As much of the global workforce migrated from offices to makeshift home workspaces in recent years, isolation took its toll. Entrepreneurs, however, were already well-entrenched in this reality. In the early days of starting a company, founders may find themselves wearing many hats, lacking the camaraderie and feedback loops common to other workplaces.
The drive to be one’s own boss means that many entrepreneurs thrive as solo employees in their own companies. Alone and lonely, however, are two very different things. The latter has been linked with an increased risk of a number of physical and mental health concerns.
And, loneliness is on the rise. In 2021, 61% of young adults reported high rates of feeling lonely.
On the bright side, the pandemic has made isolation a shared experience across all types of work, highlighting the need for better ways to connect remotely, new tools to facilitate it, and more open discussion about mental health.
10 ways to deal with loneliness as an entrepreneur
With young people at a higher risk, the next cohort of entrepreneurs may be hit the hardest by loneliness. If you’re an entrepreneur—or aspiring to become one—be proactive in your efforts to reach out. Here’s how to deal with loneliness as a small business owner, with advice from founders who’ve been there.
1. Seek a change of scenery
Often just being in the presence of others can kickstart creativity. Seek alternatives to the tiny workspace wedged into the corner of your kitchen: answer emails from a café, get a membership at a co-working space, or consider pooling together with other entrepreneurs to share a studio.
Sophia Pierro, owner of Present Day, started her business in her basement. Moving into a shared studio space has helped her curb loneliness and gain motivation to keep more “normal” hours and create space between life and work. “My cats helped with isolation but were also super distracting,” she says. “I now have studio-mates, which is much better.”
2. Find your community
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. If that’s not your thing, existing niche communities on social media and platforms like Discord or Reddit might be a great place to start.
In-person networking groups and meetups are also a goldmine for seeding friendships. “I joined a few local networking groups of people my age, which have been incredibly beneficial for my business,” says Sophia. “It’s impossible to run a business fully on your own, so taking the time to meet others in your community will, without a doubt, help you in the long run.”
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 lifestyle.
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3. Eat well, together
When multitasking, it’s common to let meals be replaced by a spoonful of peanut butter or a handful of chips. Eating poorly isn’t a cause of loneliness, but you can use mealtime as a reason to disconnect from work and engage with humans if you’re already feeling lonely.
Use a nutrition app that helps track eating habits and connects you to a community to share recipes and tips. Or start a lunch club with friends, rotating the responsibility of preparing healthy meals. Self care means treating yourself to an indulgence every once in a while, too.
4. Crowdsource your fitness plan
The advantage of working from home means that your commute is little more than a slippered shuffle from the bedroom to your home office. Good luck logging 10,000 steps.
The onset of the pandemic and resulting changes to the ways we work has impacted fitness levels. And as a busy entrepreneur, you may find that fitness is often first on the chopping block as you prioritize packing orders or answering customer service emails.
Several studies have linked fitness to increased levels of concentration and reduced risk for mental illness. A regular fitness commitment will not only improve your overall well-being, it’s also a great way to combat isolation. Join a run club, hit the gym, or sign up for group fitness classes—anything that involves other people.
5. Reach out proactively
Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. As a small business owner, you may not be interacting face to face with your stakeholders or customers on the regular. If human contact isn’t built in, be proactive about making contact regularly, even if it’s virtually.
“I’m quick to assume other people are super busy, and I don’t want to bug them with chitchat on Slack—but it’s what keeps me connected,” says Stephanie Shanks, a Remote Senior Lead at 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. “I designate time every single day to take a break from it all and connect,” says freelance content designer Josie Elfassy. “If I don’t, I just can’t focus, because I’m browsing through social media all day long, looking to fill that space.”
And don’t forget about those critical personal connections. Reach out often to loved ones, whether it’s family members or friends.
6. Make time for face time
Technology makes it easy to run a business without ever leaving your couch. Meeting IRL may be out of the question if most of your interactions are remote. But you can keep your social skills sharp by taking meetings with your camera on, or booking time to get to know people in your industry through Zoom happy hours.
If meeting face to face is possible for you, do it. No need to be lonely when you can squeeze social interaction into your day-to-day business tasks: visit your suppliers in person, deliver local orders by hand, and meet your designer over coffee.
Online business owners can combat the social disconnect from their customers by dabbling in temporary retail. Schedule a pop-up shop or rent a booth at a local market—this is a great way to also build your network of like-minded entrepreneurs.
7. Get outside
We’ve already told you that spending time in the fresh air is 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,” write Jason Fried and David Heineneier Hansson in Remote, “find excuses to move—for example, instead of eating lunch at your desk, walk to a café or sandwich shop.”
Even better? Use the break from your desk to take an outdoor walk with a friend or fellow entrepreneur. Chances are they may be feeling lonely too.
8. Take—and teach—classes
Combat loneliness, 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,” says Sophia. “We’re starting community workshops, classes, and programs that are connecting us even more with our community.”
9. Attend in-person or online events
Whether you’re treating yourself to a trip to attend a small business conference abroad, or popping into a local meetup, events are great not only for learning new tricks of the trade—they’re also replete with other cabin-fevered entrepreneurs looking to connect.
“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,” says entrepreneur and clothing line founder Sarah Donofrio.
Networking events also offer opportunities to grow your network, practice your pitch, source investors, and bounce new ideas off seasoned entrepreneurs.
10. Aim for a sustainable work-life balance
It’s easy, from home, to blur personal time with dedicated working hours, and you may find yourself bailing on girls’ night out to tackle invoices. Establishing office hours, setting deadlines, or scheduling tasks in your Google calendar can help with work-life balance.
Walking a dog or other daily establishing events can also act as workday markers. Corbé founders Kaitlin and Ryan Lawless try to save business conversations 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 fashion business, I also DJ for a local indie radio show. There’s no shortage of characters there,” says Sarah.
You are not alone
Solo work has its perks. Without the constraints of a cubicle and punch card, you’re free to make your own hours or take your business with you while you check places off of your travel bucket list. Alone time can be precious, but if loneliness sets in, don’t ignore it. The effects can have serious implications on your health—and your business.
Deal with loneliness before it strikes. Building strong networks in the early stage of your business means that the cure for a bout of loneliness is just a Slack message away. Take care of yourself. Your business will thank you.
Note: The tips in this story are not intended to replace the advice of professionals nor address serious mental health issues. Please talk to your health care provider or seek mental health resources in your area.
Feature illustration by Loren Blackman