Let’s face it. Owning and running a small business can be a lonely gig. The thrill of independence and can-do persistence carries with it the risk of being cut off and isolated.
But everyone needs to exchange information and ideas with others, whether they are peers, colleagues, mentors or advisors. Maybe the ideal is some combination of the four groups. Larger companies have boards and directors, but you probably aren’t there yet.
In the meantime, though, you need a group of some sort. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it could be. And it doesn’t have to be a big group; in fact, it’s best to limit it to a handful. You’re looking to tap into a group of individuals you trust—individuals who will help you refresh your thinking, expand your horizons, help you stay current and avoid costly mistakes. And yes, you want your group of peers/mentors/advisors to be people who, when necessary, will tell you what you don’t want to hear.
Sbinformation.about.com says that peer business advisor groups can play a big role in taking some of the pressure off small business owners. A peer advisory group might include other small business owners, some from diverse industries, who get together periodically to solve problems, share best practices and offer support to each other.
How might you benefit from a peer advisor group?
USA Today featured founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Brian Scudamore’s first-hand account of peer networking. He recommends this as an excellent way to learn and grow from the advice and experience of other business owners. In Scudamore’s case, it appears that he went the more formal route, given where he was in his business’s growth cycle ($1 million plus in annual revenue). He joined the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) and met monthly with CEOs of other, similar-sized companies, exchanging ideas, goals and challenges in powerful brainstorming sessions. These sessions yielded big payoffs: Candor, insights and a lack of bias, since there were no competitor or partner relationships to stand in the way of free exchanges. Subsequently, Scudamore also took advantage of other groups and says his business grew exponentially.
But many experts feel that for most small business owners looking to benefit from trusted advisors, nothing can take the place of a more personal, intimate group. Speaking on inc.com, Lee J. Colan, PhD, a consultant and founder of The L Group, says having access to trusted individuals is necessary for building your small business competence in the broadest sense—beyond skills, systems, processes and metrics. Colan says he encourages every business owner to build his or her own B.E.S.T. team: Buddies that Encourage Success and Truth.
“[Your B.E.S.T. team is] not a bunch but a few people who are critical to you, “ Colan says, “and willing to tell you want you don’t want to hear. It’s my personal definition of a friend. Chat with them once a week or once a month, whatever it is… Know who you can talk to prepare for a tough meeting or…a tough investor presentation or a new product idea…”
“Find people you’re also willing to build up,” Colan says: “You’re serving them but they’re serving you, too. Identify them, meet with them, help them build you up.”
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