Annie Ridout had a one-year-old daughter when she launched her digital magazine for mothers, The Early Hour, in 2015.
“The only time that I could commit to writing and doing admin was during the baby’s nap times and evenings,” she says.
It meant that she had no free time to socialise and spent most days at home, alone.
“Meeting up with other mothers who were running small firms or freelancing made me feel connected to the real world again,” she says. “I had women to talk to, moan with and get ideas from.”
At first, Ms Ridout found it intimidating, but soon realised that the key to networking is arriving prepared. “Do some research beforehand about the theme or subject – and think about what can you offer around it,” she says.
Don’t forget to ask for contact details, she adds, explaining that it’s not enough to just hand your card out:
“Send an email after the event saying that it was so lovely to meet them and ask to stay in touch – and don’t worry about coming across too keen; people will almost always be pleased to hear from you.”
Find a mentor
For Victoria Usher, founder of GingerMay PR, leaving the buzz of
an office and the comradeship of colleagues was unsettling when she started her own communications firm:
“It was a shock to realise that time-consuming tasks, such as admin and finances, needed to be factored into my schedule.”
Not having people around to discuss problems with was hard, she admits: “I felt lonely at points; I missed having a team.”
To help her through, she found a mentor, Jo Butcher, whom she met while working for Dentsu Aegis.
“We had a weekly Skype call and she would help me with
everything from brainstorming ideas to sense-checking my work,” explains Ms Usher. “It was comforting to know that there was someone at the end of the phone who had gone through the same and had a successful business to show for it.”
When looking for a mentor, try to find someone who has run a business in a similar field, but has grown it much bigger, she advises. It also helps if they have worked in the same role as you, so they truly understand the pressures that you’re facing.
Co-work with colleagues
Female business coach, Lenka Lutonska, thinks women in particular feel lonely when starting-up because they crave emotional connections with others – and that can be hard when working alone.
“When I started out, friends did not understand why I would leave a well-paid job, sell my house and sacrifice my lifestyle, only to work on a business with very little income,” she says. “There were few people whom I could talk to about work; my computer was my only companion.”
She decided to “buddy-up” with an old friend who had started their own business in a similar industry.
“We would create co-working days where she would come to my office for a day, or vice versa. We exchanged ideas, honest feedback, kept each other accountable and even partnered on projects,” says Ms Lutonska.
“Working not only became more enjoyable, but we also helped each other to become aware of our blind spots.”
She also started a Facebook group, which was initially made to attract clients but ended up becoming a great networking tool as word spread quickly and more women joined. Community members often ask for help with specific business issues.
“It can feel lonely to build a business on your own, and tough;
there’s always something that you don’t know.
“That’s why support groups are a fantastic source for tips and for socialising – they’re great for creating meaningful relationships with other entrepreneurs.”
Take a breather
A final tip comes from Sarah Cooke, owner of silicone jewellery company, Halia Rose, who suggests yoga classes.
“I do a regular class to get some time out to myself and stave off burnout, and I can chat to people about things totally unrelated to my business and get away from it for a while.”