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Exactly how to build your tribe when you’re working solo

Natalie Ellis of BossBabe explains the five ways to beat the lonely trap of building a business and career all by yourself.

Exactly how to build your tribe when you’re working solo
[Photo: Al ghazali/Unsplash]

Being a solo entrepreneur is challenging for a variety of reasons, but there’s one thing I never expected: loneliness. I’m a serial entrepreneur and currently cofounder and CEO at BossBabe, a multi-million-dollar business I started on Instagram. But trust me, I wasn’t always “co”-something.

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I started my first business when I was 13, designing and building websites. That’s when I realized I loved running my own company. At that time, no one seemed to understand what I was doing. I’m not referring to the technical aspects of building a website, but the drive I had from a young age. I wasn’t surrounded by a lot of people who were interested in being entrepreneurs.

Later in life, I successfully launched my first product-based company with zero marketing budget. That’s the first time I felt lonely as a solo entrepreneur. I was making big decisions but had nobody to gut-check them with.

The company turned out to be a success, and my product was available in 200 stores in the U.K. Even as it took off, I was still craving a network of ambitious people like me who could guide, mentor, or collaborate with me. Or simply have brunch and exchange ideas.

That’s where BossBabe came into my life. The goal? Build one of the fastest-growing communities of ambitious women with a focus on female entrepreneurs. I wanted nothing more than to have a business partner, as I knew from past experience this isn’t something I wanted to take on alone. I asked around without any luck.

Serendipitously, Danielle Canty and I crossed paths at a business conference. We clicked and became cofounders and co-CEOs of BossBabe. Then we launched The Société with a goal to fix the loneliness of entrepreneurship. There are enough of us out here doing the same thing, there had to be a place for us to connect and do it together. As a membership community for female entrepreneurs, not only were we helping women at scale, but since we were the ones running the community, we were able to expand our own network significantly.

If you’re not ready to start a formal community like ours, here are five other ways I’ve built my network that you can try.

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Go to conferences or meetups

They can feel icky, especially if you’re not great at small talk. But look at it this way: The goal isn’t to talk to everyone. Go in with a clear idea of who you’re looking for and introduce yourself to two or three of those people.

Leverage your business to connect with hard-to-reach people

I’ve been able to meet so many inspiring people who’ve now turned into close friends, simply because I have my business as an excuse to connect. Create a dream list of people you’d love to be connected with and DM them.

Start a podcast

Ever since we launched “The BossBabe Podcast” we’ve been able to expand our personal network by 52 new people every year. Each of them knows at least three others who they’d be willing to introduce to you. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you have one, use your podcast as a way to meet new interesting people. If there’s a click, there’s a good chance you’ll stay friends.

Don’t always work from home

Pick out a coworking space or coffee shop. Be open to putting your phone down and actually engaging with another human being during the day. I know it sounds obvious, but I think we often spend too much time staring at our screens and not enough looking up and asking how someone’s day is going.

Join a closed community of entrepreneurs

At BossBabe, we launched The Société, a paid-for membership community for female entrepreneurs to connect, build, and grow. The women in this community ask each other questions about all aspects of launching and scaling their business, meet up in person, and become each other’s accountability partners.

Entrepreneurship can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Not everyone you meet needs to be a potential business contact, and you might never collaborate on anything, but there’s huge value in having friends who get what you do and are willing to talk about it over a cocktail or two when you’ve had a hectic week.

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Natalie Ellis is the CEO and cofounder of BossBabe.

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