without trying to sync calendars three and four times just to go out to dinner.
Bottom line: business-oriented organizations like chambers of commerce allow you to connect with like-minded business owners for mutual encouragement and support without going to great lengths to “get something on the calendar”.
Build a bench of people you trust.
Specialists & subcontractors
No matter how much expertise we have in our product or service, it is rare that we do not rely on other specialists or subcontractors for certain projects. When this becomes necessary who do you call? Do you simply Google “services near me” or do you have someone who is your “go-to” in that area? What if you took these relationships to the next level?
Building a bench of specialists and subcontractors you trust is another great opportunity for you to build meaningful relationships in a way that integrates with your busy schedule. You have to hire someone, why not make it someone you know and trust? Instead of simply hiring them, get to know them. Meet over lunch. Sign that contract after work over drinks. This will not only offer you opportunity for meaningful relationships but will enhance your work relationship as well, likely resulting in better products and services for your clients.
Bottom line: take advantage of your need for specialists and subcontractors and invest a little more in those relationships to build a bench of people you know, trust – and like.
Invest in your personal and business development.
Coaching & advisors
Some companies do a great job of connecting high-potential employees with mentors who are invested in their personal and professional development. I know they do. I just can’t name one. And even if I could, I’m fairly certain this level of human resource development is outside the reach of your small business. The question then, is who is investing in you? Who has an interest in your personal and professional success? Who do you go to when you aren’t sure you are doing the right thing or even what the right thing is? If you can identify a mentor that is able to commit this kind of time to you TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT – you are fortunate! Otherwise, it is time to invest in your own development by hiring a coach or advisor.
Admittedly, this can be tricky. As with any industry (including yours) there are good ones and bad ones. However, once you can find someone who is genuinely interested in your success, that relationship can prove to be a game changer over the long haul. They are someone you can turn to with questions you can’t ask your leadership team or board. You can bounce ideas off of them. They understand the difficulties of managing people. They can provide an external, dispassionate perspective that can be all but impossible to reach from inside your organization. As the relationship develops, they can become a key member of your team that makes you feel less lonely and that you have someone who genuinely wants to see you win.
Bottom line: invest in yourself and your business by adding a coach or advisor to your team.
Again, there is no substitute for close friends and family who love you unconditionally and are there for you no matter what. But you need to find a way to build a team of people around you that can help you feel you are not going it alone as a small business owner. And with a little creative thinking you can find ways to build your team without having to take a time-out from building your business.