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Peer Advisory Groups - What You Should Know

By Ray Silverstein

 

Isolation is one of the most challenging aspects of owning a business. Cliché or not, it really is lonely at the top.

 

Small business owners don’t have a board of trustees to act as a sounding board. There’s no one to brainstorm solutions with, no one to validate and challenge ideas and decisions.

 

Sure, entrepreneurs can always bounce their ideas off employees, but it’s not the same. For one thing, employees are predisposed to say what they think the boss wants to hear. For another, they may not have a “big picture” understanding of the business. And some matters are too confidential to share.

 

But that doesn’t mean that, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re doomed to a lonely life in the corner office. That’s what peer advisory groups are all about.

 

How Peer Groups Work

Peer advisory groups have existed for several decades, and because they fill an important niche, their popularity continues to grow.

 

Here’s how they work. Every month, the group—composed of business owners, CEOs, COOS, etc.—meet. Their businesses are similar in size and complexity, but represent non-competing fields. The discussion is led by a professional facilitator, whose job is to initiate a candid, productive dialogue.  

 

One month, the topic may be brainstorming strategies for cutting expenses. The next, it may be marketing tactics…employee compensation…or developing a succession plan. The topics change, but the goal doesn’t: to explore new ways of running a more successful business.

 

The Power of Many

Many small business owners get so caught up in day-to-day activities, they forget their first role: company visionary. Peer group discussions prompt members to step back and take the long view, to think about their goals and plans.

 

In addition, members have the opportunity to pose their business problems to the group and ask for suggestions. Usually, someone else has already dealt with the same problem, so members benefit from each others’ hard-earned wisdom.

 

Help During Lean Times

During good times, a peer group can help you grow your business. There’s usually all kind of stimulating ideas in the air. But during tough times, harnessing peer power can be even more critical.

 

When times are tough, you have to do unpleasant things, like cutting expenses. A peer group pressures you to follow through. For example, if you vow to raise your prices during the August meeting, expect to be asked for a progress report in September.

 

In fact, this may be the one place where your associates congratulate you for laying off an employee. They know firsthand how hard it is to do. They also know how necessary it is to your company’s long-term survival.

 

Can you do all these things on your own? Sure. Are you likely to? No.

 

Will It Work for You?

Members who get the most from their peer groups have several common characteristics. First, they are not only committed to growing their businesses, they’re willing to give and receive constructive criticism. They understand the necessity of stepping back from the business and are willing to put aside a couple of hours a month to attend meetings.

 

How much does it cost? Usually, members pay an initial start up fee of about $500 to $1,000, along with quarterly fees that may total $2,000-$4,000 a year, depending on various factors. If that seems high to you, consider this: retention rates are quite high—an indication that most members find their peer groups a worthwhile investment.

 

“But I don’t have the money,” some people say, or “I don’t have the time.” Frankly, those are the very people who are most in need a peer group. Peer groups inspire members to better manage their time, boost their revenues, and set wise priorities. 

 

If you’re interested or curious, check out the peer groups in your area. Most organizations will let you attend a meeting without cost or obligation, so you can see if it’s a benefit to you. Sometimes, you need to attend several groups before you find one that “clicks” with you.

 

How do you know if a group is right for you? You’ll emerge from the meeting with a page full of notes, a head full of ideas, and a fresh enthusiasm for your business. In other words, you’ll know.

 

Biography

Ray Silverstein is president of PRO:  President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. The author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses” and a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine online, Ray may be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or www.propres.com.

 

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