Entrepreneurs: You don’t need a mentor. You need friends.
Certain corners of the entrepreneur universe are obsessed with the idea of mentors.
All you need to do, they say, is find a wiser, more experienced entrepreneur to play Yoda to your Luke Skywalker, Dumbledore to your Harry Potter, and teach you the secret ways of the entrepreneur while unlocking the mystical potential that’s been lying dormant within you all along because you are the Chosen One.
Well, you know what happens to Yoda and Dumbledore?
And who’s left standing there alongside our heroes after that happens? Leia and Han and Chewie and Ron and Hermione and Dumbledore’s Army, that’s who.
One of the biggest lies we’ve bought into as entrepreneurs is that starting a solo business means starting a business alone. The reality is that behind almost every successful entrepreneur, there’s an entire community of other entrepreneurs they’ve gotten help from every step of the way—and who they’ve helped in return.
Starting a business is hard work. If you’re going to do it well, you need good people to do it with.
“One of the hardest things about being a solo entrepreneur is … the solo part. I’m all alone in this home office, day after day, calling all the shots. I don’t know everything … some days I’m not sure I know anything.”
Rachel Jordan, 929 Marketing
So here’s my question: if plugging into a community of like-minded entrepreneurs is such a vital piece of the entrepreneurship puzzle — if it’s something the best entrepreneurs are all doing, that makes them better entrepreneurs…
Why don’t people talk about it more?
Why aren’t the first words out of any successful entrepreneur’s mouth when someone asks them about the “secret” to their success, “I had a lot of really smart people around me who were trying to figure out the same stuff, and we helped each other.”
Why isn’t there a chapter in your favorite book about online entrepreneurship titled“Fantastic Entrepreneur Friends and Where to Find Them”?
Actually, why isn’t there an entire book called that?
It’s way past time that we let go of the myth of the lone genius entrepreneur, because news flash: there’s no such thing as a “Chosen One.”Sure, there’s probably some loner unicorn out there building an entire business in isolation somewhere. But that’s not the norm. The norm is that, somehow, eventually, you’ll need to find people like you to help you along the way.
We asked members of two entrepreneur communities — Jay Clouse’s Unreal Collective, a 12-week online accelerator for entrepreneurs and creatives, and Margo Aaron’s The Arena, a virtual coworking space for entrepreneurs who work from home — to share some of the ways that their communities have helped them (and each other).
Read through their stories, and then go find some entrepreneur friends of your own, if you haven’t already. Then, the next time you find yourself thinking:
“I don’t know how to do this.”
“I’m not cut out for this.”
“I must be the only person in the world who can’t figure this out.”
You’ll be ready to call in the reinforcements.
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1. Entrepreneur friends expedite your learning curve
“It’s not super natural for people to say, ‘I need help, and I want you to help me.’ With so much information available, it’s easy to think, ‘I can figure out anything.’ And maybe you can. But let’s say that your car broke down. Would you learn how to fix your own car? Or would you find someone else who knows how to do it and go and ask them, since they’ve already been there and they’ve done it and they’re good at it?
“As you grow a business, there’s always some new question, and you realize, ‘I’ve never thought of this. I’ve never tried to do this.’ It’s so much easier to find someone who has done it before and learn from them than to try to start from scratch and waste a lot of time and even money in the process.”
Jay Clouse, Unreal Collective
2. Entrepreneur friends help you stay focused on what’s important
“I was a few months in to really building my business … and had been hearing all around that I needed to diversify my income streams. I started brainstorming productized services, speaking opportunities … really, I was just spinning my wheels. I took this problem to the group to ask them how I could diversify, and the first thing they asked was: ‘Why did I need to do this right now?’
“It was the question I needed. I didn’t need to diversify at that point in time. I needed to build my client-facing business and really get a solid footing in my process. Then and only then should I have started thinking about diversifying.
“It was like lifting a weight off my shoulders. I know that diversification will come about naturally as I figure out my unique skills I can offer the greater business community, but there was no need to force that on me. They have saved me time and stress in more ways than one.”
Anna Hetzel, Anna Hetzel
3. Entrepreneur friends understand things your “Muggle” friends just can’t
“Starting and running a business is completely different than a 9-5 job. I am the driver that keeps the lights on, and that means a greater time commitment. My friends thought I was overcommitting and heading towards burnout, but my tribe saw what was really happening: I was finding my stride. I am further than I’ll ever be from burnout because I am fulfilled in what I spend my time in. My tribe gets that.”
Anna Hetzel, Anna Hetzel
“My [entrepreneur friends] totally get things that would flabbergast my ‘real-life’ friends — like being upset about Instagram’s algorithm changes, or having people opt out of your email list, or needing to create a content upgrade. We vent to each other all day about the things that I simply couldn’t with my other friends.”
