Blog post by Chloe Tingle, Learning Manager at School for Social Entrepreneurs – Dartington.
As a Learning Manager at School for Social Entrepreneurs – Dartington, the thing we hear over and over from our students is how lonely and isolating starting and growing your own enterprise can be. Often quoted as the most valuable take away from our programmes is the network of peers that you develop who just ‘get it’. This is something I have experienced first-hand while developing my own social enterprise, No More Taboo, four years down the line and I think I have cracked the loneliness problem but you are going to have to be brave! Here are my five tips:
1. Build your team and spend time with them
Now this might sound daunting but from my point of view the earlier you bring people in on your idea the better. Start with volunteers – yes, they require a bit of an investment in terms of your time to train them up but often what they bring vastly outweighs this initial time cost. By having to consolidate and share your ideas, plans and reasoning for decisions with other real life people (not just your dog) you will often find you are thinking a lot more clearly.
That old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” really is true you will be amazed how much just having someone else involved can make things seem so much less pressured. But don’t just give them a task and leave them to it. The beauty of engaging with a social enterprise as a volunteer is that you get the freedom to do things you wouldn’t usually be able to do, working for another type of organisation. So, ask them for volunteers help, input and ideas. At No More Taboo, alongside our monthly planning meetings, all our volunteers and staff get together once a quarter for a Strategy Day, we always make sure there’s plenty of time for fun and for celebrating our successes (both in and outside work).
2. Build your support network
Running a social enterprise is an emotional rollercoaster for one, it’s a unique experience which is why it can be isolating. There are times when it feels like everything has gone wrong and you’ve got no one to turn to. Building up a team of supporters, mentors, coaches and friends that you can turn to in your hour of need is so important. Recently, when I had to make a big decision I spent 3 solid days talking it through with different people in my network (including my mum and some good friends) not just business connections. It’s amazing what a different perspective you can get from a quick 30min phone-call. Don’t be afraid to ask people if they would be happy to be an advisor/sounding board for you – it’s low commitment and high impact and maybe you can return the favour one day.
3. Get networking AND socialising
When you are running your own business it is all too easy to say ‘no’ to the many invites you might get, or alternatively to say ‘yes’ to every single networking opportunity and then be so burnt out you have no time to socialise. It is so important to get the balance right with this one. Think about what you want and need from formal and informal meet-ups. You will be surprised how connections can just come out of the woodwork.
4. Sign up for a co-working space
If like many social entrepreneurs you work from home/can’t afford an office it can be difficult to get motivated to meet people in a workplace setting. Signing up to a co-working space even for just a few days a month has so many benefits – you get out of the house, you meet people from different walks of life and you overhear very important conversations which can often save you hours of googling. Those little ‘water cooler’ discussions can make a really big difference to your motivation and efficiency. Remember most people who go hot-desking/co-working want to meet other entrepreneurs and freelancers for the exact same reasons you do. We finally took the plunge and joined a co-working space for No More Taboo last year and I really wish I had done it sooner, we have made so many connections and done lots of ‘trading’ business and skills swapping.
At School for Social Entrepreneurs – Dartington, we have just launched our very own Social Enterprise Hub aimed at creating a collaborative space for social entrepreneurs to meet, network, discuss and work together. More details here: https://www.dartington.org/about/social-enterprise/
5. Make the most out of your opportunities to be with others
Go out for that coffee, turn up to that meeting that’s not directly related to what you do, actually talk to that person sat next to you in your co-working space. It’s all very well and good making the opportunities but if you don’t utilise them you might as well just stay home and be lonely.
So be brave!
The Heart of the South West Enhance Social Enterprise Programme offers fully funded business support to social enterprises in Somerset and Devon. School for Social Entrepreneurs – Dartington are one of six delivery partners providing support through the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme. For more information about the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme visit: https://bit.ly/2CdIIcS
The Heart of the South West Enhance Social Enterprise Programme is receiving funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.