Imagine this. You spend years building your expertise and reputation within your industry—a successful career—and then your entrepreneurial spirit ignites! An opportunity presents itself to you, or your own burning desire motivates you to strike out on your own. The thought of being your own boss is intoxicating.
You are familiar with the common pitfalls of entrepreneurship—like having insufficient capital to get the business up and running (let alone making it profitable), accepting the financial risk of a potential failure, thinking too small, creating a job for yourself instead of building a business—and you are proud that you have carefully planned your new venture to avoid them.
Your passion and adrenaline drive you forward with excitement, and your business is launched with great reception. Sales start flowing in, business is good, but something is not quite right.
In your prior role, you may have participated in a research and development group where you and your co-workers met regularly to brainstorm ideas, or maybe you were a C-suite executive in a large corporation where you participated in regular management meetings. In either case, you were working with your peers, and they had respect for you and your contributions to the group. Your very identity might have been based on the position you held and the influence you wielded.
Your vision of being your own boss, in control of your own future, was so intoxicating that you didn’t even think twice about the possibility of experiencing a lack of self-confidence. You find yourself at your desk, as CEO of your own business, surrounded by wonderful and enthusiastic employees all looking to you for direction. You should feel great… right?
Instead, you have come face to face with the silent enemy of an entrepreneur: loneliness. In becoming your own boss, you walked away from an environment where you enjoyed the camaraderie of your peers. You have heard the expression, “It is lonely at the top,” but what is worse is what that loneliness creates: an environment of fear and self-doubt, which can become an entrepreneur’s greatest downfall.
Your identity is no longer tied to your former title, and you might miss the corner office or the depth of resources a company in its growing phase cannot match. You feel the loss of the corporate title. If you are a young entrepreneur, you might find that your lack of experience in years causes a sense of insecurity. Or maybe you are an entrepreneur who is so busy working in your business that you don’t take the time to work on your business. This is often the case for many women entrepreneurs who don’t ask for help, for fear of appearing weak, but it is so important to establish a network of support and influence to grow your business quickly and successfully.
So how can you avoid this silent enemy, or overcome it if you are already experiencing it? Consider the following steps to streamline your transition into a respected entrepreneur with great industry and community influence:
- Join a professional association. As you are contemplating leaving your position, get involved in one or more professional networking groups and consider becoming an officer in one of them. This will allow you to replace your former prestigious title with another one of equal or greater prestige. It will not only broaden your associations, but through it, you can find and get to know peers who you can call on for support.
- Form a mastermind of peers to support you in the creation and strategic planning of your business. Then set regular ongoing meetings (complete with agendas) where you can connect and brainstorm with peers in your industry, as well as other entrepreneurs. Their advice and wisdom can help you navigate any obstacles and turn them into opportunities.
- Find a mentor who has experienced success in your field. Schedule regular meetings with your mentor.
- Form a corporate advisory board. As your business is getting started, you may not be ready for a formal corporate board, but you may need more than a mastermind. Forming an advisory board helps lend credibility to your company, and it provides you with advice. Advisory board members do not have fiduciary responsibility, but they should be interested in supporting you and your business success.
- Form a corporate board. Consider creating a formal corporate board of directors who will be there to advise you. They bring years of experience and wisdom to the table and focus on your overall business strategy and growth plan. As formal board members, they will have fiduciary responsibility for the company, so structure is important, along with setting goals, benchmarks and growth direction.
Whatever choice you make in adding talented people to your team, remember the concept of reciprocity. Show your appreciation for the members of your mastermind, your mentor or your boards. Just as they are offering their support to you and your business, remember that you can contribute to their businesses as well. Offer to share your expertise for another an up-and-coming entrepreneur.
By reaching out and expanding your network of entrepreneurs and your systems of support, you will decrease loneliness, or avoid it entirely, and feel your self-confidence soar as your reputation and sphere of influence grows in the process. After all, it is much more fun at the top when you have others to enjoy the journey and share the success with you!
Sharon Lechter is one of the keynote speakers at the World Woman Summit on Oct. 11-12. The program will celebrate the doers and the doing—a source of inspiration and support that connects and empowers women around the world.