Q: Ten months ago I changed careers and started a consulting business, and so far my income and expenses are on target. In fact, given the struggling economy, I actually have a little more business than I anticipated.
However, I'm having another, completely unexpected problem – I'm lonely. All the time I was buying furniture, setting up a home office and making brochures so I could strike out on my own, it never occurred to me that I would miss having co-workers. While I have lots of people contact in my new career, there are no peers to share my ideas and successes with, or even just to gripe about the day. My wife is supportive and interested, but she has a successful career of her own. I'm not unhappy enough to become an employee again. I enjoy the freedom, flexibility and income of an entrepreneur, but I could use some suggestions for building professional relationships. Aside from finding a partner, what else can I do to get the feeling of teamwork my nine-to-five gig used to provide?
A: Entrepreneurs working at home can easily become isolated if they don't connect with others in their professional community. Yours is a common problem that stops many people from starting their own businesses. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to improve your feeling of camaraderie without giving up your hard-won freedom:
- Business Lunches
- Professional Organizations
- Volunteer Work
- Shared Office Space
- "Success" Groups
- Joint Ventures
A working lunch is a great way to get out of the house to share ideas with friends and fellow business owners. Sure, it costs a little more than a trip to the refrigerator, but it's also deductible as a business expense. Besides, the worthwhile relationships you'll build are worth the price.
Professional Organizations are full of contacts who have similar interests. Sometimes they offer access to specialized subgroups for colleagues with similar backgrounds. Check out a few meetings as a guest before deciding whether you want to join. If you do, attend all monthly meetings and serve on at least one committee. The more involved you are, the more you'll get back.
Along with one-day seminars and continuing education courses, conventions provide opportunities to meet other business owners and discuss common problems and strategies. People who attend them usually are interested in exchanging ideas and information, making these events great for building lasting relationships.
Volunteering your time and expertise can put you in touch with professionals whose company you'll enjoy. Tackling a tough problem as part of a team can help you re-capture the camaraderie your business doesn't provide, and you'll have the satisfaction of helping to improve your community.
You might want to re-work your budget to see if you can afford an office in an executive suite. Many small businesses choose to rent space where they can have a small office plus access to a conference room, typing, phone answering and bookkeeping services for one monthly fee. Chances are you'll meet at least a couple of "co-workers" worth your time.
As you get to know other entrepreneurs, you can form a weekly or monthly "success" group where you get together and discuss business strategies, problems, sources of new clients, goals or any other issues that you face. Over the years, the members will become trusted confidants who will refer business to each other, brainstorm ideas or provide consolation. Great ways to start such a group include reaching out to contacts on Twitter, or setting up an event on Meetup.com.
As you find other consultants with complimentary interests, look for potential businesses you can build together. Joint ventures don't require you to form a full-time partnership, yet they offer a terrific opportunity to pool your talents and resources on projects you might not tackle on your own.
Using these techniques, you should be able to recapture that feeling of teamwork that's been missing, while still maintaining your newfound independence. And besides being a cure for loneliness, they can be great for attracting new business and expanding your network of contacts, too.