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A Peer Advisory Group Can Help You Grow Your Business

Content provided by the Women Presidents' Organization


By Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., President and Founder, Women Presidents' Organization

Entrepreneurs in peer advisory groups enjoy cross-fertilization and idea generation while they seek solutions to significant business challenges in a confidential setting.

One of the common characteristics of million-dollar business owned by women is that they take advantage of professional advisors. Beyond the obvious use of lawyers, accountants and a board of directors, these women often belong to highly selective advisory groups. Women entrepreneurs form these peer advisory groups for the purpose of sharing expertise and finding solutions to significant business challenges.

A peer advisory group allows you to connect with women who share similar issues. Laurie Kahn, President, Media Staffing Network & All About Careers, says of her peer group in the Women Presidents' Organization, "I find it very important to be able to meet and talk with other women who experience some of the same issues.  Other friends may not understand what a business owner goes through in an average day."

Members of the Women Presidents' Organization (WPO), which serves women entrepreneurs of businesses that generate at least $2 million in gross annual sales, maintain that their peer advisory groups have helped them achieve greater business success through the processes of confirmation, collaboration, confidentiality, and connections.

  • Confirmation:  A peer advisory group serves as your informal board of directors who listen, advise, and validate your experiences. Besides obtaining new business information, your benefits range from decreased isolation to fresh business strategies.
  • Collaboration:  Joining a peer advisory group widens your circle of contacts across diverse backgrounds and industries. Business alliances may be forged with other members. The participants of such groups commonly see increased revenues in their businesses along with decreased company costs.
  • Confidentiality:  Peer advisory members trade solutions while respecting trade secrets. They build strong bonds with other members and return to their respective work environments reenergized and revitalized.
  • Connections:  Members of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups can develop strategic alliances and promote strategies for growing their businesses.  Recently the president of BrightStar Healthcare, a WPO member, sold her first franchise to the daughter of another WPO member.  This business sale is an excellent example of the connections made through peer advising and the impact on women and their businesses.

The CEO of Royal Coachman Worldwide, Amy Birnbaum credits her WPO peer advisory group with promoting her personal growth and giving her strategies that have significantly expanded her business. "In the Women Presidents' Organization, I have met and befriended some incredible women with amazing expertise who have advised me on business strategies and issues," Birnbaum says. 

Entrepreneurs Learn Faster and Better From One Another

Adult learning theory tells us that adults prefer to define for themselves what and when to learn, a concept I call "just-in-time learning." In this type of learning, the learner decides for herself what skills and knowledge she needs to strengthen and when she needs to accomplish it. Research by the Edward Lowe Foundation, an organization that helps entrepreneurs navigate second-stage growth through retreats and online forums, indicates that entrepreneurs learn faster and better when they learn from one another.

Within a peer advisory group, the primary goal is to bring out the group's "genius." Collaborative learning draws out the insight and wisdom of each individual participant, with a resulting in a mix of ideas that benefits the whole.

A willingness to be open and honest is essential to the peer group advisory process. The effectiveness of the group is entirely dependent on the participants' willingness to share. Only when people are open about discussing their finances and other sensitive issues will the group benefit the most.

Negativity and criticism of the ideas of others is unacceptable and counterproductive to the learning process. The opportunity to come out of a peer group experience with the best new ideas is only possible when the group leadership ensures that no one will be criticized or treated unprofessionally.

The most effective learning experiences come about as a result of relationships forged within a bonded group. Bonding is the strongest when members have respect for each other and have the patience and understanding to really listen. A feeling of closeness and identity with one another are hallmarks of effective peer advisory groups. Having fun together is important to bonding and could mean a celebration, going out to dinner or just sharing a story and a good laugh.

Finding Peers Outside Your Own Industry

Finding an appropriate peer advisory group to join can be difficult. Most entrepreneurs join professional organizations and attend conferences within their own industries; but remember, a peer advisory group should contain members from non-competing industries, and that means finding peers outside your own industry.

In selecting a peer advisory group for yourself, the right "fit" is all-important. Check out the Web for focus groups and professional organizations that sponsor advisory groups of 8-20 members from various industries and backgrounds. Another source is the Directory of Women's Associations, a resource that lists network groups of interest to women. There is no substitute for developing bonds with your peers across industries.


About Marsha Firestone, Ph.D.:

Dr. Marsha Firestone is the founder and president of the Women Presidents' Organization for women whose businesses annually gross over two million dollars. Dr. Firestone was previously Vice President of Women Incorporated and of Training and Counseling at the American Woman's Economic Development Corporate (AWED). Her career also includes positions as National Executive Director of the Women's American ORT, a volunteer organization with a membership of over 150,000; a full-time faculty member of the American Management Association Competency-Based Management Development Program; and a faculty member at the City University of New York and Adelphi University. In March 200, Dr. Firestone was appointed to the National Women's Business Council, which reports to the President and Congress on issues of importance to women in business and was part of the official delegation to the Overseas Economic Development Council in Istanbul, Turkey. Dr. Firestone was Executive Director of The Women's Economic Summit whose work resulted in a master plan for accelerating the growth of women's business and was presented to Congress and the public in March 1999. Dr. Firestone earned a Master's degree in Communication from Teacher's College of New York, as well as a Ph.D. in Communication from Columbia University.



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