It's a lonely road purple card

How to combat loneliness when running a business

Feeling lonely
By Holly Tucker


Being a founder can sometimes feel lonely. It’s a road we often walk alone and it can be isolating at times when we know the responsibility of the business (and people’s hopes, dreams and fears) ultimately sits on our shoulders. So how do we cope with it? Here are my tips…

Holly Tucker MBE reading Company of One by Paul Jarvis

What is loneliness (really)?

It’s a very natural feeling, to feel alone — and, my goodness, I’m sure if you ask anyone about their experience of loneliness in the turbulent years of lockdowns and social distancing, most will be able to relay at least one occasion where they’ve felt it. Even now being surrounded once more by the hustle and bustle of life and family, one can still feel lonely. It’s actually one of the saddest feelings I think. Because if others knew how you felt, I’m sure they’d move heaven and earth to spare you the heartache.

Does starting your own business leave you feeling isolated? Where does founder isolation come from?

That feeling of isolation is certainly a mist which can come through the open window of any founder's room, at any time. Because when you build your business, there’s an element of having to be alone with your notions and dreams. It’s what ignites your ideas, your soul, your thoughts. Then, of course, there are the things you simply have to keep to yourself — the raw, hard stuff that you can’t share with your customers, your community and, often, your colleagues. And with things being tougher than ever for small businesses in the current climate, there’s more of this internalised worry to contend with than usual. Some find that working more closely with others can help (and if you’re wondering how to choose a co-founder or how to collaborate, then read our articles). But not everyone is in that position.

The lonely path of entrepreneurship: we’ve all felt it

I’ve often felt alone. I remember vividly sitting in the offices of notonthehighstreet on one of three floors packed with people and feeling detached. I had so many people around me physically, but no one around my heart.

I was in the middle of trying to pull investment into the business and for anyone who hasn’t done this, I’d say it’s right up there with that famous list people reel off about the most stressful things humans can do. It is death, divorce, moving and I’d like to officially add raising money! You see I was just ‘Holly’ on the inside, but on the outside I had to not only be a good, kind leader to the team but also a fierce saleswoman and negotiator. The fear I was experiencing was immense as only I was able to coach down. Internal monologues of imposter syndrome and self-doubt have no place as you try to raise life changing (and saving) money.

I felt desperately alone with my thoughts and my being. I do believe whoever said, “It’s lonely at the top” was spot on. I’ve also spoken to so many of this community over the years, so know that I was not alone in feeling this alone. It’s very common actually and I suppose one can see why.

That feeling of isolation is certainly a mist which can come through the open window of any founder, at any time. But it’s what ignites your ideas, your soul, your thoughts.

Why do entrepreneurs feel lonely?

It’s common for people to start enterprises after being in a corporate job, or at university for instance — two places full of people. When we take that leap to build our own businesses, as founders, we suddenly find ourselves isolated in our back bedroom or working off the kitchen table by ourselves. It’s a place where each thought seems to linger and as the days go on (and on), our mind becomes full of questions, doubts and worries.

The science behind founder loneliness

I always remember the following statistic that Kate Downey-Evans, our resident Holly & Co coach and business psychologist from The Green Door Project, said during one of our Business Pharmacy sessions. A staggering 80% of our thoughts are negative, because we’re all still hardwired to our cave(wo)man instincts, to survive and protect. Back then each thought had to keep you safe thanks to a bear or hairy mammoth planning to have you for supper! So our thoughts mostly aren’t light and positive. Combine this with a lack of exercising these thoughts ‘out’ or having them erased thanks to a sympathetic ear, the brain becomes heavy and overloaded.

What happens when loneliness becomes too much?

How do we react to this? Well some of us go for days without ‘proper’ interaction with someone other than the newsagent. And if you have your head down in the administration or the complexities of your next business move, you can find yourself actually keeping away from other folks deliberately.

For those married or with partners, you also might find that you physically close down too when you are in this place. Worry can lead to shutting down and the loneliness in your day, leaves you struggling to open up or have a snuggle in bed. When this mist descends, it really can creep into every area of your life. It’s very real, but you should know that there are things we can all do to ‘self help’ ourselves out of the darkness.

How can an entrepreneur deal with loneliness?

One of the things I do when I can feel loneliness tapping away, is to get some interaction in the diary. The fastest way I feel less alone (and I know it sounds obvious!) is to be with people; those who I can share with and for me, that’s at least making that diary entry twice a week. Making sure I see people who I know will at some stage, ask me how I am and because I now only surround myself with radiators, I know I can talk to their kind hearts.

Whether this is in our Monday morning kick-off meeting with the whole team at Holly & Co HQ, or my weekly catch-up with my right-hand woman, just knowing when and where I’m going to get that special endorphin hit each week helps to reassure my mind.

'You are not alone' card
I’ve often felt alone. I remember vividly sitting in the offices of notonthehighstreet on one of three floors packed with people and feeling detached. I had so many people around me physically, but no one around my heart.
Group of women carrying a sign saying 'community'

How to overcome loneliness as a small business owner: the power of joining communities

Others have told me that the day they joined other communities was when they started to combat the regularity of loneliness. It’s something I’ve written about in my book ‘Do What You Love, Love What You Do’ under a chapter called ‘Finding Your Flock’. Because there’s nothing like feeling as if you’re soaring through the business skies, together. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Being and connecting with like minded folk who too feel lonely, full of self-doubt and yet secretly totally excited about what they’re building, helps no end.

The Holly & Co Facebook Community: a place to meet like-minded founders

The Holly & Co Facebook Community Group is just the loveliest bunch of people. They started coming together back in 2020 and it’s been a joy to watch the thousands unite. It’s a place that’s kind, loving and so helpful — and if you haven’t already joined and feel alone, know that there are lots of virtual arms out there, ready to give you a ‘Holly hug’!

My last piece of advice is to open up to your inner circle; those you trust implicitly to understand all the trickier parts of ‘life’. If you’re like me, you might often keep things bottled up, worried about being a burden if you reach out. But ask yourself this: Would I want to know if my best friend / partner / parent / child (delete as appropriate) was going through a hard time? Of course the answer is yes, and there’s a bloody good reason why the phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ exists. You are never a burden to those who love you — and they might just benefit from your caring ear, too.

Loneliness is something we’re prone to as we build our dreams, but it doesn’t have to be your everyday. When we connect to those who love us or who are sharing the same journey we’re on, it’s as if we’ve taken the most perfect ‘small business blues’ antidote that anyone could prescribe.

Founders combatting loneliness: key takeaways…

If there are three pieces of advice I can give you on this topic, they are as follows.

1. Remember, it is lonely at the top (and that’s ok):

It’s not uncommon to feel it as we are forging a new path and often need to do that alone. What matters is how we learn to check in with ourselves, notice loneliness and deal with it, to help ourselves overcome it.

2. Put social interactions into the diary to avoid loneliness:

Pop those energy building ‘moments’, meetings and catch-ups with others into your diary as well as things to look forward to.

3. Find your community to avoid isolation:

You might sometimes be lonely as a founder but you do not have to be alone — ever. You could join the Holly & Co Facebook Group, our bustling Instagram community to talk to other founders or open up to friends and like-minded people. I am sending you all the love.

Holly's signature

Images: 'Company Of One' book — by Paul Jarr, 'Community' wooden sign — by Modo & Co.

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