Yes, it’s lonely at the top. But it doesn’t have to be.

How entrepreneurs can achieve more with the right people in their corner

What qualities do you associate with being an entrepreneur?

Passion? Check.

Drive? Check.

Determination? Check.

Loneliness? Yes, check that too. A sense of isolation and loneliness is all too common among owners of small- and medium-sized (SME) businesses, according to the mentors in Innovation Guelph’s Fast Lane program.

“CEOs don’t have peers within their organizations,” explains Niel Palmer, a Fast Lane mentor with expertise in honing operational efficiencies. “They usually don’t have anyone to bounce ideas around with who understands the situation, who can play devil’s advocate.”

And that can take its toll, day after long day of fighting your way through thorny challenges, big risks and hard decisions.

It’s a lonely business running an SME,” agrees mentor Steve Barrett, who specializes in guiding early-stage technology companies. “Most entrepreneurs are working so hard in the business they don’t have time to step back and look at big picture. We see people who are working 100 hours a week; they can’t take vacation. While they may have had some early success or sustained success in a niche, they don’t know what to do next and it’s scary.

“They need someone in their court who they can rely on, who they can confide in, who they can trust. It’s important to reach out, to have a sounding board, in order to step up and take risks.”

Whether it’s a case of too-rapid growth or stagnating sales, having someone to talk to – someone who understands what you’re going through and can provide fresh perspective – can make the difference between fruitlessly spinning your wheels and getting the traction you need.

Key to making good decisions is getting good advice from other experienced individuals, whether through a program like Fast Lane or by connecting with other business owners through a Rotary club or a Chamber of Commerce peer group.

Joining or starting a Mastermind group – a gathering of like-minded, motivated individuals – is another good option for entrepreneurs, says Jane Dummer, an Innovation Guelph mentor and food consultant.

Whichever route you choose, here are 3 tips for success:

  • Be honest about your challenges and capabilities in order to pinpoint the complementary skill sets you need. What are your fears? What are your weaknesses? What’s keeping you up at night?
  • Be coachable: To learn and grow and achieve, you need to listen more than you talk.
  • Be willing to say thank you: look for ways to give back to those who share their expertise and insights. And pay it forward by sharing your knowledge with others.

“Most entrepreneurs are too busy working in their business to take the necessary time to work on their business,” says Mark Goldberg, another Fast Lane mentor and serial entrepreneur. “The most common thing I hear is ‘thank you. This has helped me step back and look at my business.’”

“It’s like a lifeline for people who are banging their heads against a wall day-in and day-out, trying to find solutions,” Palmer says. “We play the role of peer. They get a chance to collaborate to solve their problems. That’s what makes what we do so rewarding.”


About Fast Lane

Fast Lane is a business acceleration program for small- and medium-sized enterprises (under 500 employees) that are facing technical, efficiency or growth challenges. Part of Innovation Guelph’s Speedway program, it is designed for companies earning revenues of $1 million or more, and provides up to $5,000 in services to help these businesses scale-up their operations.

One of the services Innovation Guelph provides is a Business Advisory Board, made up of Fast Lane mentors with relevant experience. The Business Advisory Board functions like a Board of Directors for entrepreneurs who want to test new ideas and solve problems that are keeping their business from growing.

Learn more about Fast Lane here or contact Innovation Guelph for more information at 519.265.4495 or

— Story by Stacey Curry Gunn. Stacey is a Guelph-based PR and marketing communications professional who helps businesses grow by sharing their stories. Follow her on Twitter @StaceyCurryGunn.




LinkedIn Groups discussion topic:

What are your tips for overcoming the loneliness of entrepreneurship?