Women In Business

How to beat loneliness in entrepreneurship

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They say, “it’s lonely at the top”, but does it have to be?  When I started Agent99, I was so excited at the prospect of being my own boss.  Having been in the game for over eight years and told time and time again that I was an ‘excellent operator’, my past clients, family and friends were absolutely thrilled that I was taking the leap of faith and branching out on my own.

However, what no one told me was that I would be spending a lot of time either on my own initially, or as the leader of my team down the track… which at times would feel very lonely.  Especially when I faced challenges, of which in business, I would be lying if I said there weren’t any.

A recent Harvard Business Review piece indicated that 50% of CEOs experience loneliness in their roles.  Entrepreneurship without a doubt, can be a lonely path too and an issue that is rarely talked about. This encompasses a multitude of feelings such as the need for accountability, human company and conversation.

So, whilst this isn’t fool-proof, in my years of running Agent99, here are my three key learnings during this time of how to beat feeling ‘alone in business’, be surrounded by like-minded individuals, and be held accountable for my actions:

1. You are the company you keep

From day one of starting my business, I formed a network of advisors who I trusted and could rely on at any time.  This included my accountant of course, who bestowed many pearls of wisdom.  My husband and my dad, who I respect hugely in business, have always been available to listen to my woes and share the wins.  My mum, is also the one I call every day and the one I share my good news with first.  She is always so chuffed for me and I love those moments when we giggle together about something outrageous I have been able to pull off!

My husband in particular is my rock.  We have two young kids and his support has been tremendous.  I wouldn’t have been able to face the challenges for over a decade now without him. And our nanny, who has been with us for over 6 years is like a second mum to me.  She looks after all of us and we laugh that she will continue to do so, even after our kids move out!

And lastly, two of my very good friends also run their own agencies, so being able to pick up the phone and bounce ideas, share issues and just simply act as each other’s sounding board is so helpful.  Because they’re in the same industry, they just get it.  And they’re also hilarious individuals, so even when the going gets tough, one funny conversation later and I already feel cured!

2. Support groups are essential

I’ve generally been one of those people that’s been a little sceptical about ‘support groups’, as I mistakenly believed that if you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t need support.  But wow, was I wrong! You do get to a point in your career where you basically ‘know what you know’ and you cap off.

This happened to me about 18 months ago when I felt like I could only grow the business to a point.  My kids were slightly older and weren’t babies anymore, and if I was going to give it my best to take the agency to the next level, I needed external support.  During that time, I went to see a past client to catch up.  She had grown her business from four people to over 20 staff in about 3-4 short years.  Given where I was at, I asked her what her key to success was.  She told me that she had put it down to two key changes.  One; she got rid of a toxic employee.  And two; she joined a group called Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO).  I naturally asked her what that was as it piqued my interest.  She told me that EO was a global program based on a book called ‘Scaling Up’ by Verne Harnish.  The little known, yet prolific networking and support group for business owners operates across Australia and has over 12,000 members worldwide. Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar is a former member along with Pet Circle founder Mike Frizell and Kikki.K founder Kristina Karlsson.

The program, which amongst many other benefits, helps to combat the idea of being ‘lonely’.  It has four key learning days based on Cash, People, Strategy and Execution, and then an accountability forum with 3-4 other entrepreneurs and a mentor that meet each month, where members have to set and reach business and professional goals.  Whilst EO has stringent entry requirements including a business turnover of $1 million US, there is a sub program called EO Accelerator, which is based on similar principles.

This sounded like exactly what I needed at the time, so I too put in my application and was accepted into the Accelerator program about a month later.  I have to say that for me it’s been a game changer.  I have learned so much, have felt so supported by my peers and mentor in my forum monthly, and I truly haven’t felt lonely for even a day as I know I can call on them at any moment if I need their assistance or support.

Since making fundamental changes in my business, we have gone on to have the strongest quarter we have ever had, I am regularly pumped about what we can do as a team, and I have set the foundation for some excellent growth ahead.

I am now a total believer in the power of mentoring and coaching.  If it’s not this program, test out coaches and mentors or find the right group for you.  But most of all, just do it.  It should have a serious impact on you professionally and personally.  And if that doesn’t happen, you’re in the wrong place.

3. Build a culture you love to be a part of

Your business culture is such a strange beast.  What I learned is that it also ebbs and flows.  And when you’re in a small team like we are, the general sentiment of this culture can shift literally daily.

One thing I know for sure however, is that it all starts with you.  I have had times at work where I have literally not wanted to come into the office.  I realised quickly that I had the wrong people in the wrong seats.  Not physically, but metaphorically.  So, I had to spend time really assessing this, managing toxic people out, and developing others to shine.

That was the first step.  Then, I needed to look at who we all were collectively and find the things that excited us as a team and do more of that.

Defining your values and what you live and die by, are also crucial to not only express this together as a force to be reckoned with, but they’re there to help me hire the right people for our culture.

I look at where I was a couple of years ago compared to now, and it is night and day.  Whilst I’m still “the boss”, I absolutely love coming into my office, working as a team and building something exciting.  And having a laugh along the way, always helps!

Putting these measures into place have gone a long way for me to feel surrounded by the right people on a journey that takes you from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows… which is the rollercoaster that is Entrepreneurship.  I hope you find what’s right for you to enjoy the ride as much as I have.

About Sharon Zeev Poole

Sharon Zeev Poole, Agency Director of Agent99 Public Relations: Sharon Zeev Poole, the Director of highly regarded boutique agency Agent99 Public Relations, has grown the agency from a one-man show to a full service, award-winning PR agency located in the thriving creative hub of Surry Hills, Sydney. The agency specialises in launching or relaunching brands in the food, beverage and travel spaces, as well as working with corporates and individuals to raise their profile in the B2B space. Sharon has worked all over the world on high profile brands such as Warner Bros. Pictures and Starbucks Coffee. Today, the agency has an enviable list of lifestyle, consumer and corporate clients including William Grant & Sons (Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s Gin, Monkey Shoulder), Buderim Ginger, Hunter Valley Gardens and many more. An agency built on strong strategic and creative credentials, Agent99 is in constant pursuit of the unconventional, routinely implementing bold brand campaigns that capture national attention in unexpected ways. Agent99 has been recognised for its work, earning itself several award nominations including Finalist in the 2017 Mumbrella Commson Awards for Launch or Relaunch Campaign of the Year for their work on the Buderim Ginger ‘Ginger Pride Rally’, Finalist standings in the 2015 Mumbrella Commson Awards (Boutique PR Agency of the Year and Launch or Relaunch Campaign of the Year) and PRIA’s Medium PR Agency of the Year and Consumer Marketing Campaign of the Year, which was also Commended nationally. With a strong philosophy on giving back, Sharon often guest lectures to Marketing (Masters) and MBA students at the University of New South Wales, as a means of informing and encouraging students who are hoping to break into the industry.

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