When growth-company owners were asked to name the No. 1 challenge of running their advisory board, 32% of respondents identified the time involved. If an advisory board sounds too labour-intensive for you, a peer advisory group might produce what you need with less work.
You’ve probably heard of the popular ones, such as the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and TEC. Some peer advisory organizations offer annual retreats, one-on-ones, online forums, guest speakers and access to consultant databases. But most members join for the monthly peer discussions, in which small groups of non-competing CEOs discuss their management issues over a couple of hours. With the help of a trained facilitator and a set process, the entrepreneurs reveal their challenges and share their experiences and expertise, allowing them to learn from others who’ve been there, done that and lived to buy the T-shirt.
“I have had discussions about anything from buying out a business partner to understanding and improving cash flow within the business,” says PROFIT columnist and longtime EO member Mike Desjardins, CEO of Vancouver-based coaching firm Virtus. “One of the key benefits of these groups is that the [discussion] format is supplied. It keeps the discussion tight, it keeps things moving along and ensures that you get the maximum benefit of the time that you spend together.”
Peer advisory group participation can be so beneficial that some group members endorse the practice with almost religious fervour. So, why do such a relatively low number of Canadian business owners—less than 1%, by PROFIT’s calculations— belong to TEC, YPO and their ilk? Some entrepreneurs don’t like the price tag, which can be several thousand dollars per year. Others don’t like the idea of opening up about their business challenges or don’t believe outsiders could understand enough about their business to offer much help.
Desjardins thinks it’s due to lack of awareness. One problem is that few peer advisory organizations operate outside of major urban centres. The solution is simple, however: form your own informal peer advisory group. It’s as easy as bringing together six to eight like-minded business owners for a couple of hours every quarter, and giving each one 20 minutes to seek feedback on a current business issue.
It’s not a forum for putting out fires—the frequency doesn’t allow that—but it is a venue for working “on” the business rather than “in” the business. That’s something every entrepreneur needs more of, even in the smallest of doses.