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Going It Alone

In a recent poll by Small Business Guru, 66 percent of small business owners said they were not involved in any sort of peer group. It’s all too easy for small business owners to feel isolated.


Written Feb 12, 2008, read 2086 times since then.


In a recent poll by Small Business Guru, 66 percent of small business owners said they were not involved in any sort of peer group.

It’s all too easy for small business owners to feel isolated.

For those of us working out of our homes it’s just the reality of our environment. But even for those who work in an office environment and maybe even have employees, that sense of isolation is still there.

You spend so much of your time putting up a strong front for customers, employees, and family that eventually you realize you have no one to turn to for help.

And let’s face it, asking for help — it can feel like admitting failure. While completely irrational, it’s a very real dynamic.

We invest so much of ourselves into our businesses that any outside involvement can feel like a personal attack.

Our usual response to someone giving us advice? We get defensive. What does he know? They don’t understand.

We just don’t want to open ourselves up to the possibility that we need help.

Why It’s A Problem

In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Suroweicki showed statistically what many of us may find to be counterintuitive: An average group of moderately intelligent people, working together, will make better decisions than one brilliant mastermind.

Now granted there are exceptions to the rule. But if you have diversity of opinions, independence, decentralization, and a trusted model to aggregate opinions into a consensus, you will make better decisions.

Put it this way - if you’ve ever been amazed at the accuracy and relevance of a search returned on Google, well you’re witnessing the theory of the Wisdom of Crowds in action.

In the simplest of terms, talking with others helps us work through a problem.

We only have the benefit of our world view. But when you open yourself up to different view points, you're introduced to a whole new world of ideas.

You’d be surprised at what new ideas will come from unexpected sources.

While the answer may not spill out of the conversations directly, you’ll find one idea leads to another which leads to another which THEN to the answer.

Coming out of a discussion with a group of people you respect, you’ll be stimulated and energized. You’ll have the courage to move forward on new ideas.

How to avoid this Mistake

Seek out a brain trust - Optimally, look for a group of your peers - other business owners. But your brain trust can be any collection of friends, family or former co-workers whose opinion you trust and respect. If you look around and come up empty, try becoming active in your local Chamber of Commerce. You can also try any number of new social networking I don't

Be open and be honest - When reaching out to others you have to be completely honest and lay everything on the table. Don’t go into the conversation assuming people will automatically agree with your ideas. It’s hard, but try to avoid getting defensive. Detach yourself from the conversation and try to ‘monitor’ it from a different perspective — one without emotional connection to what’s being said.

Ask Question and Listen to the Answers - Before you start asking people for their opinions, you have to be ready to listen to them. Pay attention to how much of the talking you’re doing. The smart business owner is just looking to take in feedback before making any judgments. The more input you get, the more information you have when you make your decision later.

Remember, you aren’t trying to win an argument or prove anything to anyone. You’re trying to learn what OTHERS think.

Make Your Decision - Whatever the problem you’re trying to solve — ultimately YOU will make the final decision. You’re the boss. So while you want to actively pursue the ideas of others you have to make your decision based on what you believe to be right.

Invariably, the contributions of others will help form our conclusions. But more often than not, they embolden our resolve and give us the emotional courage to take that next step.

Learn more about the author, Kelly Andrew Brown.

Comment on this article

  • Therapeutic Healing Massage 
Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania 
Joanne Freedman
    Posted by Joanne Freedman, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania | Feb 12, 2008

    well said...

    joanne freedman NCMT

  • Professional Haberdasher 
Seattle, Washington 
Jeff Collins
    Posted by Jeff Collins, Seattle, Washington | Feb 13, 2008

    I like the article, Kelly. Nice work.

  • branding  
Houston, Texas 
Alexandre L'Eveille
    Posted by Alexandre L'Eveille, Houston, Texas | Feb 14, 2008

    Absolutely spot-on! It is hard to find the right group since it is essential a brain trust. Once you meet the challenge and find your group of trusted peers who will give you tough love, encouragement and a fresh perspective, you can take the next steps to growth. There is nothing like having a personal board of directors.

  • Residential Housekeeper 
Kenmore, Washington 
Judith Bennett
    Posted by Judith Bennett, Kenmore, Washington | Feb 14, 2008

    What a great reminder, we covered some of this in a small business course I took. This was a timely and informative artical. Thank you.

  • Founder & Sugarist Extraordinaire 
Seattle, Washington 
Lara Olsha
    Posted by Lara Olsha, Seattle, Washington | Feb 14, 2008

    Great advice. Now the challenge- find the time (and right people) to implement those wise words!!

    Thanks Kelly!!

  • BizBuilders Business Networking Groups Founder, CEO 
Bremerton, Washington 
Mike  Davidson
    Posted by Mike Davidson, Bremerton, Washington | Feb 14, 2008

    You hit the nail on the head, Kelly. This is the thinking that has inspired us to engage the small business person, providing an answer to the Isolation Problem, so this article is especially encouraging to me.

    John Wayne said, "Life is tough. Tougher if you are stupid." That's a humorous statement, but replace "stupid" with "alone," and you have a sublime truth.

    Keep it up, Kelley.


  • Attorney, Business Coach 
Poulsbo, Washington 
Karen Hallis
    Posted by Karen Hallis, Poulsbo, Washington | Feb 14, 2008

    Great article Kelley. You are absolutely right. The article motivated me to build my business support network.

    Thanks! Karen

  • writer 
Mount Kisco, New York 
Gina Bruce
    Posted by Gina Bruce, Mount Kisco, New York | Feb 14, 2008

    Thanks for the great article. It's good to remember that we should do what we do best, and call upon others to help us with what they do best. And sometimes what others do best is push us to be better.


