The Hard Part About Being a Solo Founder That No One Talks About (and How To Fix It)
Here’s the step-by-step strategy I’ve used to find “business besties” and powerful brainstorming collaborators as a solopreneur or as a freelancer.
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In my early days of freelancing, I stayed sane by forming mini-partnerships with other business owners to combat the loneliness of solopreneurship. For years, I jokingly called my one-on-ones with founder friends our "Monthly Staff Meetings." While we didn't have big enough teams to hold actual staff meetings yet, we still needed the accountability and human contact. So we'd meet, debrief, talk about upcoming projects, and dissect what what wasn't working.
Finding these collaboration partners and setting up mini-masterminds was one of the keys to staying steady, consistent, and improving over time in the very early days of building our businesses.
Val Geisler, an email conversion strategist and copywriter who has worked on and behind-the-scenes with fastest-growing companies like ConvertKit, Meet Edgar, and AccessAlly, said that having a business collaborator along the way has been integral to her success. "I'd credit my biz bestie to keeping me in business these last six years--that's how crucial having one is," she says.
Yet a lot of solo founders think they need to go heads down and do it alone. This is a mistake. The early days of solopreneurship can be lonely, and it's your job to build in the networks, connections, and peer-to-peer learning as part of your business. Especially if you're working from home, or carving out a side hustle, or just in the early freelancing days, this is a missed step that many people stumble over.
Here are the four steps I've taken to find great brainstorming partners in my business journey:
1. Identify your business, support, or strategy needs.
What exactly do you need more of? In my early days, I wanted someone to bounce ideas around with on my overall business strategy, to make sure that I was steering the ship in the right direction for the years to come. Depending on where you are in your business, you might need:
- Brainstorming--someone to ideate with, fuel each other, and generate new inspiration.
- Strategy feedback--someone to talk to about next steps and strategic moves from a big-picture standpoint.
- Implementation support--maybe you actually need to hire someone and get help!
- Accountability--someone to show up regularly for meet ups or check-ins, to prove progress, and stay the course during the long months.
- Mindset--someone to unpack the psychological side of building and understand that all of the insecurities, worries, or neuroses are actually quite normal and relatable.
2. Identify what expertise you have to share.
Find out what specific skills and strengths you have to bring to the table, and offer them in the collaboration. Alternately, you can also partner with people looking to learn the same skill sets alongside you, and act as peer accountability partners during your learning period.
3. Start "dating" people as potential business peers.
Once you have an idea for what kind of person you want to meet, look through the people you already know. Browse LinkedIn for skills, review your email contacts, and scroll through your Facebook friends. Who would you like to learn from? Who intrigues you? Is there a weak tie you can build upon as a collaboration partner?
4. Reach out to collaborate as a "biz brain" or mental partner.
I've had a lot of success emailing people:
"Hey, I'm geeking out right now about email funnels and marketing, and I'd love to do a few brainstorming sessions with someone else interested in these puzzles. You up to chat about best-practices and share ideas about what we're building?"
If you can't come up with people that are the right fit, create a short list of peers who might know the right person for you to meet. You can message them and ask for introductions:
"Hey friends and colleagues, I'm looking to do a deep dive on Google Analytics this year and really uplevel my skills. I'm looking for some brainstorming and accountability partners who want to learn and geek out alongside me. If you know of anyone, please feel free to introduce us."
No matter where you are in business, having peer accountability and support is essential.
Today, years later as a solo founder, I still do the same practice. Many others do, too. Jenny Blake, author of Pivot and Life After College, credits her business friends with keeping her sane and navigating the ups and downs of solopreneurship. She's going on ten years of having a "biz bestie" and shares that their relationship has transcended time zones and geographic boundaries.
"I'm so grateful to know there's someone out there who understands the quirks of self-employment and living a more unconventional life," Blake says. "And most of all, that we've been able to grow together and keep our friendship going all these years."
Geisler adds: "Just because I started it alone doesn't mean I have to do it all alone."