One in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time. There’s no single cause and there’s no one solution. After all, we’re all different! But, the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems. Some people are also at higher risk of feeling lonely than others.

So says the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) on its Mental Health Awareness Week website.

As owner, manager, chief electrical engineer, trainer, mentor, business developer and head bottle-washer; life is pretty busy. But, doing it totally on my own, like so many SME owner managers, it’s not just busy, but it’s lonely.

Before taking you through my own 3 Best Ways to Beat Isolation, let me first share 3 ways to help other sufferers as published by the MHF:

How to support other people who are feeling lonely

1. Don’t judge or stigmatiseembrace

It’s important not to judge or stigmatise people who feel lonely. Stigma around loneliness is a huge barrier to the kind of open and genuine conversations that can help. It’s more important to be aware of just how common loneliness is. It’s a normal feeling that all of us are likely to experience at some time in our lives. Telling other people that their poor mental health is the reason why they are feeling lonely is really not helpful.

2. Try to make groups welcoming to other people

It can be difficult for people who are feeling lonely to join a group like a club. This might be because people are shy or feel nervous about existing relationships in the group which they don’t feel part of. It’s important to be aware of this and try to make groups be as welcoming as possible to newcomers. Flexibility around things like how often people attend is also important.

3. Try to listen and show understanding

A great way to help a friend, colleague or family member is simply to listen. People who have experienced loneliness relate how they valued friends who really considered what they might enjoy and were even willing to join them in some shared activities. Having an understanding and compassionate approach, and not ignoring the person’s experience, will help them to feel heard and understood.

My 3 Best Ways to Beat Isolation

From apprentice to tradesman, VSE to SME, and growing a business in a competitive service industry, the opportunities are huge and exciting. The challenges that go with this are enormous. One aspect of business ownership that I wasn’t prepared for (but on hindsight should have been) is that it becomes all-consuming.

It takes over your life; it becomes your life; it IS your life.

So, I wanted to share these thoughts to help others who may be starting out on their own (your own) to warn you and help you to understand and deal with some of the social issues of wellbeing in management that I have faced and dealt with to date.

I’m talking about the sense of isolation that comes with the role of owner-manager.

It’s a common experience for many small business owners, particularly for sole proprietors or home-based business owners. It’s especially true of business owners who have chosen to leave their nine-to-five jobs to pursue their dream.

It can be so lonely but, I hope these views will help.

Step 1 – Networking

Love it or hate it, networking in business is essential. The cost of joining a network varies, but the real cost, is your time.

When you are already working all hours and have had to say ‘no’ to social invitations more times than you’ve been able to relax with anything other than a ping supper – well, your time is very, very valuable.

So, try to make sure you join the right network, something more substantial than simply swapping business cards over a bacon butty.

What you need is an exchange of ideas, some virtual mentoring. There are plenty of regional business groups around and, since COVID restrictions on movement and meeting, some operate very well online, through Zoom or Teams.

It is really useful to find someone other than your accountant to discuss financial issues, to get a real and practical view of the business end of ‘money’. Or talk about legal issues with someone other than a solicitor; and recruitment, with another employer rather than a recruitment consultant.

It’s the only way to bounce ideas, find alternative solutions and realise that everyone faces the same management hurdles as you.  I promise – next morning, in the office, you’ll be buzzing again, perhaps even smiling a little too!

Have a scout around LinkedIn to find the right network for you.

Step 2. Find a Mentor

A mentor is someone who has been in your shoes and, successfully, walked the walk of business ownership. He or she can provide informal advice, guidance, and motivation.

But how do you find a mentor?

As with networking, the wrong mentor could take you down the wrong path, perhaps even without realising it. They may think they’re helping, when in fact they are not.

LinkedIn again is a good place to find help. If you are bold enough – post a ‘cry for help’ or simply ask the question – ‘does anyone know a good mentor to help me grow my business strategically’.

Your network colleagues may already enjoy the benefits of third party discussion, advice and guidance. Ask them.

Ironically, you do not want a mentor from a competing business, or with hands on experience of your specific industry. You don’t want someone to tell you how to do your job! You should team up with someone whose broader management and diverse industry experience will help build you as a manager.

I get a great deal of psychological support and practical advice just talking with my Financial Adviser. Even the chap helping with my marketing has the odd little nugget of experience that helps.

Ask, share, listen.

If you try to do it all on your own, the isolation will harden; and, the lonely sense of despair will deepen.

Step 3. Build a team focussed on Collective Success.

This is undoubtedly where I have had my greatest success.

And, no, I didn’t read it in a book; see it on a Business Development video (though some are very good and highly recommended); it’s not a network nugget; or mentored advice.

No, this is all mine – and my team. Our team !

You might be happy to build a business by grabbing contracts then subbing the actual work. It can be done, and many do it – almost successfully. You are continually buying a high turnover of contracts and delivering below par work on site, because you don’t know the guys you’re sending there.

By intent and hard work, I have managed to build, train and mentor an excellent team, who are as proud to wear the JGF logo as I am.

As Investors in People, we recognise that our ‘people’ are our ‘assets’. Quality comes through training and opportunities through our Apprenticeships. On-the-job learning and upskilling, both in the unit and on site, develop more than essential electrical skills.

Our apprentices start their new trade from scratch. Our electrical engineers up-skill as new technology enters the market. And we all share, listen and learn when new regulations, guidelines and standards come through the door.

This learning develops core values too, such as team working, service ethic and analytical thinking.

Not only do we think and interact as a team, it gives me personally, the reassurance that we are well received on site; do the job to the highest industry standards; and will be welcomed back for scheduled inspection and maintenance.

Let me tell you, this teamwork, understanding and support puts the biggest smile on my face every morning.

Who they are is why I’m prepared to do what I do – lonely or not.

A couple of quotes on Teamwork:

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” –Michael Jordan

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” –Andrew Carnegie

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

…and finally:

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” –Helen Keller