"Well, you know what they say? You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with..."
That was a really successful friend-preneur of mine during one of our regular chats when I was first starting my business. I immediately did an inventory, and I didn't like what I found.
I had left a highly-intellectual and analytical career with brilliant colleagues, finished two years of business school where I was surrounded by driven and focused friends, and was now working for myself, by myself.
I was isolated and on my own for most of each day. And when I was around other people, the five I saw the most were my fiancee, my mother-in-law, and some lovely but uninspiring friends who didn't work. I was the average of that??
My fiancee aside, it wasn't exactly a group that was going to march me towards success...
One of the biggest downfalls of becoming an entrepreneur that not enough people talk about is this: when you are bootstrapping a business, working from home, and building your vision from scratch, you have to make an effort to find the communities that you took for granted when you were working for someone else. You have to look for people who will support, push, and challenge you. You have to seek out relationships that will help you and your business grow.
But where are you supposed to find them? And how?
For a long time, I had no idea. I was mildly depressed for large parts of those first few years and I felt deeply isolated. (It didn't help that I was living in the 'burbs at the time, where the only things within walking distance were a large supermarket and a movie theater... not exactly buzzy co-working spaces where I'd meet other entrepreneurs!)
After almost two years (TWO YEARS!) of doing things on my own and being professionally lonely, I teamed up with two of my favorite and most successful friend-preneurs to do something as life-changing and morale-boosting as starting a WhatsApp group (it doesn't have to be complicated for it to work). And our little threesome was exactly what I needed -- and still is -- to keep me and my business growing and improving. The advice we share with each other has saved me hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the support we give each other has saved me almost as many hours of frustration, confusion, and feeling stuck. (We are a small but mighty group of can-do'ers!)
But, my friends, not all WhatsApp groups or business groups or entrepreneur groups are created equal. We have to choose wisely. We have to look for, or create, environments that will help us do and be more than we could do or be on our own. We have to go where the standards are high.
It's that thing about averages again... If we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with -- and science and research has proven this to be true again and again -- then wouldn't it be great to be a part of a group where we are surrounded by high-performers who are committed to excellence, learning, improving, and sharing? Wouldn't it be great if we sought out communities where we were the "dumbest" person in the room so we could push ourselves harder than we knew we could push? Wouldn't it be exhilirating to be surrounded by people who get what we are trying to do and will help us do it better, faster, and more successfully than we could have on our own?
The communities, the people, the ideas that contribute to your average don't have to be physical. They can be made up of the authors you read, the podcasters you listen to, the thought leaders you follow, the online forums you join. In some ways, a total stranger in Australia has had as big and positive an impact on my business as anyone in my physical network.
But the in-person communities matter too. Of course they do. There is nothing as powerful as the energy created when people with focus, discipline, and commitment come together to learn, share, and grow. Together. And it's invaluable having an actual human to meet up with or go to events with or share local contacts with. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world.
And that's why I have invested so much of my time creating and curating a powerful business community, and that's why I actively seek out other strong business communities (if you're in property, by far the best I have found is Property Entrepreneur).
We are lucky to live in an era with endless on-line and off-line options. But with great access comes great overwhelm. There are so many groups out there, and the only way I have found the ones that fit me and my business best is by word-of-mouth recommendations from people I trust and a bit of trial and error.
So if you're looking for a community, if you're looking for successful friend-preneurs-to-be, if you're looking for people and places to inspire and lift you, ask around. Do some Googling. Attend an event. Get out there and talk to people.
But above all, choose carefully. Go where the standards are high. Go where the expectations are massive. Go where you will rub elbows with people who don't make you feel desperate for a shower after you have rubbed elbows with them.
It's the law of averages, after all, and you don't want your "five" bringing your average down.