Small business owners often don't have a staff to turn to for advice and are sometimes the only employee. A peer advisory group, or business roundtable, can help with the daily challenges of running a small business. A peer advisory group is composed of small-business owners who regularly meet, usually monthly, to discuss the issues and challenges they face and offer support.
But don't confuse this with a networking group, which is often comprised of people in the same industry who meet to talk shop, socialize and trade leads. A peer group is different in that members are from diverse, noncompetitive industries, and can openly discuss problems and concerns that they wouldn't air among a group of competitors. Keep in mind that you should join a peer group whose members' experiences and concerns are similar to yours.
The benefits of membership in a peer group are:
- Learning from the mistakes and successes of others.
- Receiving unbiased feedback. The other members have no stake in your business, as opposed to a board.
- Exposure to new ideas. Owners in other industries may have solutions that you can apply to your market.
- Avoiding the loneliness or isolation that can come from working for yourself.
Small business organizationsSeveral peer group organizations are geared specifically to small business owners and operators. In addition, many nationwide and international organizations also offer programs designed for smaller businesses.
Organizations for women business ownersFemale business owners face unique concerns, such as work-life balance and overcoming gender stereotypes that exist in some industries.
Minority owner organizationsMany organizations geared to minority business owners focus on networking and access to financing rather than peer support groups and roundtables.
Milwaukee SBDC, offer minority roundtables for peer-to-peer problem-solving. Find the SBDC nearest you to see if it offers roundtables. The Minority Business Development Agency has centers nationwide and offers an online forum where minority business owners can exchange information and ideas.
An organization for young presidentsStarting out in business at a young age can be difficult. Earning respect and proving that you're qualified to be in the top spot isn't easy. A number of peer groups geared to younger business leaders have emerged to help with these and other matters.
Online groupsIf you can't devote the time to a weekly, monthly or quarterly meeting; if you don't live in an area where likeminded business owners meet; or if you can't afford the dues for a peer group, consider joining a free online group. Community forums for small business owners provide access to peers around the nation without leaving your office.
Regional organizationsA regional group can help you address challenges specific to your geographic area.
- Peer group membership can range anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars a year.
- No solicitors. Most peer groups strongly discourage drumming up business at events. Over time, you may naturally gain business from your new contacts, but let it happen on its own.
- Don't fear intimacy. Join a group with approximately 10 to 15 members. Any more, and you can't develop strong relationships. You also want to join a group with dedicated members who show up regularly.
- Try before you buy. Before shelling out the bucks to join, a reputable group will allow you to sit in for at least part of a meeting to get a feel for the chemistry of the group.