Peer mentoring can be a valuable ongoing activity even for early stage, pre-revenue and pre-profit companies.
What is peer mentoring? We’re not talking about unstructured group discussions, online forums or classroom settings. These can be helpful, too, but peer mentoring is different and unique – maybe not for everyone, but worth exploring.
Entrepreneurs are often profiled as Type-A, highly independent folks. Driven by their own instincts, vision and beliefs. Not too keen on listening to others. While these traits can translate into a useful tenacity, it’s also dangerous when taken to an extreme (like most traits, right?).
Executive peer mentoring, when properly facilitated, provides business leaders with a forum to interact with a close-knit group of non-competitive counterparts and help each other address common challenges from an experiential perspective in an environment of complete confidentiality. In other words, an ideal peer group may be a dozen or two CEOs who meet in person once a month with a trained facilitator to organize the discussion and keep it focused. Issues are addressed through sharing experiences, not by giving advice; this may seem like a nuance, but it is an important one.
Peer mentoring isn’t new. There are some well-established organizations that provide well-organized, membership-based business groups for CEOs and business owners. YPO (“Young Presidents’ Organization”) has over 17,000 members. EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) has over 7,000 members and Vistage International has over 14,000 members. Impressive networks, all. However, YPO requires you to be a “young president” (under 45 years old) and have at least 50 employees and $8mm in sales. EO requires you to be the owner of your business and revenues in the vicinity of $1mm. Vistage requires candidate CEOs or business owners to go through a selection process. Membership has its privileges and its costs. Plan on budgeting more than $10,000 per year to participate. If you meet the membership criteria, you likely can afford the fees. If you join and actively participate, you’ll likely see a significant return on your investment, too.
But what about the pre-revenue, pre-profit, early stage small businesses? While ActSeed is cultivating a community of early, seed-stage businesses, its value is different than what a local peer mentoring group can offer. Together, ActSeed and local peer mentoring complement each other.
The good news is that structured, affordable peer mentoring groups are starting to emerge for the smallest businesses. One that recently caught the attention of ActSeed is the PeerSpectives Roundtable System – a program developed and promoted across the US by the Edward Lowe Foundation in Michigan. PeerSpectives is being licensed to local education and economic development groups as well as for-profit business coaches and consultants.
An excellent example of organized peer mentoring for small businesses is in Carlsbad, California, just north of San Diego, where JoAnne Berg has launched the Peer Coaching Network using the PeerSpectives program.
JoAnne is well-known for her “Art of Small Business” blog and discussion group as well as her 35 years as a small business coach and disciplined entrepreneur in her own right. For about a tenth of the cost of a major peer coaching organization’s membership fees, small businesses in the San Diego area can now benefit from this type of forum.
If you’re located in southern California and growing a young business, you should contact JoAnne about her services. If you’re located somewhere else in the country, you should explore similar services that may be available in your area, starting with other groups that have licensed the Edward Lowe Foundation’s PeerSpectives program. If not this program, then see if you can find a similar group, or worst case, start an informal group that might evolve into something more substantial.
The key takeaway here is that there is value in local, shared experience among non-competitive peer executives. We strongly encourage you to find a way that you can capitalize on this value. We’ll continue to share other peer-based services and organizations for emerging growth businesses as we discover them, and please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and suggestions with us on this topic.