I’m prone to squirrelling myself away, binging on Netflix and hunching over DIY or writing projects without coming up for air. Suddenly, I’ll catch myself in a one-sided conversation with the dog. I lean a little introvert on the personality spectrum, but even introverts get lonely.
There’s plenty of proof that introverts make great entrepreneurs, and it can be assumed, more equipped to thrive in the isolation that comes with the lifestyle. Alone and lonely, however, are two very different things.
Loneliness has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and poor social networks can contribute to a number of other health concerns like obesity. Cabin fever, it seems, is a more worrisome diagnosis than I thought. And, it’s an epidemic: the rate of loneliness has doubled in the past 30 years, with 40% of Americans reporting feeling lonely.
Entrepreneurship’s “dark side” is the psychological toll that can put business owners at higher risk for mental health issues, and loneliness is a slippery slope.
Five months ago, I made the leap from office to remote life. I’d tell you it’s my preference – that I’m more productive, less distracted – but the truth is, I do miss the energy of others (my dog notwithstanding). Frankly: I get lonely. At home, I don’t benefit from spontaneous group discussion, or connections made at the coffee maker.
“There is a huge difference between being a remote employee and being an entrepreneur or freelancer. Like, night and day difference,” my remote colleague tells me. He’s lived in both worlds.
It’s true—when I work from home, I still have access to Slack chatter, and can hop into regular meetings on Hangouts. There’s a desk waiting for me on the other side. For solopreneurs, the company safety net doesn’t exist and the networks don’t come standard. In both cases, combatting loneliness requires a little proactivity.
Business owners are at higher risk for mental health issues, and loneliness is a slippery slope.
Tom Hanks’ Cast Away character developed systems to connect to the outside world, and established a “social network”—a discarded volleyball with a face—to stay engaged and motivated. Luckily, the deserted Island of Entrepreneurship has more natural resources.
There’s no need to make friends with inanimate objects—beat work-from-home isolation with a few tricks from the entrepreneurs who do it every day:
1. Get Outside
Change the Scenery
For a lot of new small businesses, renting office space can be too costly. But there are happy-medium alternatives to the tiny workspace wedged into the corner of your kitchen: answer emails from a café, rent pay-as-you go hot desks at coworking spaces, or consider pooling together with other entrepreneurs to share a studio.
“I started my business in my basement. I would routinely try to do the laundry, dishes, and my bookkeeping at the same time. It saved me money, but I was wasting so much time that I’d end up working till 1-2am to catch up. Moving into a shared studio space has opened so many doors and helped me make so many new connections. When you work with other like-minded people, especially women, you help each other. You give advice and connect others with new projects, people, and opportunities, and every connection you make strengthens the support behind your own business.”
– Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day
The new studio also helped Sophia with the lonesome blues:
“I have cats. They help with the isolation but are also super distracting. My new studio is cat-less but I now have studio-mates, which is much better.”
Co-working space at Betahaus Barcelona
We’ve already told you that fresh air and nature are great for productivity and strategic thinking, but a good dose of green can also alleviate symptoms of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
“If there aren’t built in reasons to move during your day, find excuse to move – for example, instead of eating lunch at your desk, walk to a cafe or sandwich shop.”
– Jason Fried and David Heineneier Hansson, via Remote
2. Crowdsource Your Health
Keep Fit (and Social)
Think about it this way: you have the advantage of a very short commute – a slippered shuffle from the bedroom to your home office. Good luck logging 10,000 steps.
As a busy entrepreneur, that extra hour in the day could be put to good use: fulfilling orders, working on a social strategy, answering customer service emails. But it might be an hour better used to keep fit – studies show that fitness improves concentration and enhances creativity, essential attributes of a great entrepreneur.
Studies show that fitness improves concentration and enhances creativity – essential attributes of a great entrepreneur.
Desk yoga is great in a pinch, but a regular fitness commitment can pull double duty as a way to combat isolation. Join a run club, hit the gym, or sign up for group fitness classes—anything that involves other people. The positive impact on your heart and energy is a bonus.
Eat Well, Together
When I work from home, my meals sometimes consist of a spoonful of peanut butter or a tray of oven fries. It’s an easy habit to adopt when you’re busy—putting work needs ahead of your own.
Planning healthy meals can increase productivity, but it can also be social. For accountability, I use apps that help track eating habits, but also connect me with others. MyFitnessPal has a social component, allowing you to share your health goals with a supportive community.
3. Make Time for Face Time
Technology makes it easy to run a business without ever leaving your couch and sweat pants. Kicking it old school with some real face time (nope, not the app), though, keeps your communication skills sharp, and your social health in check.
Teach and Learn
Connect with other entrepreneurs and hone your craft by enrolling in workshops and courses. For more seasoned business owners, pay the knowledge forward by applying to teach.
“Now that we’re sharing a space, we’re putting a whole new plan into action. We’re starting community workshops, classes, and programs that are connecting us even more with our community.”
– Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day
A classroom at BrainStation
Move Your Meetings Offline
No need to be lonely when you can squeeze human interaction into your day-to-day business tasks: visit your suppliers in person, deliver local orders by hand, and meet your designer over coffee.
