After reading a post by my business coach about three mistakes small business owners often make, one mistake in particular resonated with me the most: don't be an island. It's something, especially as an introvert, that I tend to do really easily. What's an introvert, you ask? Does it mean I'm shy, afraid of public speaking, slightly weird and unsociable? Not at all. And it's certainly not an unusual personality type for successful leaders -- think Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Warren Buffett. What it does mean is that we embrace solitude, we seek depth over breadth, and we exude calmness. Because our default setting is to live in our own brains, though, sometimes we just plain forget to share what we're thinking and seek out commiseration.
But you don't have to be an introvert to be an island. Even the most outgoing, thrill seeking, soak-it-up-socialite business owners can get buried in paperwork or lost in management. When I start to feel stacked-up emails closing in around me and wonder if I'm the only one mishandling my work/life balance, I try to remember something my horse trainer tells me: "Don't look at the ground unless that's where you want to end up." In other words, look where you want to go. Chances are, when you open up your peripheral vision a little and relax, you'll find other people within arm's reach.
I used to think that "not being an island" meant going out to networking events, bar hopping with business buddies or spending a lot of time on LinkedIn. And granted, those are always options and can definitely put you in front of a lot of mainland. But if you're like me and do better in one-on-one scenarios, think about grabbing lunch with a friend in your industry, asking a supplier how they deal with strong headwinds, or even finding some common ground with a new client. Seriously, one of the best conversations I had recently was with someone who called my shop looking for a better business card experience, after having just been burned by a cheap and fast printer.
After I sit down for a quick cup of coffee with another business owner, I feel a little less like it's just me against the world. And when I do manage to get myself to a networking group (preferably one where I already know some folks), I'm reminded that I'm not totally crazy. Maybe we all default a little towards high school when we're staring at the ground. We think our problems are unique and that no one could ever understand what we're going through. Being a business owner is hard sometimes. A lot of the time. Take my advice and try to remember to look up every once in a while.
Nina Interlandi Bell, co-owner of Tweedle Press, a small letterpress printing company in Chicago’s Rogers Park. Nina is Tweedle Press' fearless leader of design, letterpress printing, and sustainability research. Her laserlike focus and penchant for mission-hood make her prone to both fits of creative excitement and, occasionally, an overwhelming urge to do everything.