  • Public Relations 
Rohnert Park, California 
Karen Pierce Gonzalez
    Posted by Karen Pierce Gonzalez, Rohnert Park, California | Feb 14, 2008

    What a great topic to address.... In my business, I'm interacting with people all the time (that's p.r., right?). Even so, I can feel isolated, sometimes having no one to bounce an idea off. I also hear from many of my colleagues who are in industries much quieter/less public than p.r. about their working in a vacuum. Talk about the isolation! Building community is definitely the way to go... I think I'll start small because I don't have much time to check in with others. Thanks for your work! Karen

  • Teacher/Brain & body Healer/Massage/Yoga 
Seattle, Washington 
Ila Barlean
    Posted by Ila Barlean, Seattle, Washington | Feb 14, 2008

    This is sooooo true. In the fitness area, definately "looking and being" strong draws clients seeking this guidance so they can enhance there own Strength. But let me tell ya..... I personally can feel disconnected at many a moment. BizNik has been great for getting out and relating to others. Ego and no ego. ;-) To your vitality - Ila

  • Virtual Assistant/Proofreader/Genealogist 
Ruther Glen, Virginia 
Colleen Johnson
    Posted by Colleen Johnson, Ruther Glen, Virginia | Feb 14, 2008

    Great article. I belong to several groups. I would be lost without their support and guidance. They also provide an opportunity for you to assist others. It is a good feeling to still feel needed even when you're working from home.

  • Interior Designer/Color Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Catherine DuBose
    Posted by Catherine DuBose, Seattle, Washington | Feb 14, 2008

    Your words really hit home to me, as far as the isolation of business owners. Its so true. I thought that by opening my own store, this isolation would cease to exist. Well, that was not the case and your advice of opening up to other peers and family and friends is such good advice. I have had some of the best ideas come from people not in my field -from clients to new business contacts. It is important to get involved and etrench yourself in the community you are working in. It may take alittle time-but the rewards and the payoff should come back ten fold. Just be patient!!

  • Office organizing for creative entrepreneurs 
Salem, Oregon 
Jennifer Hofmann
    Posted by Jennifer Hofmann, Salem, Oregon | Feb 15, 2008

    I walked in to a new-ish local shop yesterday for the first time. The owner sells high end fashion eyeglass frames and she is astoundingly good at what she does: she applies art concepts to the face.

    She told me I had perfect brows and the ideal face shape for any kind of glasses. I found frames I loved - and I told her that 30 minutes in her shop was better for my self esteem than years of therapy. It was an experience!

    Know what? She is struggling with her marketing. She wasted thousands of dollars on a supposed expert who didn't do any good.

    5 business owners for 90 minutes could give her myriad ideas for FREE that would actually help her outstanding business grow.

    </rant> It just pains me to think how much better her awesome biz could be if she had some support. And she's not the only one!

  • RN, LMP, Certified Reflexologist 
Baibbridge Island, Washington 
Judy Narimatsu
    Posted by Judy Narimatsu, Baibbridge Island, Washington | Feb 15, 2008

    This is a wonderful article. There seems to be a common response of finding the right people. I find it difficult as run my massage and reflexology business and most of the groups are in a more high end business. I seem to get ignored. I network with massage therapists since the business is highly competive in the small area I live and work. The sharing of ideas is held back. It is a very interesting dynamic. I do speak with other therapists on line which is a wonderful way of sharing ideas. But I do miss the personal interaction. Right now I am thankful for this group and the online massage theapist group. Thank you for the article. This is a wonderful group of talented folks.

  • Photographer 
New York, New York 
Koren Reyes
    Posted by Koren Reyes, New York, New York | Feb 15, 2008

    It would have been great to mention some of the more successful networking organizations out there. I belong to a BNI chapter in Manhattan which, despite all the rules, boasts one of the most effective networking success rates.

    It also would have been great to learn more about what you think makes a braintrust productive.

  • Founder 
Akron, Ohio 
Kelly Andrew Brown
    Posted by Kelly Andrew Brown, Akron, Ohio | Feb 15, 2008

    Koren, Great feedback. I love the concept of 'what makes a braintrust productive.' -- as a follow up article. thanks again!

  • Small Business Growth Coach for Service Providers; Sales, Marketing, Leadership & Business Strategy. 
Chicago, Illinois 
Jason Rosado
    Posted by Jason Rosado, Chicago, Illinois | Feb 18, 2008

    Wow... great stuff!

    I run three different peer groups for entrepreneurs, small business owners and event planners in the Chicago area, all free for participants.

    I also do group coaching and workshops to help bring people together that want to achieve more success so they can support each other while getting one-on-one help.

    I recommend for anyone in the U.S. that is looking for peer groups. There are many other groups, but they usually are local, so ask people for them in your area!

    And if you're in Chicagoland, I'd love to hear your favorites or suggest some of mine. Just contact me.

    Best, Jason

    Related links:

    Business Development Events

    Chicago Business Development Forum

  • Blogging Coach and Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Dunn
    Posted by Judy Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Feb 25, 2008

    Kelly, I agree with so much of what you have said here. The isolation factor is so very real.

    For people who are networking with others in the same field, I would suggest that you try meeting with small biz owners in other industries, too. So many of the small business issues are the same, no matter what business you are in. And although we do a lot of networking through the chambers of commerce we belong to, we have gained many insights from members of our small "island biz owners" group. We meet once a month at the local coffee shop and engage in "group problem solving," share ideas and resources and generally support each other's biz goals.

    A relevant article, Kelly. Thanks for sharing.