The saying ‘it’s ‘lonely at the top’ doesn’t just apply to the heads of large corporates, it’s something that every business owner feels at some point, if not all the time.
Going from being a paid employee with a team around you, to setting up your own business and going it alone can be daunting.
Being a business owner is a steep learning curve, and sadly the path to entrepreneurial success is riddled with many businesses who haven’t made it past the first three years, and I firmly believe it’s largely because entrepreneurs don’t know where and how to access support.
There are four kinds of support business owners need – technical, professional, knowledge and advisory.
Firstly, ‘how to’ support to do the technical bits is required, i.e. someone to manufacture your product or design your website.
Second, professional support to make sure the business runs correctly is a must, such as the services of an accountant or a lawyer.
Third, you may seek out knowledge to understand what will make your business successful. This can include online research, talking to competitors and/or customers.
However, many entrepreneurs don’t recognise the need for advisory support.
In most other areas of your life you have peers – school friends, university friends, colleagues, sports team mates, etc. As a business owner, you sit at the top of the pyramid; which may be large, with numerous employees, or tiny, with just you and your fledgling idea.
You are suddenly responsible for all the main decisions, and others are looking to you for answers. There is nobody to defer to. It can be empowering to be able to make all the decisions, but it can also be terrifying.
For example, as a solo-preneur, you probably feel that there’s no one to turn to when the chips are down. Your friends are busy working ‘9-5’ and your partner can’t empathise.
Even when times are good, you win a new client or surpass last month’s target, you don’t have colleagues to high-five.
And even if you do have a great network of friends and family to talk to, they may tell you what they think you want to hear, or be too easy on you, or tell you what they think you should do, rather than what is right for you.
Making it less ‘lonely at the top’
To make it less ‘lonely at the top’, there are some things you can do right away that could help you feel more supported within your business.
There is no substitute for a more impartial yet supportive presence. This could be a business adviser, a mentor or a coach.
A business adviser will answer questions about running your business, and give you practical information on what to do or where to go for additional help.
A mentor is typically someone who has relevant experience, either in your field or a related one, and whose brains you can pick for information and guidance. They will share their experience and help you learn from their mistakes, so you don’t have to make the same ones. They may be able to suggest contacts to whom they can introduce you, or sources of advice or information that they found useful and think may be relevant to you.
A coach is there to stretch you to dream big. They will help you to identify your own strengths and weaknesses and those of your business. They will help you face your fears, and they will support you to take ambitious steps to achieve your business goals.
Find a peer group of business owners that you can connect with and share advice, tips and general rants about the life of an entrepreneur. Speaking to people going through the same issues will make you feel less isolated, and you can learn from each other and possibly collaborate.
Consider joining a networking group. There are many networking groups out there, some free, and some paid for, and it’s likely that in these groups you may find the business owners to form your peer network. But it’s important to not just make it about selling. Instead use this opportunity to find like-minded people, as this may be more rewarding in the long run then a quick win.
Celebrate your success. Blow your own trumpet! Share any PR coverage, new client wins, or testimonials you’ve received on social media. The feedback you will receive from other business owners as well as friends and contacts will serve as a boost and a reminder that you’re doing great!
Just because you run your own business, it doesn’t mean that you have to be glued to your desk 24/7. If you were working in an office, you’d have tea breaks, go out for lunch (possibly with a colleague) and take holidays. This shouldn’t change because you run your business. It’s important to take time out, get some fresh air and exercise. Normalising your routine as much as possible and being around others when you can will help make you feel less ‘lonely at the top’.
About the author: Amanda Cullen is an executive coach who works with individuals and groups, supporting leaders and teams to step up to their full potential.