Happy in your own company?
Of all the challenges you’ll face in starting your own business, loneliness may be the hardest to cope with, says Steve Bulleyment, director of Lincolnshire-based specialist auto locksmith company Car Key Man and Quest’s self-employment guru
When you go searching for start-up advice, you’ll find plenty on finance, marketing and, of course, business plans. These are all really important. However, in all the business advice I’ve found over 15 years, loneliness isn’t a popular thing to talk about. Whether it’s simply that business advisors haven’t been in that position, or that no one wants to discuss it, I’m not sure. But, of all the challenges I’ve faced, loneliness has been the hardest to deal with.
Now before you suggest a networking group, please hear me out. I know of the many benefits of spending time with likeminded people – I get that. But, please, stop for a moment and cast your mind back …
Does anyone else recognise the feeling of lying in bed in the early hours, the clock ticking and being next to your partner, who is also lying awake? You both know how bad it is. The cash has gone, the phone isn’t ringing and staying in that well-paid job makes so much sense. How can you even speak the words ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake’ when you have a partner and young children to support?
Or how about the loneliness of being stuck at a customer’s address, with them relying on you to fix the problem, but not being able to and not having anyone to ask for advice. How are you going to explain to your partner that you left the job and didn’t get paid, simply because you couldn’t find out the answer? That’s a pretty lonely feeling.
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But worse than that is being lonely in a group, say a networking group – full of aspiring, positive-speaking go-getters. Talking about uncertainty, doubt and fear isn’t going to get people making a beeline for you next week. Even being in the heart of that support group can feel pretty lonely.
I’ve been in that place. It’s not part of anyone’s business plan and you won’t find a chapter about it in a Ten Steps to Success book or a YouTube video. However, loneliness is a real emotion that those thinking about starting their own business should know about and be encouraged to talk about. Just a few years before going it alone, I was flying with a crew, surrounded by people that knew me through and through. There was banter, respect and expectation, but never loneliness. Within four years, I was a man in a van. The difference was brutal and completely unexpected. Of all the challenges in my career, loneliness has left the biggest impression on me.
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Oh, and it’s not reserved for start-ups – when you’ve been around for a while, and you’ve got employees and suppliers who look to you for payment, and you’re pushing close to the overdraft limit, who are you going to tell? Your partner? The bank? Your peer group, who respect you ‘making a go of it all alone’? What do you mean you’re terrified of failure? Who on earth wants to hear that?
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As for me, I was lucky. A chance meeting with a business coach allowed me to spend five years in ‘business therapy’. Pouring my soul out in the early hours, telling the truth to someone who wouldn’t judge me, and being honest about where I really was. It saved me. Maybe I’m being dramatic, maybe it’s a state of mind, or – quite possibly – I was just out of my depth. Whatever the explanation, one of my ‘important steps to success’ is to find someone, anyone you trust, who’ll listen, just listen. If you’re lucky, they’ll help you put things into context over a coffee.
Good luck. After all these years, I’ve just had a visit from that most unexpected visitor. Fortunately, I know there’s someone I can talk to and it’s my shout for coffee.
To find out more about the ups and downs of self-employment, read Steve’s regular column in QUEST magazine (you can find links to all of his features to date by entering ‘steve bulleyment’ in the search feature on this website).
Steve’s business, the Car Key Man, is a specialist auto locksmith company covering Lincolnshire. Launching in 2004, Steve spotted an opportunity to solve the problem of replacing lost and stolen car keys. The company now offers workshop facilities as well as a mobile service. Recognising the needs of concerned vehicle owners, it offers free consultations to find an affordable solution to the growing number of car key problems.
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