Working alone: how to combat the isolation

There are a lot of benefits to working alone. 

Nobody telling you what to do. 

Nobody holding you up with their incompetence.

And nobody distracting you with office gossip or personal dramas. 

Working alone is great. 

Or is it? 

Running a business can be a lonely place, and it helps to have someone to bounce an idea off, discuss a problem with or get advice from when we need to make an important decision. Even the most anti-social of us can find ourselves missing human company from time to time.

So, if your only conversations in the last week were with Alexa, your cat or the guy that called about mis-sold PPI, then it’s time to get out and mingle.

Attend networking events

Networking is a great way to meet people and build connections. There are loads of events on offer – each with different formats and different people. 

Referral based networking groups are good for building long term relationships and getting more business. 

Peer-to-peer boards tend to be smaller and are beneficial if you have specific obstacles you need help overcoming. 

Industry meet-ups are good if you want to stay up to date and share advice with people in your field.

And, if you really can’t bear the idea of formal networking, then attending an exhibition might be a less daunting option.

Attend a few different events to find the ones that work for you. Even if you’ve had a bad experience of networking, give it another go. Think of it like eating out – just because you’ve had a bad meal at one restaurant doesn’t mean you’ll never try another one.

Work in a public place

Co-working spaces are brilliant for business owners and freelancers who work alone. Not only are they far cheaper than an individual office space, you also get to network with the people you share the space with. 

If co-working feels like to much of a commitment, try working out of a coffee shop, bar, library or even the train station once or twice a week. You get the feeling of being around people all day, but interactions can be kept to a minimum. 

Get training or coaching

Personal development is essential if you want to succeed in business. Look for training courses in your area. Not only will you learn a new skill or build your expertise, it’s also a great opportunity to make some new connections. 

If you want someone to help you get your business to the next stage, a business mentor or coach is hugely beneficial. They will be there to bounce ideas off, hold you accountable and help you reach your potential. Different coaches and mentors have different personalities and styles, so find someone who feels like the right fit for you. 

Need some help?

When I first started out, networking was a scary prospect. Now I regularly attend networking events and training courses. I have also worked with various coaches at different stages of my career and have taken advantage of co-working spaces. 

If you’d like a chat about what options could work for you, then get in touch. I’d be happy to share my experiences and help you figure out what to do and what not to do. 

Do I need a business coach?

There’s a quick answer to the question “do I need a business coach?”

NO

No-one needs a coach of any kind. 

A coach doesn’t actually do anything. 

So why are there so many coaches out there?

Well, the whole idea of coaching came from sport … in fact, it’s accepted that it’s impossible to be a successful sports person without a good coach. Because that coach makes sure you turn up, tells you what to do during training, watches how you prepare for things, makes sure you are making the best use of your time and encourages you to beat your personal bests. 

Business coaching is slightly different to sport coaching – but essentially a business coach does a similar thing. 

There are some differences. 

Coaching isn’t the same as training – training is where you follow a pre-defined programme of learning, that’s laid out in front of you. 

Coaching isn’t the same as mentoring – a mentor speaks and advises you from their experience. 

Coaching isn’t the same as consultancy – a consultant will work with you and advise you on a particular aspect of your business, and then will do at least part of the work needed to move you forwards. 

Coaching is about finding out what you want and helping you come to your own answers on how to get there. And, most importantly, holding you accountable to make sure you stick to those decisions. 

So a better question is “is it worth having a business coach?”

The simplest answer there is I have three. Sort of. 

The first is my Profit First coach. He leads me through the Profit First system, helping me pick out and adapt the parts that work well for me. So this is as much a training programme as it is a coaching programme. 

The second is my marketing coach. We discuss how I want things to be, what’s going well, what’s going badly, how it makes me feel. Then she comes up with a list of tasks, some of which are for me, some of which are for her. 

And third is my business coach. This is a pure coaching relationship. We talk about where I am now, where I want to be, what is stopping me from getting there and making sure that I approach my business in the right way to get me there. 

