Quitting the 9-5 and becoming an entrepreneur is a dream for many of us. There are many benefits to self employment, and these are often spoken about at length in the media: total working freedom, the ability to choose your own opportunities, the space to make your own decisions and take greater control of your working hours.
However, there are also some less beneficial sides to being an entrepreneur. Those brave people who make the break and dive head first into entrepreneurship often discover that it can be very lonely on the other side.
What’s lonely about being an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship often involves long stretches of being on your own. This can be a shock, especially if you’ve moved from a more structured office-based career. Before entrepreneurship, many of us were surrounded by colleagues, and most of our decisions were made within meetings after discussions and collaborations. Once you’re working on your own, well, you’re really on your own.
Of course, not all entrepreneurs work on their own. Many manage a team of staff and/or work in close contact with clients and suppliers. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the threat of loneliness is averted. When you’re the boss it can be difficult to cross boundaries and discuss business matters with employees, clients or suppliers. These can be difficult relationships to navigate, and you may discover that you have just as few people to discuss business decisions with as the entrepreneur who works from home with their computer. Many entrepreneurs discover that it’s actually very lonely at the top.
The kind of meetings and networking events that entrepreneurs attend will certainly bring you into contact with plenty of other people, but they don’t necessarily help guard against entrepreneurial loneliness. It can be difficult to know who you can trust and who should be treated as competitors or customers. Often there can be just as many boundaries to respect as there are among your own staff.
What effect can this have?
Loneliness might not seem like a huge problem to begin with, but it can certainly become an issue for you and your business over time. Our state of mind has a huge impact on how effective we are as individuals. The real risk here is that your loneliness could turn into isolation and could make you less effective as a professional. Isolation is particularly dangerous in business as it can stop you from taking a measured view of your business and your market and can lead instead to blinkered vision. When you spend all your time thinking about your business without any outside influence, you’ll likely find that you have little new inspiration. Instead you may find yourself falling into a pattern of doing the same things over and over again.
No matter how much you hope for different results in these cases: repeating the same behaviour over a period of months and years will pretty much guarantee that you won’t be moving forwards. If your mindset becomes inverted, it can also affect the way you deal with employees, clients and suppliers. This is problematic as your judgement could be impaired, and you may be prevented from portraying your business in the right way.
Of course, it’s not just your business that can suffer because of entrepreneurial loneliness: your personal life can also be affected. Human beings are not generally able to successfully compartmentalise their dissatisfaction with one area of their lives, and if you’re having difficulty in your work it’s likely that dissatisfaction will leak out and cause problems within your social and family lives too.
What can you do to prevent loneliness?
As a general rule, entrepreneurial loneliness can be prevented by surrounding yourself with individuals you trust and speaking to them regularly about your business. However, finding these individuals isn’t as straight-forward as it might sound. Entrepreneurs often turn to family members and friends in these cases. This can be helpful as these people will know you well and you’ll probably feel most comfortable talking to them. In most cases, though, friends and family members won’t have specialist business knowledge and may find it difficult to challenge you. The advice given by this kind of confidante can also come with a vested interest.
Another natural ally might be other entrepreneurs. These people are likely to understand the challenges you face as an entrepreneur, and they’ll also have the business knowledge and expertise to make valuable suggestions. Of course, it can take a great deal of time to build up a mutually honest relationship with someone who could potentially be a competitor or a client.
You may find that you aren’t able to be totally open with another entrepreneur. Our egos often get in the way, and it might feel more natural to tell entrepreneur contacts that everything is going brilliantly, even when it isn’t. Luckily, there is a third option. Developing a relationship with a professional business coach can be extremely beneficial for entrepreneurs. Coaches can support entrepreneurs in ways that other business owners, friends and family often aren’t able to.
They offer confidentiality and a totally impartial ear.
They have specialist business knowledge and will be able to give worthwhile advice.
They have no vested interest in your business, either as a personal contact, a competitor or a client.
They offer a professional service, which means they won’t require a favour in return.
Loneliness is often considered a necessary evil for those who are self-employed. However, it can become a threat to your personal and your business’ wellbeing if it’s not addressed. Taking the time to speak to family, friends and other business contacts can certainly help to reduce loneliness, but these kinds of conversations often don’t produce the same productive, actionable results as speaking with a professional business coach.
One of the biggest reasons why businesses fail to thrive is a lack of quality impartial advice. Building a professional relationship with a coach can help to counteract this, and can be a valuable asset both to your business’ success and your personal wellbeing.
About the Author: David Twiddle is Managing Director of Twiddle & Co., a talent management firm exclusively serving entrepreneur-led and family owned businesses.
To find out more information about working with an Executive Coach,
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