For some people, the concept of working in a career outside of the traditional 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday as an entrepreneur is unconventional, and even unfathomable. Putting everything on the line to start a company can be daunting, expensive and incredibly stressful – and we all know at least one person who is doing it.
For family and friends on the sidelines, watching their loved ones persevere when it seems the odds are stacked against them, it can be difficult to know how to help their family members or friends with big ideas they are turning into startups. There are no limits to an entrepreneur’s work week; many have left their careers to turn their passion into profit, and are trying to do it all alone – or with a very, very small team.
So what can you do to support a family member or friend who has high hopes for starting a company, without forking over your life savings? We’ve compiled a list of ways you can provide meaningful support to a loved one while they pursue their entrepreneurial endeavours – without opening your wallet. Here’s how:
A little understanding and a lot of moral support
They’ve taken a chance and have changed their life to pursue their dreams, so in all likelihood, they are less responsive, less accessible and less available than they were before. Don’t take it personally.
Getting a startup off the ground can – very quickly – become a long, roller-coaster of emotions. With long work days, a lack of structure, and the pressure to succeed based solely on their own initiative, it can be overwhelming, isolating and all-encompassing. So much so, that it can be tough to know where or who to turn if they haven’t kept their family and friends in the loop as much as they could have.
You may not have the technical skills to help them solve complex problems, but you have the capacity to be even more helpful as a friend who provides moral support and encouragement when the going gets tough; that can be more valuable than anything. You may not understand or relate to their business struggles, but a fresh perspective and a listening ear can feel like a weight has been lifted.
Remember too, that just because they’re extremely busy and aren’t in communication as often as they may have been before doesn’t mean they don’t care about you – they’re busier than busy, to say the least. Check in with your favourite entrepreneur via email, text or call, just to see how they are doing regularly, so that even if they are building their company solo, they know they aren’t actually alone in the grand scheme of things. Plus, talking through what’s going on with someone who’s outside of the problem or circumstance can sort out the challenges they are facing, just by saying it aloud.
Keep in mind that even though building a company is likely the biggest, most interesting part of their life right now, be sure to ask about them as a person – not the entrepreneur, so they can appreciate the need for a work-life balance, even if the scales favour work over a personal life at present. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way! Just stay connected and check in often!
Donate your skills or volunteer your time
Wherever they are in their entrepreneurial journey, you can bet that a founder is stretched thin, wearing an unbelievable number of hats to keep their business afloat. At any given time, they are developing and marketing a product or service, grant writing, hiring (or considering it), networking to find a co-founder or potential employee, crafting a pitch for investors, and more, while trying to balance the books well enough to get a few good meals in.
So maybe you’re a strong writer, accountant, social media superstar or dabble in graphic design – whatever it may be, one simple way you can lighten their workload is to donate your expertise for a specific task. Or, if you’ve got some extra time in your schedule, maybe it’s on an ongoing basis.
It is important to note though, that you should set and manage expectations if you’re offering to use your professional skill set to lend a hand – particularly if you’re in a profession where repeat services will be required. Set the conditions so it doesn’t become your side hustle, too.
The best way to approach this is when you’re checking in to see how they are doing. If they mention a task on their to-do list that you can help with, don’t offer up your help immediately. Think about it, and when you’re ready to offer your assistance, be specific about the commitment you are willing and able to make.
Are you willing to help them draft one grant application or review all of them until they’ve hired someone? The more specific you are about the task you can help with will ensure you’re on the same page – and won’t increase their stress levels when they think a task is covered and it really isn’t.
Be a distraction from the day-to-day grind
Whether they have one or two side gigs on the go, or are channelling all of their energy and effort into their startup by themself, it can be exhausting and isolating to turn a big idea into a company. Sometimes, the best way to make the most progress as an entrepreneur is to step away from work and come back to it with fresh eyes.
We’ve all been there: focused on one task or project for so long that when we finally emerge from it, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. That’s where a good friend can be the best distraction from startup life.
Make plans – big or small – and stick to it. Affordable options include grabbing a cup of coffee, going for a hike, or having them over for lunch dinner can be a budget-friendly way to reconnect. If you have a little bit more money to spend, make plans to go camping for a weekend, attend a concert or food festival in the city or take in the theatre. Whatever plans you decide to make, be sure to keep them; everyone needs something exciting to look forward to!
Introduce their company to your network – in-person and online
One of the easiest things you can do to support the founder in your life is to help raise awareness of their company to your network of family, friends and professional colleagues. Be sure to check in with them first, but sometimes who you know – and who you speak with about the startup – can make all the difference.
Whether it’s a potential investor or future employee, introducing the startup founder in your life to people that can help them grow their business can be a gamechanger – and it’s free for you! If they aren’t ready for introductions just yet, simply chatting with your colleagues by the water cooler about the pain points they aim to solve with their startup is a good way to generate buzz about the company early on.
Otherwise, maybe they’ve finally got started on social media and are having a tough time reaching new audiences. The easiest thing you can do to support their startup is hit a couple of buttons and expose their company to hundreds of new, potential customers. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, give them a ‘like’ or follow, and share their content to your network. It’s the easiest way to help them grow their audiences without having to spend money on paid campaigns.
Demo their product
For founders, it can be very easy to get so wrapped up in a project or task that they overlook (or might not even see) design flaws, glitches or basic, necessary functions for usability with their product. This, of course, isn’t intentional; it happens in the race to get their prototype up and running so they can start – finally – making money.
But, before going live, founders can and should rely on a group of family and friends to test-run the product or service, just to ensure everything works as it’s supposed to. This is one of the most valuable ways you can lend a hand without spending money, just time.
If you offer or are asked to trial the product, don’t take the request lightly. If you aren’t necessarily a target customer, take the time to understand the problem they are aiming to solve, and put yourself in the mindset of their customer or client. Then, become familiar with the product or service, and provide meaningful feedback about your experience.
For example, was it difficult to find the login button, or did you see an error code while you were trying to navigate? Maybe a page didn’t redirect accordingly or the use of colours were hard to read. Be honest about your experience, but be careful that you aren’t coming across as too critical. This has been an all-encompassing process for the founder, so a little bit of praise in addition to constructive feedback can go a very long way.
If you are offering to trial the product or service before it goes live – or with each iteration – dedicate serious time to it and share your feedback as reasonably quickly as you can. Note that in all likelihood, they will share updates with you as well, based on your recommendations, so this could very well be a repeat task that you can be extremely helpful with.
Last but not least, with money
Maybe you aren’t tech-savvy or don’t have a particularly useful network of colleagues or friends to help give them a leg up. Or maybe you’ve done everything on this list, and have a little bit of extra cash you’re willing to loan, donate or invest in your favourite founder. That’s great – and will probably be the most beneficial for many reasons.
Make sure that if you are opening your wallet to support their startup, that you are crystal clear about your expectations – even if you don’t have any expectations in mind. If it’s a loan or an investment, be clear about the terms – and get it in writing to be safe.
Nothing can ruin a relationship like a squabble over money, so proceed with caution if you are going to lend financial support.