I trolled around downtown LA looking for parking for a good 15 minutes. It’s not a great place to be on a Tuesday morning. I generally avoid the area. But today, I didn’t have a choice. I was on a mission — one I had serious doubts about. I was plenty early for my 7 a.m. kickoff, all-day commitment to an entirely new and foreign experience: I was joining a peer group.
After parking, I nervously made my way to the building I was looking for. The door was locked to the main lobby. Immediate doubts were cast, not just about if I was at the right place, but about the entire concept of meeting 15 strangers in downtown LA with no idea of what to expect, how to present myself or why I was there. The introvert in me was screaming to run. But I was committed, even though I was incredibly uncomfortable with the circumstances. The door opened as someone left the building, and I went in.
The next seven hours changed my life in too many ways to describe. I learned about other people’s fears, concerns, successes and failures, as well as their businesses, personal lives, goals, ambitions, projects, ideas, frustrations — you name it. I didn’t contribute a lot the first meeting, and thankfully, I wasn’t expected to. It was so exhausting, and we covered so much ground, I took a nap in my car after the event. I had never been so mentally stimulated about something so important to me: my business. This was my first peer group experience.
What is a peer group?
Many people I speak with think they understand what a peer group is, often associating it with a networking group, which is pretty much the first thing a peer group is not. Specifically, the group I joined does not allow networking at meetings, and it frowns on intergroup business. With no monetary promise, what is the point, then? It’s problem-solving, relating to other business owners, hearing others’ experiences and delivering your own experiences. You learn how to work on your business as opposed to in the business. You get what you give. It’s a commitment to which I have dedicated one full day a month of my busy schedule to for the last three years. I jumped in so deep that I started a private peer group that also meets monthly. Yes, I’m an advocate.
When reading the above, it could sound like I just like to socialize. I don’t. In reality, it’s the opposite. I’m a quiet, reserved person who does not like large groups. But what quickly became apparent in the groups was that although I didn’t realize it, my experiences could help other people. I’ve done a lot of small business over the years, and many people face the same obstacles and hurdles I did. Furthermore, the inverse is also true. It was a relief to find out I wasn’t the only person with problems. The value I was getting far outweighed the awkwardness I felt speaking to the group, and my own reservations slowly tapered off. I’ve since become very participative.
What can a peer group help you with?
The group was able to help me navigate family business issues, develop financial reporting and prioritize what my business needs, as well as give solid resources for business development. At the same time, it helped me deal with personal issues that may have been impacting my business: imposter syndrome, insecurities, not believing I could run a business on my own, feeling inferior to others because of my education (or lack of), my awkwardness in large groups and so much more.
We discuss difficult, deep issues that can and will impact our businesses. But we laugh, too. It’s a trusted, secure space to cover anything that needs to be covered. Since I’ve been involved in peer groups, my business has more than doubled, and we recently made the Inc. 5000. Does all the credit go to being in a peer group? Of course not, but it’s been very influential.
Who should join a peer group?
Do you experience day-to-day anxiety regarding business decisions? Are you insecure about how to determine the right path for your business? Do you feel like you have no one who can relate to the problems you face in your business? Are you unsure there’s anyone you can talk to who won’t tell you to just get a normal job? Are you open to tough questions and people who won’t let you off the hook, but crave growth and development? A peer group can help.
How do you find a peer group?
It’s not a difficult process per se, but they’re not always easy to find. If you’re reading this, you are likely business-minded. There are many groups out there, but they focus on various aspects of business. Some are for business owners under 30 years old; some are for owners of companies under $1 million or $5 million in revenue, or over $100 million in revenue. Some are tech-related; some are startup-related. It can be a lot to take in. My advice is if you’re interested, do not give up. It takes time to find the right one. Google is your friend, but be prepared to vet. Understand the group’s prerequisites as well as your own.
A final thought: Many people believe they do not have time to spare one day a month or one evening a month to participate in a peer group. Make the time. You can always stop going or change groups if it’s not working for you. But commit to a minimum of a few months, and make the time. It has the potential to be the most impactful hours you spend on your business.
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