Personally, I love coaching. Unlike mentoring or training, it’s all about the client. I have to discover what they want, I have to help them discover their own answers and figure out what’s holding them back. And then I have to keep them accountable, so they actually make the changes that they have decided that they need. 

And because of this, I’ve designed my own coaching programme. 12 weeks to move your business towards financial security.

So if you know anyone who runs their own small business but feels that the road is too precarious, who feels that the business isn’t giving them the life they want, who is always short on time – ask them to give me a shout. There are probably some really simple things we can do that will make a huge difference. 

Arrange a call back

The trouble with Post-it notes

I’m one of those people who loves stationery shops.

There’s not much better than a really heavy sketch pad and a 4B pencil.

Or a fountain pen, freshly filled with ink.

I love sketching in biro too – there’s nothing else like it.

Notepads, pens, card. It’s fantastic stuff.

It’s also really simple and understandable.

Physical.

No surprise that the most used internet application is email – because it mimics the way a paper letter works – and it’s still the best way to get in touch with someone today, despite the myriad of alternatives.

When getting your business organised, using something physical is often the very best first step.

Go to any office – how many people have their computer monitor covered in post it notes.

How many people have a whiteboard on the wall with the plan for the next few months – or their sales figures.

This is great.

It’s better to have a plan than have none.

Starting out you need to get organised as quickly and cheaply as possible.

But there comes a point when you need to move on.

While I love paper, I love fountain pens, I love notebooks, I also have a real fear around them.

What happens when I lose it?

So much important information. My to do lists, my detailed notes on how a particular project needs to work out. My diary for the next few weeks.

It would be so easy to leave it on a train. Or spill tea all over it. Or have it fall out of my bag.

And then I’d be screwed.

At one place I used to work, we had a giant whiteboard, listing out all the tasks we had for our variety of projects. Each one was placed exactly where it needed to be, so the right team knew what they had to do next. So we knew when it was due for completion. Our entire work schedule for the next few months.

At the time, we were working in a Portakabin, as we had outgrown our main office. The door for the cabin was annoying and hard to open. So you sort of had to kick it to get it open.

One day, someone came in, kicked it open, just as a gust of wind blew outside. The wind caught inside the cabin and blew half the post-its off the board and on to the floor.

In a fraction of a second, our plans for the next month were just ruined.

It was only a small issue. We guessed at where everything belonged and were back to normal in quarter of an hour.

But it’s a reminder that there comes a point where paper won’t do the job you need it to. Even worse if we were spread across multiple offices.

One advantage of “cloud” systems (which basically means that it’s someone else’s responsibility to look after it) is the data is backed up, it’s replicated and it’s accessible wherever you are.

Are you getting to the stage where it’s something you need to think about? If so, I’m happy to advise – click here to arrange a call-back at a time that suits you.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Ever feel like you’re stuck in a loop?

When you started your business, did you have big dreams and ambitions? Or even moderate dreams and ambitions?

Maybe you just wanted the free time and ability to take time off and pick your kids up from school?

Or you fancied a big house in the country, and a slightly smaller town house that you could gift to your mum?

Whether you wanted your business to give you a lavish lifestyle or just give you a bit more of what you were lacking – it’s often easy to lose track of those dreams.

When I was looking back through my notes from three years ago, I was shocked to see that I’ve not really moved forwards in all that time. The goals I had set for myself were substantially the same as this years. The progress I had made was, in many cases, non-existent.

Are you stuck in a loop? I am (was?)

There’s a saying “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”.

If you want to move towards those dreams, you need to change how you do things. It’s not enough to write out a plan. You’ve got to decide to implement it. And make sure you actually do.

Too often, I’ve come up with the plan then got distracted when implementing it. And the reason for that is because of a number of issues I’ve got in my own brain.

I consistently underestimate how long a particular project will take. I always undercharge for the work I do. I’m always too nice when it comes to accepting change requests.

So I decided, earlier this year, that it was time to change.

