Graham Southwell is the national director of BNI New Zealand, a business and professional networking organisation that has 2,600 members, many of which are going it alone in business.
Why do people go it alone in business?
Michael Gerber talks about this in his book The E-Myth. A lot of people set up in business on their own because they have a passion for what they do. Also they believe if they work for themselves they'll have a whole lot more time.
But then they discover not only do they have to be good at the technical side of what they do, they also have to be good at the admin, the marketing and all that other stuff. So often people end up getting absolutely swamped. People that think they're suddenly going to be fishing and playing golf more often get a bit of a wakeup call.
What are some of the other challenges?
It can be quite lonely working on your own. What we encourage people to do is to take some time out to work on your business rather than in your business. It's so easy to get completely bogged down in doing the work that you get pulled away from the fact you need to step out of it and look at how to grow the business and confront any problems.
That's harder to do when you're going it alone though isn't it?
That's exactly right. The problem is when you're not working in the business, nobody else is either. But it's like anything that's important - you need to set the time aside to support your business. It's like making the time to go work out, where you say on these days at these times I'm not available. It's healthy for your business and needs to get done, otherwise all of your time will get absorbed.
You probably won't be surprised to hear me say some sort of networking group is also a good idea. One of the nice things about that is you get to rub shoulders with others, hear about what's going on, share challenges and you get inspired by one another. Hopefully you'll also get some business out if it, but you'll also get a chance to perhaps talk to an accountant, a bank manager, a marketing expert and so on. You can start to get to know them and they can give you a bit of advice. It becomes a support network.
Taking on contractors or collaborating with others seems to be a way many people who go it alone manage peaks and troughs in their workflow. Have you seen a rise in this kind of collaboration in recent years?
We do see people working collaboratively. We call them 'power teams' where you get different people from related industries working together, like a virtual company.
With the internet you now don't need to be working in a big office in town so more people are looking for lifestyles that allow them to work from home, and the internet is a great way of connecting people like that. But I think there's still no substitute for having that human contact from time to time.
Do you have any other advice for small business owners who are going it alone?
Thinking about self care is important. I remember talking to a friend of mine who'd set up on his own, literally, in his garden shed. He said the biggest challenge he faced was knowing when to stop because when you work from home once the kids go to bed you go back to the office and do a few more hours' work. Actually taking time out for yourself and to take care of yourself is very easily neglected but it is really important.
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