One of the beauties of starting a business online is that you can do it from anywhere. Well, at least in theory.
But let’s face it: the reality is that starting an online business can feel kind of lonely — ESPECIALLY when you’re trying to do it in areas outside of “traditionally” entrepreneurial places like New York or San Francisco.
I know the feeling. A year and a half ago, I quit my job in Columbus, Ohio, and moved across the country to a little town in South Florida called Wellington. Columbus is a pretty big metropolitan area, with tons of networking events, meetups, Startup Weekends — plenty of opportunities to connect with other writers and entrepreneurs who were interested in the things I was interested in. Wellington, on the other hand? Not so much.
I was 100% sure the move was right for me on a personal level. But on a professional level? I was terrified. There was a huge part of me that wondered: Am I making a huge mistake? Am I setting my career back by a year, five years, a decade, by moving so far away from where things are happening?
Flash forward to today, and I can honestly say I’ve actually learned more about writing AND entrepreneurship, and made more connections with smart, interesting people who care about the same things I do in the year that I’ve lived here than I did in four years living in Columbus.
All thanks to a little thing called the internet.
No matter where you are in the world, you can plug into the entrepreneurship community and find YOUR people online.
Here are a couple of strategies to get you started.
1. Plug into some Facebook groups
I don’t need to tell you that social media can be a double-edged sword. We all know the feeling of opening Twitter on our browser, only to emerge an hour later wondering, “Where did my time go?”
But if you’re intentional and strategic about how you use social media — as in, you use it to be social, and not just to put in your two cents about the scandal-of-the-day — social media can be an amazing tool for meeting and connecting with other people who are interested in the same things you are.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that a Facebook group literally changed my life. When I decided to quit my job and switch to freelancing full time ahead of my move, I joined a few Facebook groups for writers. Suddenly, I was part of a huge community of smart, talented freelancers — many of whom had been freelancing for years and even decades. And, best of all: they were happy to share their advice.
And then somebody in that group posted a job listing for an entrepreneurship writer from a site called GrowthLab. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We run a Facebook group that’s just for students of our online course, Zero to Launch. In my opinion, it’s one of the best things we do for our students, because it gives them a place where they can ask questions about their specific business — and then get answers from people who have been there.
Here’s one of our students asking for advice on how to beta test his online course.
A few entrepreneurial-minded Facebook groups to get you started:
- How You Built That is a group run by NPR and inspired by the hit podcast How I Built This
- Women Helping Women Entrepreneurs is a group for women entrepreneurs with 150K members
- Millennial Entrepreneur Community is a group for millennial entrepreneurs with 73,000+ members
Finding the right online communities can feel like walking into a meetup that never ends. But if you want to make the most of the connective potential that the internet has to offer, it’s not enough to sit on the sidelines. The next step: actively seek out the people you want to connect with. For that, I recommend #2:
2. Set up a video conferencing coffee hour
I’m pretty sure that video conferencing and calendar scheduling software are two of the most underappreciated innovations of the Digital Age.
With Zoom for video conferencing and Calendly for scheduling (both, by the way, are completely free for the basic version), we’re all equipped with our own personal, virtual coffeehouses. All we have to do is invite people to join us there.
Virtual coffee hours are the core of how I stay connected with my network. Sometimes it’s for work (those interviews with our GrowthLab students don’t write themselves). But a lot of the time, it’s just to chat with another entrepreneur who I really admire and want to get to know better.
Approaching somebody you admire from the LinkedIn- or Twitter-verse for the first time can be intimidating. So here’s a script you can use to start the conversation:
Hi [INSERT CONTACT NAME],
My name is [INSERT YOUR NAME].
I’d love to schedule a 15-20 minute “virtual coffee date” over Zoom to chat more about your business and what you’re working on. I’m particularly interested in learning more about [TELL THEM WHAT YOU’RE INTERESTED IN].
Up for it? Here’s a link to my Calendly with some times that I’m available. Feel free to grab any slot that works for you (there’ll be a link to my Zoom room included in the calendar invite when you schedule).
[INSERT SCHEDULING LINK].
Looking forward to chatting!
A couple of things to keep in mind as you’re doing this kind of outreach:
- Make it personal. Tell the person why you want to chat with them specifically. Everybody likes feeling like their perspective and expertise is valued.
- Make it easy to say yes. With the script above, the person doesn’t even have to reply if they don’t want to. They can just schedule a time and show up — easy as that!
As you grow your network and start forming relationships with people, you can start scheduling standing weekly “coffee dates.” That way, you have something to look forward to as a break from the tedium and loneliness of working on your business every week — and a growing list of internet friends you can bounce ideas off of.
Take the solo out of solopreneur
Starting a solo business doesn’t have to mean starting a business alone — even when you live somewhere that’s “off the beaten path.” It takes some effort, intention, and, yeah, just a little bit of courage — but you can absolutely build a community online that’s so strong, you may even find yourself forgetting you’ve never met in person.
Now I want to hear from you: Are you starting an online business from somewhere unexpected, like a suburb or a rural area? What are your favorite strategies for plugging into the larger entrepreneurship community? Let us know in the comments below!