In 1987, Verne Hanish and a group of entrepreneurs set out to forge a path for continued personal and business growth, launching the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which later became the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) – a peer-to-peer nonprofit community, which today counts 17,000 members globally.
The idea for the group came to Hanish after bringing Steve Jobs out to speak with thousands of young entrepreneurs immediately after he was ousted from Apple.
Quoting a mentor, Hanish said, “it’s okay to be independent, but no reason to be alone”, and sought to create an organization for the Steve Jobses of the world to connect with and support each other.
“Being able to reach out and ask questions to fellow entrepreneurs who are willing to offer support and time without judgment is truly priceless. The community is also invaluable when it comes to referrals in all areas of business, which is a massive timesaver.”
According to the United States National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, up to 72 percent of entrepreneurs were either directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues, versus just 48 percent of non-entrepreneurs.
Having an active network of other founders who are similarly experiencing the highs and lows of business ownership is the best antidote to feeling isolated. Alone, we can achieve success, but together we can achieve greatness, taking care of ourselves and each other in the process.
If you’re looking for ways to manage isolation and gain support when none seems available, here’s the advice of seven successful startup founders and members of the EO.
1. Join a business group
“As a founder, my best advice is to join a business group of like-minded people. As an extroverted thinker, I like bouncing ideas off people that address business challenges. However, having these conversations with your own team can be unsettling to them, or the challenge may directly relate to them. This is why I joined the EO.”
“Being able to reach out and ask questions to fellow entrepreneurs who are willing to offer support and time, without judgment, is truly priceless. The community is also invaluable when it comes to referrals in all areas of business, which is a massive time saver. As a result, my business revenue is seven times higher than when I first joined.
“My other tip for tapping into community is to listen to business podcasts. Oftentimes, just hearing stories from others in similar situations can overcome feelings of isolation.”
– Anneke van den Broek, Founder and CEO of multi-award winning Rufus & Coco and EO Sydney member.
2. Network skilfully
“Building lasting business connections comes with trust, which comes from building positive relationships with people. Too often, people network with a ‘what’s in it for me?’ approach, forgetting to help and give as much as they seek. At the end of the day, we are all looking for positive connections that are authentic, mutually-respectful and uplifting.
“Be genuine in your interactions with people and practice active listening. Listen for challenges you might be able to help with and any helpful connections you may be able to offer. If you’re looking for support or to grow part of your business, mention it. Communicate clearly and kindly at every opportunity – what goes around comes around.”
– Anthony Lam, Founder and Managing Director of Punchy Digital Media and EO Melbourne member.
3. Harness the power of global connections
“It’s often hard to find someone who understands the unique challenges that come with starting and running a business, which can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection. But there is power in global connections.
“By expanding your horizons beyond your local market, you can find support, resources, strategies and inspiration needed to grow and take your business to the next level. Technology has made connecting with people from different cultures easier than ever before, so take advantage of this resource by reaching out and building relationships with like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds.
“This way, you not only gain inspiration and valuable insights from thought leaders around the world, but you also have the opportunity to form meaningful new connections.”
– Annika Launay, Managing Director of PDPR Marketing and Creative, Co-Founder of Franc.World and EO Brisbane Member.
4. Get lost in a book – learn remotely from others
“Listening to an audio book every week for the last three years has improved my intuition. I have no doubt about it. When themes from different books meet, they resonate and the ideas in common become louder.
“When a crisis hits or I’m working on strategy, I often have ideas and concepts stored in the back of my mind to make better decisions faster or know where to dig deeper. With Audible and Libby always loaded with new books, there is no shortage of inspiration and well-researched ideas.”
– Tyson Grubb, Founder and CEO of Instrument Choice and EO Brisbane Member.
5. Practice gratitude
“I have always considered myself a lucky person but, as I grew up, I discovered there is no such thing and that positivity is a mindset. People who consider themselves lucky focus on the positive things, and those who consider themselves unlucky focus on the negative.
“Gratitude is a mindset that anyone can adopt with some practice. Instead of focusing on things going wrong or expectations not being met, it is about being appreciative and identifying all the things you can be thankful for. Even when life gets tough, I like to be thankful for small wins. This may be something as simple as the sun being out, or Friday night takeaway.
“I always have my go-to gratitude list, which never wavers. This includes the connections I have with others, such as friends, family and even my dog.”
– Sian Williams, Founder and CEO of Here2Home and EO Adelaide Member.
6. Take the initiative to organize a coffee catch-up
“As a CEO and entrepreneur, it can be a lonely journey. Staff aren’t exactly friends, family don’t get it and your friends are on a completely different path. This challenge is what inspires me to surround myself with the right ‘crew’, and why I relish opportunities to catch up with like-minded entrepreneurs over a coffee or lunch.
“It’s amazing how two like-minded individuals can bond so quickly and deeply over a caffeine hit. It can be two completely different industries, but the problems and opportunities are exactly the same.
“As a member of the EO, I’ve been lucky enough to have dozens of these catch-ups over the years and, every time I do, I walk away inspired and excited but, most importantly, understood. For me, this is what makes the entrepreneurial journey a little less lonely and a lot more supported.”
– Kevin Porter, Chief Investor of Commercial Property Secrets and EO Brisbane member.
7. Find a mentor
“As an entrepreneur, I have faced several challenges. However, a business partnership split was a situation that I had never dealt with before and it left me feeling lost and alone.
“At the time, I was fortunate enough to have – and still have – a wonderful mentor who provided me with the necessary support and guidance to navigate my way through. Their continued mentorship kept me focused on the big picture, which helped the flywheel to gain momentum until we reached a more positive outcome.
“Through regular meetings, my mentor provided me with an honest space to discuss my concerns and position as things progressed. They helped me to prepare for the unknowns of the situation and shared their own experiences, which helped me to avoid feelings of isolation. Having a sounding board in a mentor helped me to see that I was not alone.”
– Matthew Bellgrove, Managing Director of National Custom Compounding (Pharmacy) and EO Brisbane member.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely job. You’re often the sole founder of a business, trying to figure out how to make it work and grow. The pressures of managing all aspects of a business and everything falling on your shoulders can put strain on your mental health and wellbeing.
Many dream of business success, but the few that find it have also found support and community. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to connect with other entrepreneurs who understand what you’re going through, whether they’ve been through it themselves or just want to help.
Find your support network of peers locally and globally, find mentors, attend events and be proactive in meeting and connecting with new people.
Costa Vasili is Melbourne Communications Chair of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and CEO and Founder of Ethnolink Translation Service.