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Donna Gunter
Internet Marketing Strategist & Online Business Coach
Orange, Texas
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3 Secrets to Avoiding Isolation As an Online Entrepreneur

Online business can be terribly isolating, especially if you're accustomed to a work environment filled with lots of people. Even though you may work alone, there's no reason you have to be isolated from the world.
Written Nov 11, 2009, read 949 times since then.


In my first foray into the self-employed world, I created stenciled floorcloths and wallhangings and sold them in juried craft shows around New England. I did what all of the authors of self-employment books said to do -- turned my hobby into a business. What I discovered rather quickly that this hobby was no longer fun when it became my business -- it was damn hard work. I also discovered incredible, overwhelming isolation in my home-based business. Author Barbara Sher put it best when she said, "Isolation is a dream killer."

I had formerly been employed at a small, public, liberal arts college in the student activities/student housing department and was around people all day, and all night, too, depending on how many fire alarms we had or had many drunken brawls there were on any given night. To go from back-to-back meetings to working all alone with no support team was a shocking change of pace for me.

I had just jumped head-first into that business, and really didn't personally know anyone else in the area who was also a professional crafter. Big mistake number one--I should have gone through some kind of apprenticeship and should have gotten to know the local craft industry better. I had no contacts outside my workplace and when I left that job, all of my contacts went by the wayside. Big mistake number two. I eventually created a support group called the Berkshire Handcrafters' Guild, and served as founder and president for two years, but by that time, the thrill in that business was gone.

With my newly-found knowledge acquired in the School of Hard Knocks, I knew that if I was going to be successful in business, I had to create some kind of support network in any future business venture. When I started my first online business as a virtual assistant, I had returned to my hometown (after a 20-year absence) where all of my high school buddies had moved on without me, so it was tough trying to strike up friendships again because none of us were the same people we'd been in high school, least of all me. I didn't have much luck in the local business community, either, as most of the Chamber of Commerce members I had gotten to know never understood what the heck I did for a living.

I found my support online through people I had met through an online VA training program. What a difference with business number two! The Internet and email made all the difference in the world for me!  Now I "knew" people in the same business as me, all over the country, and with a simple phone call, email, or instant message, I had a super support system literally at my fingertips.

Secret #1: Virtual Communities. Find/create a virtual online community for yourself filled with people who understand what you do, the challenges that you face, and who will help you celebrate your successes. You may join a community that is well-established, or you might create your own community with any number of social networking tools. Or, perhaps a Mastermind group will give you the support you need. I meet twice a month virtually with other membership site owners in a mastermind group, where we regularly share what's worked for us and ask for input on challenges we're facing.

Being a member of a virtual community worked well for the first two years or so in my online business, and then I caught a bad case of "housebound-fever" and starting seeking face-to-face contact and support. I eventually found what I was seeking, but these in-person events occurred in cities that were minimally a 150 mile round-trip for me to participate. Distance is all relative in Texas, and these actually weren't considered long trips in "Texas road trip mentality", but the fact that I had racked up 20,000 miles a year on my then-new Honda CR-V (and I didn't commute to work!) was just a little over the top.

So, I knew that I wanted to relocate someplace where I could have face-to-face opportunities that were only 10 minutes from where I lived instead of 1-3 hours as I prepared to launch my second online business. After searching for almost 3 years, I moved to Little Rock, AR, and became involved in a number of in-person networking groups. While these in-person events got me out of my house frequently, I went overboard in the other direction and spent much too much time at face-to-face events.

Secret #2: Selective networking. If you decide to venture out into the world, choose your face-to-face networking events with care. Make sure the group(s) you join are either filled with colleagues with whom you can collaborate or filled with members of your target market and offer regular education programs from which you will benefit. In Arkansas, I had joined several women's business groups and a BNI (Business Networking International) chapter as well as created a women's networking group, but discovered I just wasn't getting the results I desired from any of these.

Now that I've returned to a small city in Texas that offers few in-person networking opportunities, I've discovered that I'm content with what little networking I do online. Granted, much has changed in the 10 years since I started my business, and if I desired, I could log-in and speak regularly to colleagues who have online webinar broadcasts where they take questions from and interact with participants each week in their broadcasts. Or, I could register for any number of virtual networking groups.

