2020 has been a year of unpleasantries – and that’s putting it mildly!  If you are a small business owner, it’s nearly guaranteed that your business was affected in one way or another.  Some businesses were forced to shut down completely, some had serious supply chain issues, and many were impacted by employees either sick with COVID or quarantining.  All around not our best year. 

Then in addition to all our work woes, we weren’t able to connect with friends and family for holidays, vacations and parties like we’ve done in the past.  In my family, this was the first time since my daughter was born that I didn’t see her on Thanksgiving.  And I know I’m not the only one. 

This year has been full of quarantine binging on Netflix and all of us staring at ourselves in the Brady Bunch-like Zoom boxes used for both work and home schooling.  We have missed out on school sporting events, attending concerts, big family weddings, crowded bars full of life and so many other things this year.   

As a result, we are all struggling with some serious COVID fatigue as we do our best to navigate work and family from our home offices, with no breaks for morning coffee or a group lunch or a cocktail after work.  Overall, almost twice as many of us reported being lonely in 2020 as compared to two years ago.  We are feeling more isolated than ever before.

And if you are a business owner, chances are you were already feeling somewhat lonely and isolated.  A 2009 Harvard Business Review study showed that half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their role.  And another poll showed that entrepreneurs are more stressed and more worried than other workers.  And that was before COVID!

For you small business owners reading my post, I hear you.  It’s lonely at the top of your small business.  And it’s also lonely if you are a solopreneur, even if you’re not really “on top” of anything or anyone.  You are still solo – making all the decisions on your own as you work to grow your business.

So how do you find connections and feel less lonely when we are all stuck in our own home offices, away from networking events, conferences, golf outings, shared working spaces and the like?

And where do you find peers who understand where you’re coming from and are there to support you as you muster your way through a year full of PPP loans, supply chain mishaps and masked meetings?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Look for virtual networking or coffee-talk events – or set up your own

I know that Zoom isn’t the same as in person, and I know we are all tired of staring at ourselves on Zoom calls (which has apparently led to an increase in demand for plastic surgery!)

But – given the fact that we can’t easily gather together in person, a casual networking or business discussion group can be a great way to chat with other small business owners and entrepreneurs.  You can take a look on Eventbrite to see what’s going on online – or see what your local Chamber of Commerce or other traditional networking organizations have to offer.

The great thing about these virtual events is that it doesn’t matter where you live.  I have a friend and fellow business owner here in Wisconsin who joined a virtual book club from California!  And I am co-hosting a weekly business socializing event (Coffee with Karman and Kelly) through the local Women’s Business Center that has had guests from all over the country (and even one from Morocco)! 

Do you have business associates you miss chatting with?  Or a coffee group or lunch group you don’t get to see anymore?  Then set up a time to chat with them via Zoom with no agenda – just to catch up.  If you work on your own, or if you run your own business with no other business owners to talk to, it can be a nice break in your day to have a friendly conversation with no action items included.

  1. Reach out to your fellow business owners and set up a mastermind group

If you’re looking for something more formal and motivating than a friendly chat with business buddies, then perhaps you should consider putting together a mastermind group instead.  Don’t be intimidated by the term “mastermind” – it’s not actually a brand name.  The term was originally coined by Napoleon Hill in his “Think and Grow Rich” book, an inspirational book on success originally published in 1937. 

All you need to do is find one or two business owners, ideally at about the same stage or size as your business, and agree to meet on a regular basis.  Mastermind groups typically meet weekly or every other week.  Your group members can offer you the support you need as a small business owner, along with advice, an outsider’s perspective, a chance to celebrate your wins, and a way to hold yourself accountable. 

I have been in a Mastermind Group since March with two other businesswomen in my town.  We meet weekly for an hour via Zoom, and each of us gets 20 minutes to share an update of our successes and frustrations and to discuss our own business issues before moving on to the next person.  We have also decided that once a month we will set aside a day to work ON our businesses, with a focus on strategy and planning, rather than IN our business, managing the day-to-day issues that come up.

Anyone can start a mastermind group.  Just look for a few small business owners who are interested in joining you.  Or look around at some of the support services like SBDC in your area to see if they can assist you or recommend some potential partners.

There are, of course, paid mastermind groups out there as well.  They may include additional options like a facilitator and access to guest speakers.  Many of these groups are larger, and they can be expensive.  Some are invitation only!  But in my opinion, just making a simple commitment to a couple other business owners looking to grow with you is all the support you need.

  1. Consider an online CEO Peer Group or a business owners’ online community

Another way to connect, find help with decision making, strategic planning and accountability, is through a CEO Peer Group.  These groups are more geared toward business owners who are not solopreneurs – those with employees but perhaps not a C-suite of executives aiding in the decision-making process.  If you are the founder or owner of your business and you are the one in charge of making strategic decisions, either on your own or with some partners, then a CEO Peer Group can be a tremendous value.

Most groups are run similarly.  There is a facilitator to make sure that everyone stays on topic, no one dominates the conversation, the meeting starts and ends on time, and the discussion is productive.  The members of the peer group are from non-competing businesses that ideally also do not do business together or as referral partners. 

The goal of a CEO Peer Group is to give business owners a place to share their worries and concerns, and to discuss them with others who understand their situation.  Many of the conversations touch on the personal lives of the business owner, because if you own your own business, business and personal typically become intertwined.

While mastermind groups can be self-created or joined and paid for with a facilitator, a typical CEO Peer Group involves both a financial and a time commitment.  And in the current pandemic situation, most peer groups are meeting virtually.

CEO Peer Groups have been shown to help their members increase their growth rate and operating margin as compared to the industry average, and generally experience better business results.  And, of course, CEOs in these groups now know that they are not the only ones experiencing the problems they encounter, and that they can all help each other by sharing experiences, successes and concerns on an ongoing basis.

While meeting in person is certainly desirable for a group like this, there are certainly benefits to meeting online as well, including the ability to access business owners outside of your region.  And then in a safer, non-COVID world, everyone in an online CEO Peer Group from across the country could gather together in one location for an annual meeting as well.

In my opinion, there is also value in finding ways to connect on a regular basis between monthly CEO Peer Group meetings, through an online community.  I have been enjoying my connections with other aspiring solopreneurs in the Unemployable Community. 

Paid online communities like the one I joined typically offer groups of like-minded business owners features such as workshops, lunch and learns, guest speakers, and seminars.  This is complemented with a members-only private forum to encourage discussions and accountability, along with live chat and messaging features to encourage connections, so you don’t feel quite so alone.

Speaking of that, watch this space (er, blog post) for news in 2021 about a new community of small business owners I am putting together for those looking for peer group connections and other ways to grow their business and feel connected to other like-minded business owners.

 

Blog hack:  Have you ever clicked on the hyperlinks in my blog posts?  Some of them go to a site that just supports the research I’m sharing or defines a term.  But others link to some fun and silly sites for pure entertainment.  Give it a try sometime!

 

 

 

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