The early days of entrepreneurship can be crazy lonely
Startups and small businesses often have the same thing in common: in the early days, you work from home, or setting things up after work hours as a side hustle. Working from home has many perks: from lower overhead, the ability to bootstrap your business, access to working and collaborating via the internet, to no commute. But if you’re working solo or you don’t have teammates yet, the isolation of early entrepreneurship can be really tough.
Meeting with others regularly is good for mental health, for idea generation, for keeping work flowing, and is critical to your future success in business. Throw parenting into the mix (I work with entrepreneurial parents, who are juggling kids, jobs, and often side hustles) and carving out time to meet new people can feel like an exercise in insanity.
Often, the better connected we are, the more likely we are to succeed.
Connections and networks are the vital lifeblood of our health, our wellness, and our business’ success. How, then, do you make sure to replace these water cooler conversations and spontaneous connections if you’re running your business from your house (or bedroom)?
Here are seven strategies from successful entrepreneurial parents.
1. Be intentional and schedule it in.
What doesn’t get on your calendar doesn’t happen. Many business owners I spoke with were surprised by how much more intentional they had to be about scheduling in connections, breaks, and routines into their workday. “I have to intentionally plan time into my week to connect,” said Angela Greaser, a strategic operations consultant and a co-founder of All The Ops. “If I don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen.”
2. Set up recurring calendar reminders.
Arianna Taboada, a maternal health consultant, has two recurring tasks that she puts into her Google Calendar in alternating order. One week, she reaches out to a colleague (someone she has an established relationship with), and the next, she reaches out to someone new to introduce herself. Every week she’s either bolstering existing relationships or reaching out to develop new contacts.
3. Set up connection sprints every few months to do 15-minute virtual coffee chats.
If you like to go deep on your work and be relatively uninterrupted, then finding time to chat with people every day can feel disruptive to your workflow. Instead, try scheduling blocks of calendar time dedicated to connecting with others, so you can leave the remaining time uninterrupted.
One entrepreneur blocks out an entire week of afternoons once each quarter to connect with a lot of people rapidly. She tries to get 30+ chats in during a single week in a burst to meet as many people as possible. In order to do this, she’s very active in social media groups in the weeks leading up to her sprint and shares that she’s looking to meet new people and talk about specific subject areas.
Try calendar blocking a “sprint” for connecting with others in rapid-fire 15 minute blocks to save larger chunks of time for deep work.
4. Do “10 touches” every week as part of your business strategy.
When I interviewed Morra Aarons-Mele, who is a Women@Forbes contributor, for my podcast, she described her work style as that of a “hermit entrepreneur.” She talked about how she had to develop strategies for staying in touch with people when working from home. For her, it is essential to build in systems for connection as part of her work.
“If you don’t sit with peers and mentors all day, how do you cultivate that community? Where do you go when you have a tough question, or when you even just want to get someone’s opinion on something? You have to build in those systems,” she said.
She focuses on doing at least “ten touches,” each week, where she reaches out to at least ten people to keep the relationship warm. This can include emailing people to ask how their work is going, what they need help with, if they need introductions to people, or sending a quick update with projects as it relates to them.
5. Plug into local groups—or start your own.
Many entrepreneurs shared how lonely and strange the journey is. The good news is that you’re not alone. Steph Jhala, based in Vancouver, Canada, started All The Mama Feels, a Facebook group to support women in their transition to motherhood when she was navigating the first year of motherhood while working as a leadership coach. Dig into MeetUp groups, local coffee shops, and listservs as a way to find like-minded individuals. Being a part of the Fizzle community isn’t about the courses (although they are awesome). It’s about being surrounded by like-minded content creators and business owners and connecting with them on a regular basis.
For me personally, as a parent and entrepreneur, I knew I needed other business owners to speak to on a regular basis, so I created my own online community for startup parents to chat about the ups and downs of growing both businesses and families. Look for your own group, and if you can’t find it, it might be that you need to build it.
6. Schedule conferences and big events strategically.
If it’s hard to get out of the house on a regular basis (think: scheduling babysitters, feeding a new baby, home duties, two jobs, or chaotic hours), consider scheduling one or two big events to meet a lot of people all at once. If you can’t get out on a regular basis, try getting as much as you can out of a single event: set up group meet-ups before or after the conference, and make sure the conference is within your target niche so it’s a great overlap of the type of people you want to meet.
7. Use your power to connect others.
“I try to connect two people a week via email. Since I have a toddler and a two-week-old newborn, getting out of the house is a challenge,” shared Stephanie Burns Robertozzi, co-founder of Chic CEO. “I keep up with my network by serving them. So I try to create a thoughtful connection between two people in my network every week. This not only adds value to them but keeps me top of mind as well.”
We don’t grow in isolation. We need each other.
In summary, know that entrepreneurs everywhere are looking for mentorship, peer-to-peer advice, and colleagues to collaborate with. Bonnie Foley-Wong, the founder of Pique Ventures, an impact investment and management company focused on women-led tech ventures, shared her reminder that we all need each other to help grow. “I’m so used to being the advisor, the person that people come to for decisions. But when it’s my own decisions, I need to do the same. I need to talk to other people and gather some different perspectives to get off the fence.”
Grow your own community of mentors and peers, whether you work from home, online, in bursts, or in regular calendar events. The more you integrate it into your business strategy and structures, the easier it’ll be.
Want more stories of inspiring female founders in life and work? Check out The Startup Pregnant Podcast. Follow us as @sarahkpeck and @startuppregnant on Twitter. Sarah K Peck is a writer, entrepreneur, and yoga teacher based in New York City.