Whether you’re treating yourself to a trip to attend a small business conference abroad, or popping into a local meetup, events are great for not only for learning new tricks of the trade—they’re also replete with other cabin-fevered entrepreneurs looking to connect.
Networking at Shopify Retail Tour
Grow your professional support network quickly by attending events that have networking built in.
“I take advantage of the fact that I don’t have a long commute or have to get distracted by others around me. When I want to meet people who are also into fashion or online retail, there are plenty of fashion startup round tables here in Portland, so I try to go to as many as I can.”
– Sarah Donofrio, One Imaginary Girl
Networking events also offer opportunities to practice your pitch, source investors, and bounce new ideas off seasoned entrepreneurs.
Dabble in retail by taking your online business offline: participate in a seasonal market, open a pop-up shop, or rent shelf space in another merchant’s brick and mortar shop.
Maker Market booth by The Local Branch
4. Stay Connected
Don’t vote yourself off the island just yet. Make some alliances in your industry if you want to survive.
Reach Out Often
Out of sight, as they say. You’re likely not interacting face to face with your business’ stakeholders or customers on the regular, and maybe your assistant is virtual. Be proactive about making online contact regularly.
“Make a point of reaching out to other people. It can be hard sometimes – I’m quick to assume they’re all super busy and I don’t want to bug them with chit chat – but it’s what keeps me connected.”
– Stephanie Shanks, Social Support (Remote), Shopify
A more formal approach may work for you as well: schedule time into your calendar to make contact – it’s one of those items that might otherwise be put off forever.
“Do a weekly hangout with people in your industry.”
– Tommy Walker, Shopify
Join Online Communities
Even if you’re running a business from a small rural community, there are plenty of support resources in forums and groups designed for entrepreneurs:
Can’t find a group that fits your niche or personality? Start one!
“Online small business groups are great for after-hours assistance and feedback with impartial views.”
– Melanie Hercus, Founder, The Local Pantry Co.
Make (Real) Friends
“I joined a few local networking groups of people my age, which have been incredibly beneficial for my business. And now I have a whole new group of friends! It’s impossible to run a business fully on your own, so taking the time (even if you don’t have any) to meet others in your community will, without a doubt, help you in the long run.”
– Sophia Pierro, Owner, Present Day
But where do you meet friends as an adult? It’s a big, lonely world out there. There are plenty of apps that follow the swipe-right dating model, but are designed for platonic or business connections.
Vina: how I met Kayla (I’m not a murderer)
Feelings of loneliness can occur because of non-existent social networks. But, they can also impact people with large networks of toxic or low-quality friendships. Surround yourself with people who support your business and your lifestyle.
“I designate time every single day to take a break from it all and connect. Whether it’s with my husband, my family, close friends or fellow moms in some of the Facebook Groups. This is something I learned to do after a year of fully neglecting my relationships (during our founding year). If I don’t, I just can’t focus because I’m browsing through social media all day long, looking to fill that space.”
– Josie Elfassy-Isakow, Owner, MagneTree
Surround yourself with people who support your business and your lifestyle.
Expand Your Wolfpack
Offer an internship opportunity to a student or new grad—barter business knowledge and real world experience in exchange for low-cost help and human interaction. Contact local colleges for information on work placement and internship programs in related fields of study.
5. You Do You
Draw the Line
It’s easy, from home, to blur personal time with dedicated working hours, and you may find yourself bailing on girls’ night out to pack boxes or tackle invoices. Establishing office hours, setting deadlines, or scheduling tasks in your Google calendar can help with work/life balance.
Use tools like Trello or RescueTime to keep you on track. Walking a dog or other daily establishing events can also act as work-day markers:
“Coming back from the dog run in the morning is the start of my day, and I have that clear delineation where I will take her out again at lunch and after work. If an order comes in at 10:00 at night, I’ll take care of it if I’m free. But in terms of sitting at my desk, I try to keep regular hours, like 9:00 to 6:00.”
– Valentina Rice, Owner, Many Kitchens
Get a Life
Kaitlin and Ryan Lawless try to save business conversions for after their first coffee. They take respite from their work life by focusing on their relationship over the daily morning ritual.
Allow yourself to step away from the business to focus on hobbies and friends outside of your industry. The effects can actually be good for your business. Studies show that some hobbies can improve communication skills and work ethic, and help you cope with work-related stress.
“In addition to running my store, I also DJ for OPB radio, and being an indie rock radio station, there’s no shortage of characters there. I always have concerts or pub nights to attend, and am surrounded by people who want to talk about music all night.”
– Sarah Donofrio, One Imaginary Girl
“Change the mental story you tell yourself. Remember that there are people who care about you; they may just be busy at the moment.”
– Elizabeth Bernstein on loneliness, via WSJ
When lonely feelings come knocking, remind yourself of the benefits of working solo. Without the shackles of a cubicle and punch-card, you’re free to make your own hours or work from the road. Take your business with you while you check places off of your travel bucket list.
And remember, sometimes the grass isn’t always greener:
“As an entrepreneur working in the intense pace of Hong Kong, I would revel in the chance to experience some isolation and loneliness.”
– Alexis Holm, Squarestreet
Take care of yourself. Your business will thank you.