Like a lot of small business owners, I joined a many networking groups during my twelve years of running my own business. Some were general CEO forums like EO Network (formally YEO) and other demographic specific, like F.W.E. (Forum for Women Entrepreneurs), NAWBO (Nat´l Assoc of Women Business Owners). I´ll tell you right up front, that YEO was excellent for peer level feedback from other entrepreneurs building and running successful businesses. But I got booted out because I kept missing my mandatory 3-hour monthly sessions (call me kooky, but I was running a business and three hours is a heck of a lot of time in the middle of the day). That said, it was an awesome forum for raising and solving business issues in a non-competitive setting. On the other hand, the women business owner groups I attended were terrible for solving problems, but incredible when it came down to building my business. From one event, I met a product manager from Microsoft, who hired me for a $5K engagement within two weeks of the meeting, and this grew ten fold over the next six months. A nice ROI for the $250 dollar membership fee.
But I digress. I got a lot of value as I listened and learned about how other C-level folks were building their businesses through formal and informal partnerships. I missed that about YEO. But now I don´t have to anymore. A brand new company launched in July 2006 that offers peer advisory board for CEOs, Presidents and Owners of small businesses. It is PeerSight, and it is a small business itself. (disclaimer here-my director of partner development at MyBizHomepage found PeerSight and thought their service was cool. After checking it out myself, I agreed, and they became a partner-but that´s another blog).
Peer Advisory Groups: Networking and Business Development Version 2.0
Steve MacGill spent 23+ years in management consulting for fortune 500 companies including McDonalds, General Electric, Toshiba Europe, and Underwriter Laboratories. He left Corporate America looking for a way to bring his experience in building leadership teams and coaching senior executives to Small Businesses where in his words "Leadership can make decisions.´Andrew MacGill (his son) built a successful marketing consultancy focused on the needs of small businesses. After handing over operations to its co-founder, Andrew joined Steve in looking for a cost effective model of delivering quality advisory to small businesses.
After talking to literally hundreds of small businesses, "not an exaggeration" says Andrew, he and Steve arrived at peer advisory boards. Their research showed that peer boards were the single most effective means of achieving and sustaining small business growth and have been for over 100 years. To say the least, they had arrived at a model.
Filling a Hole-the Way of the Entrepreneur
But according to Andrew, "the classic model has flaws." Conventional peer advisory boards have high costs in terms of member acquisition and operations, which are transferred to members in high prices and low flexibility. So like others who worked to innovate on existing business models, Steve and Andrew turned to technology. Add 6 months of all work and no play (or pay), and say hello to PeerSight´s e-enabled Peer Advisory Boards. A peer advisory board solution at a fraction of the cost required by conventional models, high levels of flexibility (challenge your ideas from your office, not a conference room in a city 2 hours away), a small suite of e-enabled tools, and insight from peers from Manhattan to Silicon Valley.
The Partner and Business Development Angle
Because the had unique technology and systems needs, they had to get creative; fertile ground for partner development. According to Andrew, their strategy was to "find vendors that were willing to customize to fit our needs and grow with us." They also had to find innovative homegrown solutions to unexpected problems, and "spent a lot of time working to learn from others who had been in similar situations and reminding ourselves to go "medium tech.´"
According to Steve, partnerships, aren´t clearly defined by formal agreement but they fall into 2 categories
1. Partnerships to bring knowledge and talent into the organization. For example, the facilitators bring experience and talent to round out the customer experience and compliment Peersights´ core competencies.
2. Partnerships to bring visibility to PeerSight and its services. An example here is the JJ Hill Reference Library that´s increasing our visibility through podcasts and article syndication to their small business membership.
The PeerSight service is considerably cheaper than conventional peer boards, and has the makings of a true ROI model for the members. And it aims to be viral. So networking, and growing the network, can be based on expertise, input and output–and the platform is built in such a way that the cross-selling word of mouth could be huge. So if you are in need of a peer advisory group, don’t have the time or the money to join an in-person forum, this is a great way to go to meet strategic business needs of extending your business´ development, and at the same time, gaining value feedback and perspective from peer small business owners.