EPISODE 28: Go Fast or Go Far?

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You’ve heard me say before: building a business is freaking hard. And one of the problems I hear about from small business owners and entrepreneurs I work with - and I’ve experienced myself - is how incredibly lonely and isolating it can feel. And that feeling is a HUGE part of what makes building and growing a business so freaking hard. 

Late last year I was interviewing Myka McLaughlin for a collaborative summit and she said something that I’ve been thinking about a LOT ever since:  “As far I can tell, it's literally impossible to live a pleasurable, purposeful life without the feeling of belonging.” And for so many small business owners, designing a business that really matters and has impact can’t be done without a community of support - to not only share knowledge and encouragement, to help us see the path in front of us when we can’t see the forest for the trees… but ALSO to create a rising tide in the form of belonging, so we can truly FEEL supported and do the hard work. Community is key to moving out of those draining thoughts about feeling stuck, the antidote feeling disillusioned (when you might be asking ‘what am I even DOING?!”), and a salve when anxiety is blocking our progress. 

In my own experience building Change Agent Studio, I’ve discovered that this is extra on-point. Here’s what I know to be true: I wouldn’t be where I am in my business without my communities of support. 

In my former life as Community Curator for a coworking studio, I found myself in the accidental role of being a kind of work therapist helping entrepreneurs and business owners work through whatever tough stuff they were dealing with in their business. 

It was like our conversations were  a pressure release valve inside their business, when they could talk to someone who they trusted and knew cared about their business, but who wasn’t in it with them - not an employee, not a colleague, not a family member or a friend. Because frankly, I've been there. I've been in the position of talking to my partner all the time about work. He's very supportive. And I found our conversations really helpful, but what I didn't realize is that this was really very stressful for him. So while it helped me cope with the stresses I was under in my career, it was creating stress for him, and therefore creating stress inside our relationship to each other. And I realized that would have to change if I was going to be in a healthy relationship with him.

Not that doesn’t mean I don’t talk about my business at all with him - I definitely ask for his opinion often! But he’s no longer the ONLY support that I lean on. We figured out where the boundaries are and it’s really helped us both - for me, I still get to feel his whole-hearted support and he’s no longer overwhelmed talking through every detail with me. It’s a much better balance for both of us! And it’s helped me identify where I can turn when I need a dose of moral support, want to celebrate, or even step by step instructions for how to use a tool for my business. Friends & family, other business builders, along with social media networks (like Facebook groups or Mighty Networks groups) and digital masterminds slash memberships, and of course in-person salons and networking groups can all be part of your community of support.

What I learned from the experience of being a quote unquote work therapist is that part of running a business, without burning out or giving up, is identifying where we give and receive support, and being very very clear on what the boundaries are for you and the people or networks you are looking to for support.

To this day I’m so grateful for those years of experience in community building for business owners and entrepreneurs because it’s given me so much support in my own business to understand the different levels of community support that I need to thrive inside and outside my business. This picture we’re often shown of the lone wolf business owner isn’t exactly the whole story, and so today I just want to spend some time exploring how building a community of support can be a game-changer for your business. 

For me, I’ve found that my web of support helps me move past the bumps and bruises along the way more quickly and easily. Building a business can be a little bit triggering - it will absolutely bring out any insecurities or self doubts - and knowing that others are going through the same struggles, listening to how they’ve handled it has been a huge relief. And sharing my own insights to help another entrepreneur on their journey is hugely rewarding - I know how valuable that support has been for me and it feels really good to pay it forward when and where I can. 

Now, I’m not here to give you a list of places or people to connect with to build your web of support - instead, I want to focus on what to look for in your communities of support and the people you turn to for support.

So first - I looked for actual studies about the value of communities of support for business owners and the long-term benefits of having them… but I came up completely empty! First time that’s ever happened to me. So if you’re out there and know of some studies I should look at, definitely message me and tell me about it! In the meantime, I did some sleuthing in some of my own communities of support. I asked a simple question:

“Can you help me out by sharing how your web of support helps you?”

The responses were incredible.  Here’s what folks were saying:

“Overall, being in a community is like having a guided light where you can give & take. It makes being an entrepreneur less of a struggle and lonely.

It also opens your mind to things you would not have thought of alone or would have taken you longer to figure out, it closes the gap to reach your goals/dreams with stability.

Communities are a bridge to growth and connection.”

“My collaboration crew is crucial to my success & mental wellbeing. I love surrounding myself with others who are like-minded—kind, giving, curious, & supportive. Abundance mindset is KEY—for life—IMHO. I have a group of business besties, & sign up for programs with groups like this one specifically because they make me smile (& make me a better person & business owner). You'll frequently find me DMing others (in & out of my industry) on IG simply because I like their vibe & want to collaborate somehow.”

