Loneliness is a disease that afflicts most small-business owners. It can be so severe that mental paralysis prevents the business from growing and it may even lead to failure.
The best defense includes surrounding yourself with other business owners who understand the challenges you face daily. They can help you take a step back from problems that seem all consuming so that solutions become more apparent. Additionally, it is likely that others have faced similar challenges and were able to conquer them.
Jeannette Watling-Mills, owner of Bob's Window Cleaning in Sarasota told me that, "Even when their business is going well, they are tired of doing it all and doing it alone." In addition to being an entrepreneur, she is a volunteer business mentor with the SCORE Manasota chapter, based in Sarasota, Fla.
SCORE is an all-volunteer resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that provides free advice and mentoring for small-business owners. One of Watling-Mills' SCORE clients is a "work-at-home business (and) is seriously considering getting a job so that she isn't so isolated."
Vistage, The Alternative Board and other for-profit companies offer similar solutions by creating peer groups of like-minded, non-competing small-business owners to meet and discuss their common goals and challenges. Some also offer private coaching by the group facilitator. The facilitator may earn coaching fees and share a portion of the dues paid by the group participants.
Meanwhile, the national SCORE Association's strategic plan includes forming business roundtable peer groups throughout its 364 chapters and 800 branch locations. Steve Bloom, a volunteer SCORE mentor with the Atlanta, Ga. chapter facilitates a roundtable at a branch in Cumming, Ga. "The first roundtable has been in existence for a year," he says. "We meet monthly and 9 small businesses share the good, bad and ugly pertaining to their individual crisis and opportunities."
Bloom formed several small businesses and is currently an angel venture capitalist in addition to volunteering to mentor small-business owners. "What is truly amazing," he says, "(the) facilitator learns as much from the participating business owners as they learn from me."
The roundtables are a part of SCORE's national initiative to grow one million small businesses and create jobs. Additionally, new and fledgling businesses are participating in SCORE's Simple Steps Program™. "This series of 5 workshops takes prospective entrepreneurs and already in-business small-business owners through a robust roadmap," Jeff Johnston says. He is the marketing chair of SCORE Atlanta.
The first workshop is free. It is called, "Start-up Basics" and is an overview of what it takes to be successful in business. Some attendees decide that the commitment required is more than what they expected. As a result, they drop out of the program.
"Clients are assigned mentors after the second (Simple Steps) session," SCORE's Johnston says. After taking the free workshop, "the subsequent four remaining sessions cost the participant $125." He adds that the titles of the other four workshops are, "Business Concepts," "Marketing Plan Development," "Financial Projections" and "Funding Alternatives for Your Business."
Peer groups, coaching and mentoring are playing important roles in growing small business and creating jobs.
Jerry Chautin is a volunteer SCORE business counselor, business columnist and SBA's 2006 national "Journalist of the Year" award winner. He is a former entrepreneur, commercial mortgage banker, commercial real estate dealmaker and business lender. You can follow him at www.Twitter.com/JerryChautin