Boost your profits and your network with a home-business support group

FORT SMITH, Ark – Running a home business can be lonely, especially during the pandemic. But creating a support group of other entrepreneurs working at home can be the solution — and it could boost your profits.

Just ask Russ Eanes, 63, who founded the editing and self-publishing business Walker Press three years ago and runs it from his home office in Harrisonburg, Va. He gets camaraderie and suggestions by tapping into a group of five other business owners.

“For nearly two years, my group has been meeting [virtually] once per week,” says Eanes. “We learn from each other’s successes and failures. It helps that I don’t feel it’s just ‘me, myself’ out there.”

How a home business support group can help you

One key to the successful group dynamics: “We are involved in different types of work, so there is a cross-fertilization of ideas,” Eanes says.

Building a home-based business support group can be a lifeline for solo entrepreneurs, especially those facing challenges when starting out.

“I think it is a unique concept that can certainly serve as emotional support for struggling entrepreneurs,” says Donna M. De Carolis, dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and a member of the editorial board of EIX, the Entrepreneurial and Innovation Exchange, funded by the Schulze Family Foundation. “The idea of a diverse brain trust group to flesh out ideas and challenges is a good one.” (Full disclosure: that foundation is a Next Avenue funder.)

The pandemic, interestingly, makes setting up and holding support group meetings easier. It’s less hassle than trying to get everyone together in person.

Here are five strategies to get your own home business support group (not a formal advisory board) up and running and make it a success:

1. Look for founders at a comparable stage of business growth. “The key is to have some commonality among the members,” says Marc Miller, founder of and a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging. “In my group in the Career Pivot Community, everyone is early in their journey and is building largely a solopreneur business. They can help one another stay out of their heads, and, more importantly, be cheerleaders for one another.”

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Outside input “keeps you grounded,” Miller notes. “When you get discouraged, you may need someone outside of your sphere to pick you up. ”

And the group members could become collaborators. “I have a number of people in my group who have partnered up to either work on projects together, or used each other as a resource,” Miller says.

2. Keep the circle small. “The goal is to bring together around five to 10 entrepreneurs on a regular basis-once a week or once a month,” says Fran Hauser, a New York City area-based startup investor and adviser and author of “The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate.”

Hauser went virtual with her group this spring. Before the pandemic, her support group met in coffee shops and co-working spaces, rotating the host in charge of leading each session.

“It’s easier than ever now to run a virtual meeting for an hour over Google GOOGL, -0.69% Meet or Zoom ZM, -0.30%, which allows you to invite entrepreneurs who don’t live in your town to join,” she says. “If it’s a local group, you could opt for socially distancing outside.”

3. Create a diverse ensemble. When choosing members of your support group, it helps to seek out diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, age and personality types. This will bring other layers of viewpoints and spark discussion.

To find members, tap into your LinkedIn connections, Facebook FB, 0.35% friends, your alma mater alumni group, and even your local Chamber of Commerce.

But Miller adds a caveat: “It is valuable to have slightly different skill sets and experiences, but you also need chemistry between the members.” You’ll be the best judge of that when you form the group. And if you later find that some members don’t click, you can politely ask one or more to drop out.

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