It can be tricky for sole traders to stay connected with the start-up community, particularly as your business grows and time becomes an increasingly valuable resource.
If you’re sitting at home in front of a screen, attempting to launch a business all by yourself, it can be extremely tough, not only from a business perspective but from an emotional one too.
One solution is to join a co-working space. After all, there are plenty to choose from, and many are producing world-class start-ups.
But what if you decide a co-working space isn’t for you? Do you soldier on by yourself and hope for the best?
While co-working spaces offer a level of “togetherness” that’s hard to match, the plethora of online communities and meet-ups means there’s no excuse for failing to connect with your peers.
“There are loads of communities that are great (for soloists),” says Cas McCullough, owner and director of Support a Work At Home Person, an online community for home-based entrepreneurs.
McCullough says you need to know what you are looking for in order to determine which communities you should align yourself with.
“There are now several groups that cater more for the home-based or solo business owner to help them stay connected,” she says.
“Motivating Mum runs networking groups throughout Australia and the UK, and there’s a new group just started up in Brisbane called The Kitchen Table Network that is aimed at small businesses.”
“All offer fantastic opportunities for home-based businesses to meet up and connect with others who are working from home.”
McCullough says the benefit of joining an online member group, such as Support a WAHP, is that it doesn’t matter where you live.
“If you’re a mum who finds it difficult to get to live networking events or you are geographically isolated, you can jump online and connect with people who are in the same boat,” she says.
“You can also get very quick feedback on questions you might have, can participate in online learning opportunities such as webinars and teleclasses, and share each other’s important news and blog posts to amplify word of mouth through social media channels.”
But as McCullough points out, online communities are not exclusive to online businesses.
“It’s not just about online businesses having a community. It’s about offline businesses joining communities as well. Camaraderie is important when you run a solo business,” she says.
“And even if all you are is a silent observer in an online networking group, it means you’re able to learn from others, way beyond what you would learn by yourself.”
“You can check in at a time that works for you, not during business hours, and you can usually get quick answers to urgent questions.”
With regard to meet-ups, Sydney-based entrepreneur Ryan Wardell says the same rules apply – you will only determine which one is right for you by knowing what you want to get out of it.
Wardell, along with Navdeep Siani, founded Cofounder Speed Date, a speed dating event for tech start-ups, designed to connect business founders with tech founders.
In addition to Cofounder Speed Date, Wardell organised the PushStart FinTech Forum earlier this year on behalf of Sydney-based start-up mentor network PushStart.
According to Wardell, many of the start-up meet-ups in Sydney have a tech focus, which doesn’t apply to every entrepreneur, while many of the networking events are too broad.
“I’ve been to lots of network events that are very unfocused, and no one gains anything out of it. If you’re a sole trader, you could be spending that time drumming up business,” he says.
Wardell says sole traders need to be realistic about what they think they can gain from start-up meet-ups. He suggests they use these events as a chance to relax, rather than network.
“If you’re a sole trader and you’re selling a skill – you’re a bookkeeper or a freelance writer or something like that – I don’t think there’s a whole lot to be gained,” he says.
“If you’re a sole trader, you’re not looking for a co-founder or a business partner or suppliers.”
“So unless you know who’s going to be there and you’re going for a specific reason, [it’s more about] going along and seeing what’s on there.”
“The Business Enterprise Centre in the Sutherland Shire runs Friday night drinks at the pub, which is worthwhile if you want a social thing… Being able to kick back and talk to people is worthwhile in itself.”