I no longer take on those bespoke, open-ended projects. So there’s no estimating to be done; instead I have a series of defined, thought-out products that give you what you need but give me certainty in how long they will take to deliver.

I have a fixed price list. No more writing proposals and estimating how much it’s going to cost. Instead, I can say “here are the prices; I hope you’ll see they’re extremely good value for what you get”.

And I have a process for handling requests. When we’re at points X and Y in the process, that’s when we make those amendments. That way we stay on schedule, we all know where we stand but the end result still fits your needs precisely.

For me, the change I needed was all about money. Where do you need to make the change?

Find out how.

Sometimes, the smallest changes can make the biggest difference

How does your business look to you at the moment?

Are you struggling for time?

Have you had an evening off recently?

Have you had a weekend off recently?

When we started out, all the gurus and fancy pants consultants were swanning around, promising us that running our own business would be fun.

  • It would give us more money.
  • No more idiot bosses.
  • Take time out to spend with the kids.
  • Work in your underwear.
  • On the beach.

What happened to that lifestyle?

The problem is, many of us were never taught how to run a business.

I certainly wasn’t.

This means that the stuff that we already knew how to do, were within us. But the extra stuff that we needed to know … we didn’t even know we needed it.

Because that first year or two … it’s all about the stuff you know how to do. The things you did for your day job, you just find a few clients and do it for them.

But as time goes on, as your clients’ expectations change, as your expectations change, you need to change.

Learn new skills.

Approach things in a different way.

And when we’re in the thick of it, it feels like we can’t afford to do that.

Because there’s no money to spend on training. There’s no way we can hire someone to do the tedious admin stuff. We just don’t have the time to invest in what we know needs to be done.

It’s overwhelming.

There is a solution though.

Recently, I went to the physio. I have had problems in my calf muscles and shins for years. I thought it was finally time to do something about it.

She prescribed me a series of exercises.

Each exercise was tiny.

Calf raises. Heel drops. Lunges.

Do one – didn’t even notice.

Do ten – barely notice.

Do thirty – woah that really hurts.

Each set of exercises took about ten minutes.

And on day one, I could barely do fifteen of each.

By day seven, I could do twenty.

By day fourteen, I could do thirty.

Even though each individual exercise was tiny, even though the time I spent was short, just the simple repetition of really small steps was going a long long way to making a huge difference.

And it’s the same with your business.

The simple things can make a massive difference.

Baby steps.

Fix one problem at a time.

Find out how.

Join our club

Not many people are brave enough to start their own business.

People like us, we took a risk.

We made a stand.

(by the way, if you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, click these links – Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or Spotify)

We decided that we weren’t going to put up with working for an idiot or being told what to do.

We were sick of working incredibly hard, only for the rewards to go to some high-up who has no idea what we actually do each day.

We’ve chosen flexibility.

We’ve chosen responsibility.

We’ve chosen working from home, so we can look after the kids.

We’ve chosen doing things the right way.

We’ve chosen being fair with the money we earn.

But it’s difficult.

Most businesses fail within the first year.

If you’ve made it that far, congratulations. You’re doing an amazing job.

Even worse, almost all small businesses die within four years.

So if you’ve hit that milestone and made it to five years or beyond, you’re in an elite club.

The reason for this is simple.

The things that you have to do when you start a business are different (year one) to the things you have to do to keep that business running (up to year four), which in turn are different from the things you have to do make the business work without your constant attention (year five and beyond).

There are five areas where you need to make those changes – profits, operations, sales, marketing and time. Taken together, it’s a big set of changes, a lot of learning to do all at once. But break it down, attack one piece at a time, and it becomes manageable and a natural part of building a business that gives you the life you want.

If you’d like to know what could make a difference for you, check out my quick and simple quiz.

It’s designed to pinpoint the area of your business that you can make the most improvement on, for the least effort.

So you can actually get a bit of that flexibility, that extra cash, that free time and that freedom that we were all wanting when we started our businesses.

It only takes a couple of minutes to complete and could make a real difference to your business.

Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash