When non-entrepreneurs are asked to describe an entrepreneur in a word or two what comes to mind?
Innovative? Bold? Risk-taking? Forward-thinking? Confident?
Maybe. But if you asked the entrepreneurs themselves, the words might be different.
Unsure? Isolated? Alone? Hesitant? Unconfident? Frazzled?
Not long ago, I attended the Inc. 5000 conference in San Antonio and got to meet with 150 of America's fastest-growing entrepreneurs--an impressive bunch. But despite their collective successes, many were uneasy with their place in the business world and were still not convinced they would prevail.
One thing I heard often was how many attendees didn't feel alone at the conference because they realized they had similar experiences to everyone else. Although it was a temporary gathering, a sense of community developed rapidly.
Talk the talk
While that bonding experience was helpful to the entrepreneurs, two days of it isn't enough.
Aside from the social aspect--all work, no play makes Jack a dull boy--you'll discover you're not alone. Those seemingly incurable problems driving you crazy? You'll be relieved to learn that they likely have happened to plenty of other people - who may be able to offer a solution.
If your business is closely held, your management team probably view things from the same perspective, which can limit objectivity and produce blind spots. Sometimes a fresh perspective is all you need to overcome a roadblock. At the very least, you can use a peer group as a sounding board to test your ideas.
While you'll be able to learn from success, it will be almost as important to learn from failure. Finding what doesn't work can save a lot of time, money and headaches. There's certainly no shame in failing, but if you can avoid some potential problems in advance, more power to you.
Find unexpected resources
Peer groups can also be a wealth of resources that provide much-needed help. They will most likely give you access to a much wider network of information, sources and expertise.
There's even the chance to pool expenses. Say you'd like to conduct some training for your staff, but the cost is prohibitive for your small company. By joining with several companies that need similar training, the shared cost can make the program more affordable.
Don't overlook the importance of being around like-minded, positive-thinking people. I know all too well that running a business sometimes can be a real slog. Your fellow entrepreneurs can provide the encouragement we all sometimes need and you may learn some good working habits--not to mention rising aspirations.
At a minimum, peer groups give you the chance to step away, even briefly, from the day-to-day grind of running your business. Even if you gain nothing from joining a group, stepping back (even for a couple hours) may be beneficial.