Editor’s Note: Nick Jordan is the CEO and founder of Smashing Boxes, a custom software development and design firm for web, mobile, and connected devices and one of the fastest-growing private firms in the Triangle.  This article is part a series exploring entrepreneurship and the meaning of life, including profiles of local entrepreneurs, change-makers and technology trends. 

DURHAM — Imagine this.

Eight months ago, you started a new business endeavor. Things were going great – you were hitting the right numbers, the team was growing, and you had happy clients. You were more confident than ever in the future of your company. This was what “living the dream” was all about…

Recently, however, you hit a low point. Growth didn’t continue like expected and there were some shake-ups with the team. Now, you’re facing some hard decisions. You don’t want to bring business stress home by venting to your spouse. Confiding in your employees isn’t an option. This starts to take a toll on you mentally and it begins eating away at your confidence in yourself as a leader.

Sound familiar?

Ups-and-downs like these are unavoidable in the world of entrepreneurship. What matters is how you handle these challenges.

In my first article on PEER ADVISORY GROUPS, I shared how my involvement in mastermind groups shaped my development as an entrepreneur. One of the biggest epiphanies in my early years was during one of my first peer advisory group meetings when I realized that every entrepreneur in that room was experiencing the same problems as me.

Instead of feeling like Atlas holding up the weight of the world all by myself, I found peers and mentors who helped me relieve the pressure.  Every entrepreneur needs a peer advisory group.

Now that I’ve explained why you (yes, YOU) should participate in a mastermind group, let’s talk about how to go about doing that!

The first step is to make it known that you’re interested in finding a group or creating your own. A few ideas:

  • Post on your LinkedIn
  • Reach out to your mentors
  • Talk to peers you respect

Option 1: Join an Established Peer Advisory Group

“I’ve been part of an EO Forum for the past 6 or 7 years. It’s been pretty awesome for me to have a group of other CEOs/Founders that can relate to the ups & downs of start-up life and share experiences.”
JUD BOWMAN, Founder & CEO at Sift Media

There are dozens of organizations out there that offer peer-to-peer groups. A few of the most well-known are ENTREPRENEURS’ ORGANIZATIONVISTAGE, and SMALL GIANTS. These are great options for busy business owners as they take the leg work out of curating and facilitating a peer advisory group.

Source: Pixabay

However, not all entrepreneurs can reap the benefits of these organizations due to minimum revenue requirements or job title or yearly fees. But do not fear! There are plenty of other options that are accessible to everyone, like creating your own group. (If you’re in North Carolina, check out CEDNC.)

“I joined a Vistage group when I was a CEO. It was a great way for this first-time CEO to ensure that I devoted time and learned when/how to ‘work on the business, not in the business.’  I also learned that the challenges CEOs face is not unique. Hearing how others addressed issues and sharing what they have learned was invaluable to my development as a leader.”
JAY BIGELOW, Director of Entrepreneurship at NC CED

Option 2: Build Your Own Peer Advisory Group

I want to be clear – there is no right or wrong time to start (or join) a peer advisory group. Where you are right now is a perfect place to start. Here are some general guidelines and best practices to consider when forming your own mastermind group.

Make a Hit List

Think about the peers and business associates you respect. Who would you want to be in your ideal peer-to-peer group? Once you have a rough list together, reach out to everyone and get a feel for their interest level and availability.

Key Considerations for Peer Advisory Group Members

There are a few key things to keep in mind when deciding upon the members of a peer advisory group. You typically want to avoid clients, employees, or direct competition when curating your list. I’ve had good experiences with groups of at least 5 but no more than 8 individuals. At this capacity, the group is small enough to give personalized attention to each member, and also large enough to give diversified mindshare.

“We have learned that small, closed-door groups of leaders in the same industry and at the same “stage” (but not competitive) work best. We also believe facilitation is helpful to get the conversation going.”
JAY BIGELOW, Director of Entrepreneurship at NC CED

You’ll want to look for similarities in a few of these key areas:

  • Experience Level
  • Company Size
  • Geographic Location
  • Business Model
  • Source of Funding
  • Skills & Expertise

The Three Agreements

The secret to the success of any peer advisory group is non-judgemental communication, transparency, and trustworthiness.

Non-Judgemental Communication: It’s not just about finding people that are open-minded. Non-judgemental communication means that someone can hear an idea that they don’t agree with and provide constructive feedback without injected his/her beliefs. It’s important that everyone in the group can communicate without passing judgment. To learn more about this, the DUAL METHOD OF NON-JUDGEMENTAL COMMUNICATION is a good place to start.

Transparency: The effectiveness of the group is entirely dependent upon the participants’ willingness to share.

Trustworthiness: What is said in a group meeting, stays in the meeting. No exceptions. Discretion and trust are non-negotiable in peer-advisory groups.

“Trust is absolutely critical so that everyone can share completely openly.”
JUD BOWMAN, Founder & CEO at Sift Media

Defining the Purpose and Goal of Your Peer Advisory Group

Every mastermind group should have clear, written guidelines about how the group will function and the expectations of the group members.

Some key questions to consider are:

  • How regularly and for how long do you want to meet?
  • What is the specific meeting structure?
  • Will meetings take place in-person or remotely?
  • What issues will the group primarily address?
  • Once you’ve made these decisions, you are ready to make a template for your group meetings. It may look something like this:

Mastermind Group Description

  • Small intimate in-person gatherings, focused on sharing insights/experience based on the needs of individual group members
  • Meetings will take place on the 1st Tuesday of every month at 6:30 PM, each lasting 90-120 minutes
  • Meeting Agenda:“Hot Seat” (30-45 minutes) – Each member presents an issue/challenge/struggle to the group for problem-solving
  • Topic Discussion (30 minutes) – Each meeting will have a facilitator who will select and communicate a topic well in advance
  • Individual Goals Check-In (30 minutes)

Identify a Facilitator

One last decision you’ll need to make is whether you’ll have a group facilitator. This is a good idea and is something that I recommend. You can select someone who is in the group or you can find an unbiased, trustworthy third party. This person guides the conversation, manages and prioritizes time, encourages communication in-between meetings and helps ensure accountability.

“Having one witness to a commitment or goal is helpful. Having 10 witnesses is downright powerful. Nobody wants to be the only one to show up to a peer meeting without a completed goal!” HOW PEER ADVISORY GROUPS INSPIRE LEADERS TO BE ACCOUNTABLE

In my experience, two of the most important characteristics of a successful mastermind group are accountability and non-judgmental communication. Don’t start/join a group and just not show up. In order to get value out of any peer-to-peer group, you need to be accountable to yourself and the other members of the group. Many groups enforce a two-strike rule – miss two meetings and you’re out. This needs to be communicated with the whole group. If a prospective group member is wishy-washy and doesn’t want to commit to that rule, find someone else who will commit.

I hope this article helps you take the first step to join a peer advisory group. If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be to join a mastermind group today!

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