One of the things that can be difficult after you start a business, whether you’re a freelancer, solo entrepreneur or small business owner is that it often seems you’re very much “on your own.” This is simultaneously one of the best and worst aspects of self-employment: you’re free to do your own thing, but you might often feel isolated when dealing with challenges and low points.

So what do you do? I decided to start a business group.

It’s nothing fancy or elaborate, it’s just a group of solo entrepreneurs, consultants and freelancers who get together at coffee shops to discuss the challenges and opportunities that we’re facing.

Starting a small business group is not rocket science, but it does take some planning and ground rules. Here are a few that have worked well for our group:

  • Keep it small. Don’t invite everyone you know. Instead, choose 6-8 people who you particularly trust and respect, who do work that you admire, and who you can count on to provide lively and productive contributions to the discussion.
  • Keep it focused. Make sure everyone gets a turn to speak, and set some parameters to the discussion to keep people from straying off topic. You don’t have to be super-strict about this, but some basic guidelines will be helpful in keeping the conversation on track.
  • Keep it regular. Make it a monthly engagement. Put it on your calendar. Treat your business group as a legitimate, worthwhile business meeting, just as if you were meeting with a client.
  • Keep it on schedule. Set a fixed time for the business group meeting to start and finish, and stick to it. Have someone keep track of the time.

Here is a sample structure for a business group discussion. The goal is to get everyone to share some ideas and feel comfortable discussing the latest issues with their business, whether it’s tips on the best way to start a business, how to handle small business taxes, or any other challenges and opportunities.

These three questions can serve as a good guideline to create some structure for your next meeting:

  • What is your biggest frustration? (For example: are you having trouble closing the sale with a potential customer? Are you having difficulties generating new leads? Do you have a low-performing employee who you don’t know how to motivate, but aren’t ready to terminate? Are you trying to decide whether the time is right to expand your business and hire small business employees? If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business, what would it be?)
  • What is your biggest opportunity? (What are you most excited about right now in your business? What are the biggest positive changes affecting your business? Is your business going to look dramatically different in 6 months or a year, and if so, how?)
  • What is one question you’d like to pose to the group? (How can the other members of the business group help you with your challenges, connect you to resources, or just brainstorm some creative/strategic ideas?)

A business group is not just about brainstorming solutions to problems, it’s also about sharing exciting developments, offering encouragement and networking opportunities, and re-charging your batteries to go out and face the daily ups and downs of being self-employed. You can feel better about being in business “for” yourself, but not “by” yourself.

Being self-employed is a great way to live. Sometimes it helps to connect with other entrepreneurs and small business owners to help each other, learn from each other, and remind each other of the exciting reasons that made you want to choose this way of life.