Entrepreneurs are lone wolves by nature. Even those who successfully lead great teams tend to work the longest hours and make the greatest sacrifices for their companies. That resolute independence is essential to bring projects to fulfillment, but when it comes to healthy living and personal growth, it is less beneficial.
Gallup’s research found that 45 percent of entrepreneurs report feeling stressed, a slightly higher rate than that of the average worker. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can worsen the stress brought on by already substantial workloads.
Despite the risks, entrepreneurs do what it takes to succeed. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt famously worked 100-hour weeks for more than 20 years. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz likely drinks a lot of his company’s caffeinated beverages, as he operates on a 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. work schedule. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is not only an early riser, but also an early worker who reportedly starts emailing at 4:30 a.m.
Rather than ask entrepreneurs to slow down, then, perhaps we should help them make the most of their situations.
I have always been a fan of Disney’s Imagineers; they have the incredible job of making new worlds to delight and inspire us. Unfortunately, my job as an entrepreneur is more like that of a factory operator. I put out fires and handle day-to-day affairs. I cannot neglect those duties, or my company will go under.
My business needs me to be an operator during the day, but if I want the company to survive in the long run (and my mental health along with it), I need an outlet. That is why I turn to my entrepreneurial network — a community where I can commiserate and collaborate with my fellow lone wolves.
People who are not entrepreneurs do not understand the unique challenges we face. They might be supportive and kind, but this job creates an isolated stress that is not found in any other profession.
That is where entrepreneurial networks come into play. When we talk to people who face the same challenges we do, we gain perspectives that we could not find anywhere else. The people within our companies might know our proprietary struggles, but only our fellow founders know the more nuanced tribulations we face every day.
Entrepreneurial networks are more than support groups, though. They are thinktanks and idea generators, and they allow us to bounce creative whims off of other smart people and help one another live better lives. We can even contribute to the betterment of industries outside of our own, expand our horizons, and make lasting bonds along the way.
The only question is this: With so many entrepreneurial networks out there, how can a founder find the right one?
Communities of entrepreneurs do not hide on purpose, but that does not make them any easier to find. Use these tips to choose the right entrepreneurial network for you:
If no one knows you are looking, no one can help you find what you need. Be vocal on social networks about your desire to connect with other entrepreneurs. When you attend conferences and showings, prepare to make new friends by bringing your business cards and asking for theirs.
Once you get someone’s contact information, do not file it away for another day. Reach out on LinkedIn with a personal, friendly message. Offer to make connections to others in your network. If the other person wants to talk, listen. Even a network of two is a network worth growing.
Many college graduates act like their schools cease to exist when they leave, but that is usually not the case. Universities offer a number of opportunities for entrepreneurs to return and meet with likeminded people who are interested in expanding their knowledge and networks.
Keep tabs on speakers visiting your school, and make trips to see a few. Treat these visits the same way you would any other conference. Meet the speaker and get to know the guests to expand your network.
Incubators are great spaces to meet fellow entrepreneurs. These are spaces designed to facilitate connections and growth, so they are filled with people who have common goals. Many incubators come with free co-working spaces and other perks, so take advantage of these when available.
If there is no incubator nearby, start your own. It is likely that if nothing has emerged to meet the needs of local entrepreneurs, others like you are out there wishing they had a place to connect.
If finding the right entrepreneurial network sounds like a lot of trial and error, that is because it is. Entrepreneurs are unique people with unique preferences and needs. Only by testing the available options (or forming new ones) can founders find the companionship they deserve.
Communities of entrepreneurs take many shapes. Some only meet online, while others schedule weekly gatherings. The right group for you depends on factors that only you can know. Until you start looking, though, you will never know who else might be searching for the same thing.
David Disiere is the founder and CEO of QEO Insurance Group, an agency that provides commercial transportation insurance to clients throughout the U.S. He is a highly successful entrepreneur who has launched business endeavors in the real estate, oil and gas, agriculture, and automotive sectors. He’s an avid collector of classic cars, rare art, first edition books, and Lalique hood ornaments. David is equally passionate about philanthropy, and he works to help underprivileged children through the David & Teresa Disiere Foundation. Connect on LinkedIn.