Entrepreneurs and small business owners are among the most independent people on the planet. But even the most capable among us can benefit from exchanging information and ideas with other professionals.
In other words, as a small business owner, you don’t have to go it alone—at least all the time! You can refresh, expand your horizons and ideally, avoid costly mistakes by surrounding yourself with a network of peers and advisors.
Sbinformation.about.com says that peer business advisor groups ease the pressure that small business owners feel. A peer advisory group consists of small business owners from diverse industries who get together on a monthly or quarterly basis to solve problems, share best practices and offer each other support.
The beauty of being surrounded by a group of your peers is that they’ve walked (and are still walking) in your shoes. They’ve been there. They may be in different sectors, and their businesses are likely to be at different points in the life cycle. But no matter. As business owners, you all still have much in common. What could be better than sharing the joys, challenges and frustrations of owning a business with others who are feeling your pain (and accomplishments), too?
How does a peer advisor group benefit its members?
- You can share/handle personal issues.
- You’ve got a built-in sounding board.
- You’ll feel less isolated.
- You’ll definitely improve your odds of success.
A peer group can also:
- Help you stay on track, on plan
- Help you solve problems
- Help tackle common challenges—for example, health care (a current hot topic) or employee benefits in general
In USA Today, Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Brian Scudamore offered a first-hand account of peer networking as a way to learn and grow from the advice and experience of other business owners. He joined Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) and met monthly with other $1-million-in-revenue companies, exchanging ideas, goals and challenges in powerful brainstorming sessions. The key, he says, was the candor, insight and lack of bias; there were no competitor or partner relationships to hinder the free exchanges.
Scudamore describes his peer-group experiences as his business grew exponentially, not only with YEO but with other subsequent groups he joined, such as YPO, or Young Presidents Organization and later, the “Birthing of Giants” program at MIT. These may not be the exact groups for you, but the principles of how they work, particularly their benefits, are parallel to what you’ll find in your own experiences. The bottom line is that networking with business peers and colleagues—exchanging information, support and empathy—will help you keep moving forward toward your goals.
Rich Sloan is the founder and CEO of Startup Nation, a content community resource for business owners. In a recent interview, he’s a big proponent of peer advisory groups and says the way to go in today’s environment is online peer networking, because it’s more convenient, more efficient, more far-reaching and simply effective and powerful.
Sloan calls the online peer-networked environment a “virtual trade show environment,” where you can learn all kinds of things from the latest trends to best practices. These groups are also an excellent way to position yourself as a thought leader among your peers, he says, someone who is out in front, leading the way.
Sbinformation.about.com suggests several different kinds of “macro” groups, including Chief Executive Officers Club, Inc.; Entrepreneurs’ Organization; TEC International; Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and Inner Circle for franchisees.
But the opportunities to take advantage of peer advisory groups are growing every day. Check for sources in your community, and be sure to check with professional organizations. The best way to begin may be to start local and to start small. Why not invite a half dozen or so business owners for an initial get-together over drinks or dinner? You won’t want to include competitors, but otherwise, you should easily find others just as eager to gain knowledge and support from peers.
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