Some consider it a bad idea for business owners to consult with other business owners on how to solve problems and identify opportunities. For those who feel this way, getting too close to other owners risks publicly revealing too much about their business’ flaws and its formulas for success. However, while it may be initially uncomfortable, the benefits of forming relationships with industry peers far outweigh the risks, in my experience.
Peer groups have long been a way for business owners and top-level execs to connect and gain insight from others in similar positions. Whether you are forming your own peer group or joining a preexisting one, it’s important to remember that trust is the name of the game.
See things with a fresh perspective
Have you ever been stuck on an industry-specific issue and not known where to turn for help? Getting advice from a business peer in a different marketplace can help you see situations in a fresh, new light. Often times, your peer has gone through something similar and can offer the guidance that only someone in your industry could. They are also able to give (sometimes brutally honest) constructive criticism that employees are hesitant to share.
Because members of industry peer groups can range from the start-up level to seasoned industry pros, they can offer an effective mix of new ideas and experience from which you can pick and choose lessons to apply to your business. Young business owners can learn proven tactics from the senior members of the group, for example, and the older members can stay on top of new developments through the younger members.
Create good business karma
By creating relationships with industry peers in other marketplaces, you will likely be the first person they call when they have a client looking for services in your region. This works both ways, as you will have someone to whom you feel comfortable sending out-of-town clients, should you be unable to help them.
Peer groups also provide the opportunity to grow your professional network. Need a niche service or contact in a specific location? There’s a good chance someone in your group can refer you to the right person for the job, and having a firsthand connection will help establish a relationship from the get-go.
Find your peer group
Peer groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are based on criteria such as business size, stage or level of involvement within a company. If you are the CEO of a start-up, you may consider joining a CEO peer group where you can learn from leaders of successful companies from many different industries. On the other hand, industry-specific peer groups help members zone in on acute problems within a field. Not to mention, gathering industry-specific leaders in one room often results in the development of innovative ideas, which can strengthen an emerging industry as a whole.
Some peer groups have as few as eight to 10 members, or as many as 19,000 members that break into smaller groups. And each one works a bit differently. Moderated groups rely on the members to lead the meetings themselves, whereas facilitated groups have a trained facilitator, often a business coach of sorts. The frequency and location of meetings depends on the dynamic of the group. If members are local, meetings can be as often as bimonthly. Groups whose members are not in the same city meet regularly via teleconference or in a virtual meeting room, and then convene in person a few times a year.
The joining process differs for all groups. Upon acceptance to the group, members often sign a non-disclosure agreement. Many groups charge an annual fee and can include perks such as one-on-one coaching, annual retreats and smaller group advisory panels.
In order for a peer group to be worthwhile, you must establish a code of confidentiality and enforce it no matter what. Creating an environment of trust will allow real issues and problems to be brought to light while protecting your privacy.
Once you find your peer group and establish a bond, it’s time to let the ideas flow. Through trials and triumph, your peer group will be there to offer advice, a congratulatory toast or a listening ear.
This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.