The value of peer boards

Diane Hall

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Businessman taking advice from an experienced businesswoman.

I used to be a regular networker for my business, attending at least one event a week—sometimes three or four. This dropped off for me even before Covid happened, just because I’d scaled down my company and I didn’t have the same amount of time.


When I did attend events, I’d travel quite far from my local area to experience new groups. Some events were better than others, and there was a core few that I always went back to, as I enjoyed the group, format (and food) so much.


If I’m honest, none of the networking events I attended did much for my business in the way of opportunities, though they obviously expanded my network. That’s not a slight; I have a niche business and networking isn’t the most effective way for me to find clients—but I understand and respect this and enjoy networking all the same for what I get out of it.


A few years ago, I saw an event advertised as a peer group (these can also be referred to as ‘mastermind groups’. The format of the event wasn’t a meet and greet, a presentation from a member and free talk over food/coffee, like the majority of events I attended during that time. The idea of the peer group was that it acted as in the same way a board would in a private company.

Small business owners, to whom these types of events are often marketed, can be at a disadvantage without a sounding board and experienced people to help guide their way. The idea of a peer group seemed to take off, and they began to take place all over the UK.


Now that Covid has hit, and we’re used to being detached from one another, I’ve been wondering if peer groups are needed now more than ever.


Here’s why:


Sounding out

Scaling up your enterprise to the next level is a scary concept. You can’t really ask for practical or strategic help from your bank manager, your staff, your network or your postie—you need experienced people who have been in your shoes. When steering a business through choppy waters alone, there may be a multitude of questions you’d like the answer to, but who to ask? A peer group is ideal.


In the events I saw, members of the group didn’t spend time pitching to each other or selling their soul…they turned up with the issue that was burning them the most at that point, and laid it at the feet of the other members. In return, they got free, specific, effective advice.


In peer groups, each member gets their chance to offload, to query or to explore a topic.

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Confidentiality

Peer groups tend to limit their membership. For one, too large a group and everyone wouldn’t get their chance to put forward their topic. Smaller groups also encourage confidentiality—the group sessions are a space to share your business worries and challenges without fear that the information would be spread around your network.


Most peer boards are designed to be non-competitive, with members stemming from a wide range of sectors. Not only does this ensure crucial information isn’t being shared with members’ rivals, it also proffers a variety of outlooks and a rich bed of experience to learn from.


Alternative angles

Seeing how your peers would handle a situation or receiving feedback on a product/problem/marketing idea can be extremely helpful. Coming from your peers, it’s not necessarily consumer feedback, but insight or innovation, and perhaps alternative ideas on how something could be made or promoted. Working in your business day after day can stunt your objectivity and make it difficult to see the wood for the trees—a peer group will expand your mind and your horizons.


You will also benefit from the experiences of the other entrepreneurs; though they may not have the same business as you, they will likely have encountered the same issue/stage. Their wisdom and first-hand encounters could help you avoid costly mistakes.


Accountability

It’s lonely at the top. There’s no one to challenge you, and there’s also no one to hold you to account. A peer board can help you achieve the goals you set; they’re likely to see through any excuses or justification you put forward if you fail to complete a task.


Digital peer groups could work at a push, but I think they have much greater impact when held in person. I do hope peer groups make a return soon, as sole business owners struggle enough to do everything they need to in their business and drive it forward at the same time.

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