The power of your peers

Written by Ian Portsmouth

Entrepreneurs should take great interest in organizations such as the Innovators Alliance. For the past year, I’ve sat on the board of this uncommon federation of business owners, which helps the leaders of fast-growth companies share management wisdom and best practices.

You can’t join IA unless you run an Ontario company that meets certain revenue and growth criteria. But you can join other “peer networking” groups, such as the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) or Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO). To the fans of such organizations, you’re nuts not to join.

I’m one of those fans. So are PROFIT’s three regular columnists. Rick Spence writes in this issue’s Frontlines column that peer networking has been essential to his business success. Jeff Dennis launched the Toronto chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization (now EO). And our newest contributor, Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, is a long-time YEOer. (You’ll find his début column, identifying the three essential traits of successful entrepreneurs, here.) I suspect that the 18 CEOs from this year’s PROFIT HOT 50 ranking of Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies (more ») who claim membership in peer networking groups are fans, too.

Why do they belong? Most peer networking groups unite small groups of non-competing CEOs for monthly, confidential discussions of their business challenges. Over the course of two or three hours, one entrepreneur might table his difficulty with sales compensation; another might ask for advice on purchasing new CRM software; one might ask for the best way to fire her CFO — and for the names of possible replacements. When things click — and they usually do — problems get solved.

Sounds pretty ordinary, but remember that most entrepreneurs have few reliable counsellors to whom they can turn for help. Some problems must be kept from their management teams or business partners; others require broader viewpoints than professionals (e.g., lawyers) can provide; and every entrepreneur wants to understand the probable repercussions of their decisions — which those damned consultants never stick around to see first-hand.

So, you’ll be surprised to learn that membership in most peer networking groups numbers in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. Last fall, the IA board debated what prevented more people from joining our organization. We wondered whether the price was too high (no), whether entrepreneurs have enough time to participate (you make the time) and how well we were selling our value proposition (there was room for improvement). Then a colleague hit the nail on the head. “They don’t join,” he exclaimed, “because the idea freaks them out.”

After all, keeping business secrets is an entrepreneur’s prerogative, and revealing your shortcomings — corporate or personal — can be a humbling experience. But if maximizing profits year after year is your mission, then quickly finding solutions to your management problems is part of your job. No one knows the answers nor can help you find them better than other entrepreneurs. So don’t let the idea of peer networking groups freak you out.

© 2005 Rogers Media Inc.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com