A creative business owners meetup can be a wonderful source of support for solo entrepreneurs. Image courtesy Hanna Lisa Haferkamp.

Hanna Lisa Haferkamp is a coach for creative business owners, project bag designer and co-founder of the independent knitwear publisher making stories. She loves knitting, writing, and working with other female creatives on making this world a better place. If you’re curious, you can find out more about her on her website, Etsy, and Instagram

Hanna Lisa lives in Berlin and is the founder of a creative business group there. Today she brings us these tips for founding a similar group in your local area.

Get up, have breakfast alone, go to your desk, work alone, make lunch, eat lunch alone. Work some more – alone. Have coffee, alone. Sounds sad? Yes, but for a lot of us, this is reality.

Running a creative business – especially when you work from home – comes with a lot of alone-time. And to be honest, that’s not always a bad thing! Alone-time creates space for ideas and creativity and discovering how you work best and what you need to be productive. But sometimes we need other people to bounce ideas off of, to celebrate our wins with and to build us up when we’ve royally failed. Sometimes we need an in-person support network to give us a hug and share a cookie with.

Working alone can be great for focus and creative exploration, but it can also be isolating. Image courtesy Hanna Lisa Haferkamp.

Social Media and groups like the Craft Industry Alliance are great for finding this community of like-minded business owners, but after running my own business for a while and building up communities in the online space I started to wonder: Was there a way to build something similar offline? To actually have these connections come to life face to face?

For me that was the genesis of the “Women Who Make” group in Berlin – a creative business owner group I founded with my friend, Verena Cohrs. We’re a group of women who run our own creative businesses, some full-time, some part-time, and live in Berlin. We meet each other regularly for coffee or lunch or chats.

I’d encourage you to try and build a similar creative business owner group in your city! One way to start is to search the CIA forum thread for your geographical area and invite members to join you. Once you have a few interested people here are a some tips and tricks to help make your meetings succeed:

Start small and expand slowly.

Group dynamics – especially at the beginning – can be fragile. The connections and bonds within a group grow stronger with every meeting, but you need to nurture them at the start. The best way we’ve found to do that is by starting with a small group of people who share common interests and who might get along well before expanding. Then do so slowly. Include a few new people who share a couple of connections, but don’t know everyone in the group to create a sense of familiarity while still keeping things open and interesting.

Create a safe space.

We wanted our group to be the space where we can talk about anything and ask everything we’ve ever wanted to ask. Setting some ground rules proved key for that. For example, everything we talk about is confidential. If you want to share something (starting from email addresses to pictures), ask first. Another ground rule is that vulnerability is okay. As the group initiators made a point of sharing dark moments and asking for help which I think helped set the tone and allowed others to do the same!

Start small with a group of like-minded people, then slowly add new members over time. Image courtesy  Jill de Dieuleveult.

Factor in convenience, personalities & diversity of businesses.

From my experience a group of business owners works best if you have a certain degree of diversity both when it comes to personalities and to business types. Bringing introverted, shy people together with loud and flashy ones and seeing them bond, or connecting a ballet dancer and musician with an illustrator,  results in unexpected and wonderful experiences.

That being said, take care – especially as the initiator – to be mindful of what different people need, especially at the beginning. Proactively address the introverted, shy participants and share their stories with the group to make it easier for them to open up. Share the common interest you see in the ballet dancer / musician and the illustrator to make it easier for them to engage in conversation.

And last, but not least – be mindful of making it as convenient as possible for people to come and participate! Choose a space that’s easy to get to (or rotate, like we do) and is kids and disabled friendly. Choose a time when most people can come (doing a survey beforehand can help). Send a clear email when you’re going to meet where and how people who join the first time will be able to recognize you.

Creating this group of like-minded business owners has been wonderful for us and I hope you’re inspired to found your own!

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