A myth about entrepreneurs is that we are just a bunch of “lone rangers.” (The Lone Ranger was a fictional former Texas Ranger who went off on his own to fight bad guys). According to the lone ranger myth, the reason we start our own businesses is that we can’t get along with others. We can’t function in an organizational structure. So we ride off into the wilderness by ourselves to chase down our next deal.
Every myth is based on a bit of truth. Entrepreneurs do tend to have a higher need for independence. There are decades of studies of entrepreneurs that suggest we have a stronger urge to be independent than the average person. In simple terms, psychologists define the personality trait of independence as preferring to act on one’s own thoughts rather than follow others.
Just because we have the urge to follow our own ideas does not mean we have poor social skills. To the contrary, independent thinking is recognized as an important part of healthy social skills by most psychologists.
In fact, there is a growing body of research suggesting that what is called social capital, having a strong network of people with knowledge, experience, and wisdom to draw from, is an important determinant of entrepreneurial success. It can be even more important for many entrepreneurs as the financial capital they need to succeed in business.
Important Sources of Social Capital
What are the sources of social capital for entrepreneurs?
It starts with their family and friends. At first glance it might seem that the social isolation we are all practicing should facilitate a stronger flow of social capital to entrepreneurs. After all, we are quarantined 24/7 with our family. However, being forced into togetherness is challenging us to find new ways to interact as a family. Those who have retired often talk about the initial challenges of finding a new rhythm for family life once the retiree is so much more time at home. During our adjustment to everyone being at home, it can become difficult if not impossible for family members to provide the social capital the entrepreneur needs from them.
Another critical source of social capital for entrepreneurs are their mentors, coaches, and advisors. These are the people who help keep entrepreneurs moving ahead and staying “between the rails.” At this point in my career, one of my greatest joys is serving as a mentor for countless student and alumni entrepreneurs. I know how important my mentors and advisors were for me when I was a full-time entrepreneur, and hope that I can pay it forward to today’s young entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs also receive vital social capital from their peers, that is, from other entrepreneurs. This includes industry peers, which is why we are drawn to meet-up groups, trade shows, and industry associations. These peers help us with the content of our businesses. It also includes entrepreneurs outside of their industry. The social capital we get from these entrepreneurs is more about the journey of entrepreneurship and about the challenges of being an entrepreneur, rather than the more technical aspects of building the business.
Staying Connected with Social Capital
Just as raising financial capital for a business takes time and effort, so too does securing the social capital we need. Here are five steps to ensure that entrepreneurs get the social capital they need to keep their businesses moving ahead during these challenging times:
- Intentionality in working from home. There is an old adage in family business: keep family time for family, and work time for work. As we adjust to a work-from-home economy, we need to take this advice to heart. There are many great articles available on how to effectively work from home. I posted one at this site.
- Family support needs structure. It is imperative to create a structure that ensures you can tap into the family support you need for your business. I find that our daily neighborhood walks is when I get the advice and support from Mrs. C. that I so desperately need for my work as a professor and as an entrepreneur.
- Mentors reach out regularly. Those of us who have the privilege of being mentors to entrepreneurs need to be intentional about reaching out regularly to touch bases. Even a quick text or email can go a long way to ensure the entrepreneurs we work with have a life line to us when they need it. Many of the entrepreneurs I talk with express feeling alone in their struggle to keep their businesses alive. Remind them that they are not alone.
- Set up weekly/monthly Zoom coffee or beers. I have various people who I meet with regularly over a cup of coffee or a beer. Some are my mentors, some are peers, and others are those who I mentor. Don’t let these important meetings stop because of the coronavirus. Create a regular schedule of zoom coffees and/or zoom beers to keep these vital conversations alive.
- Peer-based Zoom meetings. We have an amazing group of alumni entrepreneurs who all meet once a month to talk about their entrepreneurial journeys. Until we can safely meeting as a group, we are moving ahead, same time as always, on Zoom. Is it as good as meeting face-to-face? No, but it is better than losing this source of social capital.
Even as we seek to stay safe through social isolation, it does not mean that entrepreneurs must become isolated from their critical sources of social capital.