Lonely at the Top

Every small business owner experiences a very specialized kind of stress. It’s caused by having to make decisions in isolation, then wondering if they were the right ones to make.
 
Avoiding this kind of stress often results in making no decision at all and just letting things go on as they were. This is no way to drive a business ahead in our competitive age.
 
So where can the owner of a small business go to get help in making critical decisions? A spouse may not understand the business or have a sufficient understanding of the problem requiring a solution.
 
An outside source of advice – an accountant, legal advisor, or other form of consultant – might be able to provide the help needed, but often is seen as ‘too expensive’ or too distant to bring up to speed if the timeframe’s limited.
 
Ideally, there’s somebody out there who shares the same business environment, who understands the issues, and hopefully who’s even faced the same decision-making challenge and made the right choice. But how can the time-poor business owner find such a person or, even better, a group of people like this?
 
One solution that’s usually available is for the business to join an association of like-minded businesses. These can be found in employer groups, industry and trade associations, and within chambers of commerce, just to name a few of the options.
 
In most cases there’s a fee to pay, but it’s usually offset by the benefits of membership in such organizations. These benefits vary but can include:
 
∙ Legal advice
∙ HR advice
∙ Industry newsletters and magazines
∙ Group purchase discounts
∙ Social events
∙ Training courses
∙ General business advice
 
Even though you’re alone at the top of your own business, you can share with others who are in exactly the same position, and benefit from knowledge and experience through your membership.
 
Another solution exists that’s growing in popularity – broadly called ‘peer advisory groups’. These groups unite small business owners and bring them together in regular meetings where they can provide mutual support for each other.
 
Most of these groups are deliberately structured to achieve as much commonality among the membership as possible. This creates a high degree of empathy as well as helping to ensure that every member’s knowledge and experience will be relevant to the rest of the members in the group.
 
Although generally not providing the same range of benefits as employer, industry, and trade associations, peer advisory groups are much more likely to provide a source of answers from people who share the same degree of isolation and need for support.
 
In a group like this, it’s a fairly easy task to identify those who are extremely successful at what they do. It’s also human nature for this type of person to help others if they meet in convivial surroundings that are dedicated to mutual self-help.
 
Peer advisory groups vary in both their requirements and costs of membership. Two groups operating globally are the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization (YEO) and TEC International.
 
The 104 worldwide chapters of YEO are for business owners under 40 years of age and with annual gross sales exceeding $US 1 million. Dues are $US 700 annually and membership is by invitation only.
 
Now in 14 countries, TEC offers two peer group programs. One is for CEOs of companies with sales of $US 5 million and up. The other is for emerging entrepreneurs with $US 1 million to $US 5 million in revenues. Dues are $US 10,000 yearly, and membership is also by invitation only.
 
There are often other qualifications for membership, such as a particular number of employees or size of company, but their variety enables those owners looking for a group to have a pretty good selection in most cities.
 
And of course there’s another option for every business owner – start your own group. Talk with other small business owners in your area and you’ll probably find many that share your isolation and would like to network but just haven’t made the effort. Get together once a month and share whatever costs are involved.
 
The best way to overcome the stress caused by isolation is to stop being isolated. Once you’ve teamed up with others that share your concerns, you’ll never be isolated again.
 
Source: RAN ONE, August 5, 2004