Finally, after years of planning, you’re in business for yourself. You don’t have to deal with office politics and bureaucracy anymore. On the other hand, though, water-cooler camaraderie and impromptu lunches with co-workers are a thing of the past. So how do you keep yourself from getting too isolated when you work alone?
Go where the other entrepreneurs are. Chances are, you’re rubbing elbows with other small business owners every day. A casual conversation at the local copy center or business library could yield a valuable piece of advice — or even a business lead.
Join a professional organization (or several). They often advertise in the back of trade publications, and many have Web sites you can visit as well. These organizations typically hold networking events — such as lectures, conferences and informal parties –that can be great places to socialize, pick up business leads and keep on top of what others in your field are doing. And don’t overlook chamber of commerce gatherings and trade shows. In addition to professional and social benefits, they offer a welcome change of scenery for the at-home worker.
Develop a support system. The corporate work environment provides its employees with a certain degree of moral and professional support. But now that you’re on your own, you’ll have to do it yourself. Try to develop a network of contacts who will give you feedback on your ideas and understand the challenges involved in working alone. A small business association might be a good place to hook up with others in the same situation.
Keep in touch with former colleagues (via phone, e-mail or the occasional lunch or dinner). Not only can they catch you up on the latest company news, they may also recommend you for projects their company has passed over — or ones for which you would be especially well-suited.
Arrange to meet with potential clients or customers over lunch. The informal atmosphere can put everyone more at ease, and your meeting won’t be interrupted by intrusive deliveries or ringing telephones. Best of all, the bill is tax-deductible.
Consider sharing space with another start-up in a complementary industry. This can be beneficial in several ways. With a partner to share your expenses, you may be able to afford an office outside your home much sooner than you otherwise would. And you could end up collaborating on projects that enhance both enterprises.