Emily Cretella, Cursive Content Marketing
4. Entrepreneur friends pick you up when you crash and burn
“When the lows happen, people talk about it. They talk about the shit, and we help each other out. It’s creating that consistent group of people and that context that this is a safe and open and secure place that allows people to get deeper into some of that and talk about this stuff.”
“We had one woman in our community who said, ‘I resent my followers. And I don’t know what to do with that. I did market research, I gave them what they wanted, and then they didn’t buy it. And now I’m mad at them and I can’t produce content.’ It was such a unique problem. And I was so proud that we had created a space where she felt open enough to share in that way.”
5. Entrepreneur friends remind you that it’s normal to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing
“[The biggest thing is] knowing I am not the only one going through something. It is normal for mistakes to happen, prospects to ghost, clients to go AWOL, etc. Just that reassurance that it happens to all of us is huge. It’s usually dumb, small things that I just need someone to say, ‘Yeah, it’s ok to fire your client’ or ‘It’s totally ok to say no to that meeting if it’s not a good fit for your business.’”
Shannon Howard, You Need a Shannon
“I made a huge mistake and went to the wrong CPA last year and ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars in taxes. Most of my other friends have single jobs and one W2. But gearing up for next tax year, all of my entrepreneur friends collaborated in helping me learn my mistakes — what to write off, what sort of LLC to set up, donations and savings, and how to make the most of my earnings this coming year.”
Jake Kahana, Caveday
6. Entrepreneur friends hold you accountable for hitting your goals
“When we see stuff slip from week to week to week, we say, ‘Okay, you’ve said this is important for 2 or 3 weeks now, and you haven’t made it happen. What’s slowing you down? What’s blocking you from starting on this?’ Then we can really talk about and address the underlying causes.
“It could be:
Entrepreneur: ‘This is too amorphous for me.’
Community: ‘Okay, then let’s break it down into pieces so you can attack it.’
Entrepreneur: ‘I’m afraid that if I complete this, then I’m going to have to put it out in the world and people may not like it.’
Community: ‘Well, that’s part of the game. We’re here to support you, but you can’t keep saying this is important and not taking action on it.’”
“The very first deadline I set for myself, I hit largely because I invited my tribe to hold me accountable. I was also making preparations to leave corporate life and strike out on my own. I committed to my … community that I would launch my website on a fast timeline (two weeks). It took some long days and late nights, but I was determined to not let myself or my tribe down. And the website felt like a vital milestone — a message to myself and my peers that I was really doing this.”
Rachel Jordan, 929 Marketing
“I was re-launching my website and we had a group smackdown and the group tore apart my copy, asked intelligent questions, forced me to get clear on my messaging, and overall made me super uncomfortable … [Then] they bugged and bugged me until I redid my copy. They made sure I got it done without procrastinating … The result was the best work I have ever come up with.”
Joe Nissim, Strengthlete
7. Entrepreneur friends give you the strength to do what you need to do
“It’s all about the focus. Because our work is quiet work and no one knows about all the hours put into creating the product or service that will one day see the world, it’s easy to lose hope because we have to get used to a world where validation doesn’t exist.
“My tribe got that — and they helped me remember that those quiet hours are the most important moments of our venture — because they push us to determine whether or not the work is worth it, and require us to learn how to work with validation only from ourselves.”
Reagan Pugh, Assemble
But where do I find my people?
If you’re reading through this post and thinking to yourself, “Wow, all of this sounds amazing — but I have never experienced anything like what these people are talking about,” don’t panic. It’s never too late to find entrepreneur friends of your own.
Here are some things to try:
Attend a meetup.
If people are attending meetups about entrepreneurship, there’s a good chance they’re looking for entrepreneur friends same as you. Try searching Meetup.com for entrepreneur or business events happening in your area. It can take some trial and error to find people who are interested in building the same kinds of businesses that you are — but once you find them, it’s well worth the effort.
Find a mastermind group.
Dedicated groups for entrepreneurs who are at similar stages of their business can be the best way to meet other entrepreneurs and get actionable advice on moving your business forward, and more of these are cropping up all the time. That’s the model Jay Clouse’s Unreal Collective is built on.
Join a coworking space or an online community.
It could be an actual, physical space that you go to a few days a week. Or it could be a virtual space — the self-employed equivalent to working on a remote team. If your area has a WeWork, you can start there — although you might have better luck with smaller spaces with a clearer focus on solo entrepreneurs like you. (WeWork spaces are increasingly getting taken up by startups and even corporations.) If the entrepreneur scene in your area is quiet-to-nonexistent, a virtual coworking space like The Arena could be right up your alley. Try searching “virtual coworking spaces” and see what you find.
We’re curious: who are your entrepreneur friends? Where did you find them? How have they made a difference in your life — professionally and personally? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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