Marissa Loewen of Create the Rules Business Accelerator told me:

Occupational loneliness is one of the biggest reasons business owners and entrepreneurs experience mental fatigue and depression. Communities of support means we have people who know what the obstacles and opportunities are alongside us helping us do it even better together. People are thriving in The Business Accelerator because we are addressing that loneliness at the core.

She went on to say, “In my experience, all of my business success has happened when my community has helped me make it happen.”

Another entrepreneur shared: 

I could probably go on forever about this! Being a part of masterminds and Facebook groups has been hugely influential to my business. One of them is why I'm speaking at the 30-Day Business Plan Summit coming up. Another one has given me access to spontaneous group activities and makes it seem like I'm part of a secret society sometimes haha I never went into an online business with the intention of making friends and I know so many people now, many of whom are now affiliates (and I'm an affiliate for them).

And yet another business owner commented: “I’m part of another group of business owners in all sorts of industries and all over from brand new business babies to well established, successful endeavors. It’s an incredibly supportive and encouraging online community!! It’s made a HUGE difference in my business.

From answering random business questions, a push of encouragement, a safe place to humble (or not so humble) brag because we all deserve to celebrate our wins/receipts, etc. I’ve also been able to give back encouragement or insight based on my area of expertise, which makes me feel good, too. As a runner, all my practice runs are out on the street, solo. Just me, myself, and my playlist one foot in front of the other x 5miles. Yet on race day, the path is lined with supporters, signs, hydration stations, and allllll the cowbells cheering you on. Im not alone. And there’s extra energy in that, a boost in my step as I eat that pavement.

That’s what a good supportive business community can feel like.”

When sharing about their experience in a private FB community, another entrepreneur shared “It helps me by allowing me to meet and connect with people that I’m fairly sure I already dig because we’ve both intentionally chosen and invested in our growth and development.

I find that the vulnerability shared in here really does come from a genuine place of wanting to feel seen and heard by ppl that understand bc they’ve been there and can offer solutions (not from a ‘misery loves company’ place).”

For myself, support from informal mentors and biz besties and networking groups has been so pivotal - they're like invisible partners working inside my business with me. And even though I come from a background of community building for entrepreneurs, I was still shocked at how truly impactful a community of support has been for my business!! Somehow experiencing it firsthand has made me appreciate the work of folks creating communities for biz owners on a whole new level.

What I notice in all of the comments that I gathered about community, and in the conversations I’ve had with folks who have strong support around them, is there are 3 main ingredients that go into a really robust community of support. 

  1. You have to actually seek out support from web. Most of us already have a community of support around us, we just may not be aware of where we’re getting the different kinds of support we need - so we can be intentional about asking for it when we really need it. The best way to do that is to recognize all the connections you’re engaging with on the daily or weekly or monthly basis. And then, get your expectants for support in alignment with the community’s purpose. For example, not all Facebook groups will be brave spaces - and by that I mean not all of them have been structured in a way to support sharing your vulnerability. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help you with tech support or working through the ins and outs of a marketing tactic. So understand what kind of a support a community is meant to give you, whether it’s a social network or a group mastermind.
  2. The ability to see and be seen in a community. This is such a powerful experience, especially when we’re experiencing those high highs and low lows that we encounter along this journey of entrepreneurship. This is really about being able to share your experiences with others - seeing other’s struggles / successes and sharing your insights / experiences to help them or celebrate them. AND also being able to share your own struggles and successes, knowing that the person or community will hold space for you. 
  3. And third, you need peers in the arena. Brene Brown may have brought this quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s Man In the Arena speech back in vogue, but I think it says a lot about entrepreneurship: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” A strong web of support will include close connections to one or a few people who are also in the arena. And this piece of my community of support is something I did NOT know I would find so incredibly valuable. You can call it an accountability buddy - in fact, that might be where it starts! But what you might end up with is a business bestie. Maybe you talk about all things business together, or maybe it’s just grabbing lunch regularly with someone you know is in the arena with you and you purposely talk about everything BUT your business, giving your brain a much needed break from the work and connecting with someone who shares this experience with you.

    I’ve heard a lot of successful business owners talk about their “biz bestie” but they don’t often share what that relationship looks like, how it started, and how they really help each other. I have a few people that I call business bestie, and in the next episode of From Hustle to Hell Yes, I’ll be interviewing one of them - the amazing Laura Russel of Joyful Uprising. We will be talking a bit about her business, and a whole lot about how we support each other in our weekly meetups, keeping us on track and pushing us both in the best of ways. I probably would have quit my business if not for Laura - she’s basically my invisible business partner and I’m really excited to share how this relationship works and how it can be a really powerful support for you as a business owner so you can find your biz besties. 

I want to end this episode by saying that creating your own web of support has impact beyond you and the biz owners you’re giving support to and receiving support from. This simple act of community building helps create supportive communities for the next generation of entrepreneurs and the business owners that will follow in your footsteps. Thanks for being here, I hope you are receiving the exact support you need to grow you business and continue to discover new places and spaces that nourish you. Bye for now.