It's all about support: How to help when friends or family start a business
Insights from BOSSY contributor Abby Rosen
When I started my own business, many people in my life wanted to know how to help. As a perfectionist, I was hesitant to accept help because I feared that my vision would be compromised if too many people got involved. I learned very quickly, however, that starting a business is more work than one person can or should take on by themselves. Once I accepted help, my business grew faster and my relationships grew stronger than I thought possible. If any of your friends or family members are entrepreneurs, your support could be make or break for their success. Here are six ways you can help (many of them requiring no money and little time).
1. Contribute financially, if you can
Obviously, starting a business takes money. Often, however, people are unwilling or hesitant to accept money directly from friends and family because of the complications that can come with it. Inability to pay the money back can lead to stress and animosity on both sides. Kickstarter and Gofundme contributions are great, but they can feel impersonal, and if the Kickstarter does not reach its goal, your friend may never actually see a cent. Instead, ask if there are any specific things that they need but are unable to pay for on their own. Be upfront and honest about the amount you are willing or able to contribute. Offer to purchase a specific item or fixture for the shop or a few months of their domain access. Not only will you know the money is going to something they really need, but they will think of you every time they use that tool to build their business. Financial contributions don’t need to be expensive either. If a friend is working from home on their business, see if they could use a quick break or a coffee delivery. No one will say no to an unexpected friendly face or free caffeine.
2. Give the gift of yourself
You may not be starting your own business, but chances are you have plenty of skills that would add greatly to a growing enterprise. Like playing with Photoshop? Offer to edit promotional photos or draw up mock ups of logos. Like to write? Help craft content for their websites, write product descriptions or type up a short bio for your friend to use on social media. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to write about yourself and easy to write about the people you love. Not sure how to help? Ask. My college roommates helped me sand and repaint the inside of a mini school bus for my mobile business, saving me many hours and contributing a ton of elbow grease. Plus, getting to spend time with your friend while they make their dreams a reality is a great relationship builder. Don’t offer to do anything you’re not willing to, but get creative with ways you could pitch in that will only cost a little time and no money. Chances are, they’ll throw in a cold beverage along with their eternal gratitude for your help.
3. Spread the word on social media
Social media is increasingly becoming a type of currency of its own. If you have a larger social media following, share their business updates with your followers. Often, advertising on social media can be costly and questionably effective. Sharing with your network increases the likelihood that they will reach their target market. Share shop updates, crowdsourcing pages and events they are participating in. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with your entire network, think of a few people that might not otherwise see their posts and send the information via private message. If sharing their page feels too “off brand”, like or favorite their posts whenever possible. Though it’s a small gesture, these things do help raise a page’s profile and make them more visible to others who may be more interested.
4. Help make connections with your network
Small business owners are bombarded with the need to network. Networking in 2018, for many, is still a mysterious and intimidating monster of its own. Especially if your friend is more introverted, they may struggle more than others with making those connections that could truly take their business to the next level. Look at your own network and see if you know anyone who would be a valuable connection. Do you know any former or current small business owners? Insurance brokers? Social media strategists? People working from home or self-employed? Anyone in the same field? These people don’t need to become best friends or even work together in a professional capacity, but making the introduction eliminates a lot of the pressure of cold contacting people and asking for advice.
5. Just be there
One of the most important, and most overlooked, ways to help someone starting a business is providing emotional support. Taking on lots of new responsibilities, obligations and debts can lead to feelings of isolation and increase stress. Sometimes, your loved one may just need someone to talk to about the frustrations they’re facing. This doesn’t mean that they need any advice, business or otherwise. I spent many hours online or on the phone with my best friend lamenting insurance struggles, renovation costs and worries about profitability. She listened intently and let me know I wasn’t in this alone. At the end of the conversation, I still had the same worries, but at least I knew that I didn’t have to shoulder the burden of solopreneurship solo.
6. Understand the sacrifice
Helping others with their business doesn’t always have to involve time or money. A lot of the time, it is about understanding your loved one’s lack of both. Many people starting their own business are bootstrapping. All of their money may be going into the business, especially if they're just starting out. If this is the case for your loved one, just be cognizant of it. It can be difficult for an entrepreneur to watch their friends going out and spending money that they don't have, even if it is in the name of pursuing their dreams. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't invite your friend to hang out with you, but think about things you can do together that don't cost money. Invite them over for dinner or a night of Netflix. Almost more importantly, try to be understanding if they choose not to come out to an expensive meal or a night on the town. Sacrificing for your business is never easy, but it’s a lot easier with the understanding and support of those you care about the most.
By using one or more of the above suggestions, you are doing more than just supporting an individual. You are supporting the idea that people should chase their dreams, no matter how difficult. Small business owners often hold back from asking for the things they need because they think they should be 100% self-sufficient. Having someone they care about reach out and offer assistance, no matter what form it takes, can make all the difference. And who knows, you may be rewarded for your services with a special friends and family discount once the business is on its feet. If nothing else, you’ll know that you helped make a loved one’s dreams a reality.