The support of people who ‘get’ what you do can be game-changing

When it comes to running your business, who can you rely on? Friendships can be difficult for female entrepreneurs. In fact, friendship can be difficult full-stop. In a 2019 study
29% of women said they can’t open up to friends, loved ones or colleagues for fear of judgment. To make matters worse, in the last two years many once-solid friendships have fractured. A survey on wellbeing and mental health during the Covid 19 pandemic conducted last summer by University College London found that for 22% of us our friendships have deteriorated.

And even if your old friends are still there for you for fun times and the difficult life stuff – relationships, family etc – do they actually get what you do? Do they support you in your business goals?

Why you need business friends
You’d think they’d be cheering you all the way, but sometimes our friends and family are not our best allies when we’re making big, brave plans or facing the daily challenges of running a business. Even our dearest friends can be negative, perhaps feeling threatened by our perceived success. They just don’t get what we’re going through or even why we’re doing it. They might be happy to ask for freebies or mates’ rates, but not to try and listen so they really understand what running a business is like.

And the fact is, those business challenges can have a pretty huge impact on our wellbeing, especially if we’re running a business on our own. Making difficult decisions, brainstorming ideas, juggling multiple ventures, worrying about the bottom line, coping with difficult clients and just staying motivated through the ups and downs – there are so many ways in which running a business is tough.

When entrepreneurship isn’t fun
In extreme cases the life of an entrepreneur can lead to anxiety, depression and even burnout. The number of self-employed people saying they have “poor” or “very poor” mental health has increased from 6 per cent to 26 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic (a 300% rise). Yet 18% of women feel that as an entrepreneur or director they cannot take time away from work to address mental health issues as it would be a detriment to the business. This is why it’s vital to have friends who support you in your business goals. Because sharing what you’re going through with someone who gives good advice can help enormously.

Entrepreneurs suffer from loneliness at alarming rates and it’s time to start talking about it. A recent study in Science Direct found that entrepreneurs who experience occupational loneliness are more likely to burn out. But the thing about running a business is we feel like we can’t take our foot of the gas. We have to keep pushing, faking it until we make it, staying positive to maintain our success – or a veneer of success. We can even become a bit paranoid and anxious, ‘comparing and despairing’ our own performance with others’ on social media and beating ourselves up for not being as successful as them.

The need for connectedness is a basic ingredient for psychological growth and well-being. You need people around you who see how great you are, challenge your limiting beliefs and give you advice on how to get past them. Whereas friends and family may be less empathetic, especially if you’re toying with the idea of trying something new, sometimes you want to talk about what you do with someone who actually gets what you’re talking about.

Here’s how to find them…

Find your cheerleaders
Being in touch with people like you and sharing advice, best practice, tips and contacts can be a total game-changer. To get connected with some new business friends, find a community, a tribe you can gel with. In the Audrey Members’ Club, you get to connect with women like you and develop relationships that could last years. A whole variety of women in totally different situations, experiencing their own challenges and new beginnings. It’s a community of likeminded women who share wisdom and contacts and genuinely support each other, whatever they are going through.

Make friends with competitors
Some people say that you can’t be friends with your competitors, but the opposite is true. Says Audrey co-founder and in-house coach Faye Watts: “Who better to understand the challenges and pitfalls of your industry? Friends in your sector are the people you can swap ideas with, learn from and collaborate with”. They may refer clients and pass opportunities your way. For while you may do similar work to them, we all have our own unique niche, and if we’re clever about it and generous in the sharing of contacts, there’s enough work to go round.

Be intentional about your friendships
You have to make a conscious effort to spend time with friends – that means actually making a date in your diary. “Don’t let your relationships be the last thing on your to-do list. Those work friends can sometimes be the very people who help you grow your business. It’s a mistake to think of those lunches, phone chats or Zoom calls with business friends as just ‘downtime’ – because in fact time spent with those friends is like gold. It allows you to mentally step out of your business and look at it differently, with their invaluable help and advice. These are the people who will remind you how great you are and motivate you to achieve so much more. They help you to think bigger and be bolder – and you do the same for them” says Faye. Having them in your corner and supportive of your goals means they’ll help you by liking and sharing your online content too.

Nurturing and maintaining friendships, online and off-line, is a vital part of beating the isolation of self-employment. Mutual support can reap huge rewards. If you work at making good connections, who knows where it could lead? Life gets better when we lift each other up.

Looking for expert advice? The Audrey Members’ Club is a whole world of support, coaching and expertise for women through self-employment, changing careers, running a business or launching one. Join us to kickstart your future, whatever that may be.