When we think of the challenges facing those running small businesses chasing fast growth, the usual suspects come to mind: growth capital, hiring staff, increasing sales, cashflow. All these common problems were in attendance at the penultimate session of the Better Business Programme I attended last week. Despite the fact every business owner there was facing real difficulties, the mood was one of optimism and positivity.
This was brought home even more because I was in the company of a few entrepreneurs yet to embark on executive training, whose mood was markedly more apprehensive and preoccupied. This might not seem remarkable – after all, they were in the company of strangers whereas the course’s participants were enjoying banter and chat with people they had got to know very well in the preceding sessions. But this in itself could be a very under-rated benefit of executive education, or any programme in which entrepreneurs are brought together, in an atmosphere of honesty, to thrash out their problems.
It’s a cliché that entrepreneurialism is a lonely profession. But sometimes, the biggest difficulty a business owner may face is the alienation they experience from employees, co-workers and even perhaps family to whom they feel a large amount of responsibility.
Observing the course’s participants, it was clear that the bluster that can sometimes – sometimes – accompany any entrepreneur talking about his or her business had long since been discarded. “Oh yes, we’ve had laughs, we’ve had tears… it all comes out,” one participant confirmed.
As a result, relationships had been formed which allowed the group to be incredibly honest with each other – hard truths were bandied around with abandon. And although, to be sure, strategies were being developed that were easing some of the growth-related problems their businesses were facing, the entrepreneurs themselves were reaping emotional rewards from the ability to share their concerns and to listen to others in the same boat. Hidden among the practical, profit-focused, advice and strategy was a sense of entrepreneurial therapy.
It’s easy to underestimate the emotional difficulties in running a business, but it can be almost impossible to lift yourself out of a feeling of being overwhelmed or discouraged when things aren’t going well. If what I observed last week is anything to go by, this is one reason to consider executive education, or just getting involved in an entrepreneurial community, even if forming contacts and networking isn’t top of your priority list.