Networking Critical for Sole Proprietors: 5 Ways to Connect
You’ve probably heard comments like these:
“Sure wish I could work for myself. I’d love to be able to run errands during the day/sleep late/dress the way I wanted to/not have a boss breathing down my neck…”
Maybe you smile and nod and let the commenters think you’ve got it made, while in the back of your mind you’re calculating the costs of paying for your own benefits and being subject to self-employment tax, not to mention your technology costs – even your sticky notes. There’s no IT department to call when your system goes down, and no one pays for your sick or vacation days.
Unless you were laid off and unable to land an office job, there are probably a whole bunch of reasons why you chose this kind of professional life. This doesn’t make the isolation you sometimes feel go away—many studies have reported that self-employed individuals are more prone to depression—but remind yourself of them frequently.
Making Your Own Way
It can be hard work to create a support system when you’re a sole proprietor. Successful as you may be, if you don’t find ways to network both personally and professionally, the satisfaction you feel about beating the odds of remaining a sole proprietor—if that is indeed your goal—will start to wane.
So by all means, follow the first piece of advice that everyone gives and get involved in virtual groups that share your interests. While you’re still sitting in front of a computer in a room by yourself, you will eventually find people that make you want to visit that LinkedIn Group or Google Hangout or other chat rooms that are populated by kindred souls. Try several of them out and hang around long enough to scope out the population, but ditch the ones that seem like time-wasters.
You may be getting involved on such venues because you need the interaction, but find ways that you can use your own unique set of knowledge and skills to lend a hand to people searching for help. You may be doing this already with your blog and website. Do it some more in more casual settings. No one will know that you’re working in a spare room in your house: To people who could benefit from what you know, you’re an expert in your field – and a generous one at that. You never know who’s listening, and your kindness may result in new business.
Take advantage of the freedom you have to determine your own schedule and:
- Join one civic organization.
- Volunteer for one local cause that resonates with you.
- Spend at least a couple of hours every week working at the same coffee shop or library or other local gathering place. Simply having people around you who are working on their own, or even just socializing, can be energizing.
Find face-to-face professional support locally. As a businessperson, you’re probably struggling with some of the same issues that plague many of your peers. The Small Business Administration, an independent agency of the federal government, can be of tremendous help to you. Check out its website for assistance with countless aspects of starting and managing a small business. The SBA has many local resources that you can call on for counseling, mentoring, and training. Enter your ZIP code or state on this page to find local organizations. If you need more one-on-one support, the SBA can help you locate a mentor in your area.
Research professional conferences and trade shows, and make an effort to attend at least one every year. Mass gatherings can be tiring, overwhelming, and costly. They can also connect you to people and businesses that you wouldn‘t meet in any other way. And these events can sometimes give you that shot in the arm that you need to keep going.
These ideas sound like plain old common sense, things you’ve heard before. The thing is, though, that you need confidence to be a sole proprietor. It’s important to do things and be with people who are expecting you, who are glad to see you, who depend on you. Make an effort to network personally and professionally, locally and virtually, and you might smile because you mean it when someone expresses envy in your solo position.