Lonely at the top – why business owners need support to succeed (and not just your other half!)
The transition from being a paid employee with a team of colleagues, to going it alone and setting up a business can be daunting. Not least because the latter doesn’t come with a rule book. Being a business owner is a steep learning curve, and unfortunately so many don’t make it past the first three years, and I believe it’s largely because entrepreneurs don’t know where and how to access support.
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.
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.
Neglecting your biggest asset - yourself
There are four kinds of support you need as a business owner –technical, professional, knowledge and advisory.
Firstly, you require ‘how to’ support to do the technical bits, perhaps someone to manufacture your product or to design our website. Second, you pay for professional support to make sure your business runs correctly, perhaps consulting 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. When you run your own business, you sit at the top of the pyramid (which may be large, with numerous employees, or tiny, with just you and your fledgling idea).
As business owners you are suddenly responsible for all the key decisions, and others are looking to you for answers. There is nobody to defer to. It can be exhilarating to have the freedom to make all the decisions, but it can also be terrifying.
Making it less ‘lonely at the top’
While there’s no silver bullet, there are some things you can do right away that could help you feel better connected and 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. They may have a specialist area of knowledge, such as getting funding, sales or PR.
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 own 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 may or may not have any experience in your field, but that’s not their key role. They will stretch you to dream big. They will help you to identify your own strengths and weaknesses and those of your business. They will challenge you to 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 a boss. Speaking to people in the same boat will make you feel less alone, and you can learn from each other and possibly collaborate.
Consider joining a networking group, but not just for the sales. There is a wealth of 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. Chances are you’re doing a lot of that anyway, so 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. We don’t really like to blow our own trumpet, but as a business owner, you really have to! 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’.
Amanda is an executive coach who works with individuals and groups, supporting leaders and teams to step up to their full potential. As well as supporting large corporates, Amanda also works with small business owners to help them realise their full potential. Head over to Amanda's website here.