Secret #3: Focus on the 1:1 relationships. I failed to cultivate 1:1 relationships in my foray into in-person networking, which probably led to my burnout in that area. However, now because social networking has become the "in" trend, I frequently interact with colleagues, friends, and new acquaintances thanks to Twitter and Facebook. I regularly post updates about what I'm doing, read and comment on their updates, and ask questions or feedback when I need it. Best of all, I don't have to get dressed and drive anywhere to do this.

I've discovered that Barbara Sher is correct -- isolation is a dream-killer. The Lone Ranger mentality will not work for you in your business--you can't do it all alone without the help and support of others. What I'm referring to goes beyond the team you're paying to work directly with--your attorney, your CPA, your assistant, your employees, etc. I'm talking about that support system who's there to cheer you on when you have a banner day, who's there to pick you up when you fall, and who's there to help hold you accountable for those things you said you would do. Maybe you'll find this in a group to which you already belong, or perhaps you'll need to create this for yourself.

If you don't yet have a support system/success team in place, make that your #1 priority. It'll be one of the best investments you'll ever make in your business.

Learn more about the author, Donna Gunter.

Comment on this article

  • illustrator & graphic designer 
seattle, Washington 
Zaara KittenChops
    Posted by Zaara KittenChops, seattle, Washington | Nov 13, 2009

    Hi Donna,

    thank you for writing this article, I am going through the same process right now and it was really helpful to read about yours.

    Shiny creative energies, Zaara KittenChops

  • Internet Marketing Strategist & Online Business Coach 
Orange, Texas 
Donna Gunter
    Posted by Donna Gunter, Orange, Texas | Nov 13, 2009

    Thanks, Zaara. It's always helpful for us solopreneurs to know that we're not alone..:)

  • Natural Products Science 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 
Nicholas Hundley
    Posted by Nicholas Hundley, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | Nov 15, 2009

    Wonderful article and very helpful. I'm relatively new to business, and can see myself falling into some of the same traps. I am going to ramp up my connecting RIGHT NOW!

  • Internet Marketing Strategist & Online Business Coach 
Orange, Texas 
Donna Gunter
    Posted by Donna Gunter, Orange, Texas | Nov 15, 2009

    Hey Nicholas--

    Congrats on getting started in your new biz! I hope you make many connections and your biz really takes off.

  • internet 
New York, New York 
Sebastian jones
    Posted by Sebastian jones, New York, New York | Nov 16, 2009

    Thanks for writing such an informative article.

  • Jill of All Technical Trades  
Shawnee, Kansas 
Caroline Braley
    Posted by Caroline Braley, Shawnee, Kansas | Nov 17, 2009

    Wow! Great article! The "Isolation is a dream killer" quote hit home with me, as I am mainly home-based, but a very social creature.

  • Internet Marketing Strategist & Online Business Coach 
Orange, Texas 
Donna Gunter
    Posted by Donna Gunter, Orange, Texas | Nov 17, 2009

    Hi Caroline--

    Social networking helps you feel less alone, as do sites like this one (Biznik). It's always heartening to be able to "reach out and touch" someone, even if it's only virtually..;)

  • CPA, Accountant 
Irvine, California 
Shaun Lawrence
    Posted by Shaun Lawrence, Irvine, California | Nov 19, 2009

    Interesting stuff. I am consumed by the internet as I try to advertise online. I can relate as I think my social skill are depleting. It will pay off.

  • Consultant, Writer, Speaker 
Austin, Texas 
Michelann Quimby
    Posted by Michelann Quimby, Austin, Texas | Nov 20, 2009

    We spend so much energy focused on success, we don't recognize the consequences of ignoring our emotional needs - which can feed or starve our energy levels and ability to succeed. Really great article!

  • Internet Marketing Strategist & Online Business Coach 
Orange, Texas 
Donna Gunter
    Posted by Donna Gunter, Orange, Texas | Nov 20, 2009

    Sp true. Michelann. Thanks for the comment!