What’s less appreciated is what a lonely business it can be. We’re programmed to have jobs, meaning an established structure of activities and routines, carrying out set tasks with an assumption of being part of a team, management and feedback. That’s all gone when you’re making it up from scratch, and the psychological strain of being faced each day by a blank sheet of paper can be too much for many people.
Even when entrepreneurs have got their business ideas up and running, there’s still that isolation. This happens because successful entrepreneurs act and think differently to typical employees or managers. They’re fast-paced – other people in the business struggle to keep up. They tend to look unfocused and unprepared, when in reality they’re seizing opportunities before they disappear and taking risks that makes others feel uncomfortable.
Here’s how you can better balance the loneliness of entrepreneurship with building your own support networks – a basis for coping with the rollercoaster ride involved and long-term success.
1. The best entrepreneurs have high levels of self-awareness and know how to surround themselves with those with much-needed dedicated skills like accountancy and law.
2. Team up with people you know are the classic ‘completer finishers’. Entrepreneurs themselves are often onto the next big thing before their previous ideas have reached maturity, and this kind of support is important for feeling there’s a solid foundation for the business.
3. Be aware of the isolation. Don’t let it take you by surprise when there are combinations of problems and difficult times for the business. This way you’re more likely to be prepared mentally and to do something positive in preparation.
4. Actively build your own support network among likeminded people: are there people in your close family and friends network who you can really talk to – not just on social occasions, but who you can pick up the phone to or go and see? Entrepreneurs, like most of us, like to present a picture to the world of effortless success, but we also need to be adult enough to admit failures and weakness. Make the effort to explore local business groups and all the opportunities available to spend time with people facing the same issues, who can provide advice from their own experiences or just be a sounding board.
5. Where you are matters. Some areas are better for starting a business than others – in terms of infrastructure, costs of rents, supply of local talent and the buzz from other entrepreneurs around you. Bradford’s School of Management has been working for the last 50 years with businesses in its area, contributing to a situation where the city has been named the best in the UK to start a business, according to a Barclays’ SME Growth Factors index. Yorkshire in general has been acknowledged as having become a hub for women heading up technology firms in particular.
6. Collaborate. That doesn’t mean taking on a full-time partner but getting involved with projects that involve another entrepreneurial leader. A holiday from the isolation and a chance to get some peer support and perspective.
7. Think about the personal skills you need to develop beyond the basics around commercial acumen. To succeed over the long haul, all entrepreneurs need to have a strong sense of self-awareness, stores of resilience and good communication skills – all the kinds of qualities that can be self-consciously practiced and improved.
8. Assemble a rich portfolio of ‘war stories’, where entrepreneurs have suffered trouble and strife of all kinds. These can act as point of learning and reassurance, and help you avoid making the same mistakes.
Professor Zahir Irani is Dean – Management and Law at the University of Bradford School of Management, UK, @Zahirirani1, www.brad.ac.uk/management. Zahir was previously Dean of the business school at Brunel University, named as the Times Higher Education’s Business School of the Year under his leadership.