business round tables

Q. That desire to get rich quick is the bane of small business growth. I want my business to grow gradually and steadily. Asked on Hightable.com by Mbanude Izuchukwu.

A. This is an excellent question, because so many entrepreneurs fail to take your attitude.

I think the best way to do this is to surround yourself with a small group of  savvy business owners to act as an informal group of advisers. Here’s how to do this:

My business is leading such groups here in California. My groups–with no more than ten members–meet each month. You explain to them your business, your plans and goals, and your strategies, and they help in several ways:

— You present your plans to them. Doing this forces you to create plans that make sense, and that aren’t too ambitious.

— By having to explain your goals and strategies to them, they can keep you from making expensive mistakes. Sometimes you are being too bold, as you are concerned about. But sometimes you are being too timid, and you need to think bigger. And they will tell you either way.

— You help them with their problems in turn, and you learn just as much doing that.

— They serve as role models for you. You learn a lot by seeing how they solve their problems.

— If you think your problems are unique with you, they are much harder to overcome. But when you see that many others have dealt with the same problems, they don’t seem as overwhelming.

How do you find or build such a group? I would start with local business organizations, and look for those who have growing businesses, who seem savvy, who are willing to learn from others, and who aren’t competitors. The more diverse kinds of businesses you have, the better. The people must be trustworthy to keep confidential whatever is discussed in the meetings.

A group like this is a very powerful tool for growth, and for avoiding bad mistakes.

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Q. Who is the best choice to help you grow your business?

I used a business coach to help get my business off the ground. Now I want to grow my business. Who do you think is the best–my business coach, a CPA, a financial advisor, or a business attorney? Or someone else entirely? Asked by Jacquelyn Bell, CPA on “Small Business Owners Group” on LinkedIn.

A. My Answer

Rule #1. As your business grows, don’t be the Lone Ranger! Get some form of outside advice and support. Every exec of a larger company relies on this. Only small biz owners hold on to the mistaken idea that they can go it alone.

You offer several good suggestions, and here’s another: business owner round tables. My company leads ongoing peer advisory groups for owners of growing companies, and I know there are similar groups all over the country.

How the groups work. I’ll use my groups as a model so you can find or build a similar group: Ten owners meet once a month for half a day, under my guidance; members set goals, hold each other accountable, give feedback, and do problem solving.

Benefits. A group of savvy owners holds your feet to the fire the way no consultant can. “No way would I show up for the meeting without doing what I had committed to the group.” The breadth of experience is so great within a group of ten, it’s hard to find an issue that somebody hasn’t dealt with. You find great role models: “If she can do it, surely I can.” You discover that your worst problems are not unique; others have dealt with the same. You learn from others’ problems: “I was advising him, and I realized my finger should be pointing right at myself.”

Guidelines for a business owner round table:
Have a leader. All-volunteer mastermind groups are very tough to keep on track.
— Have people at similar levels of sophistication. I have groups for solopreneurs, and other groups for those with a management structure.
Diversity of business types is a major strength. I’ve led groups where they were all in the same industry, and they all thought the same–nobody to challenge them.
— It’s not a networking group. You don’t want your best customer in the room when you’re describing your toughest challenges. Of course, no competitors.
— Members must agree to be there, on time, till the end. Missing meetings hurts the rest of the group.
— Written agreement of confidentiality.
People need to pay–even if they miss a meeting. Otherwise they don’t respect the commitment.
The leader has to be strong enough to ride herd, yet not dominate the group. The members need to be the resource for each other.
— My groups have ranged between 5 and 10 members. More people and you don’t get heard.
These groups can be long-lasting. I have a number of 5 to 10 year members.

Such a group does not replace specialized professional advisers. You still have your CPA, CFO, attorney, marketing whiz, etc.

But a group of peers helps you with the subtle ways you need to change your management style so that you can keep up with your company’s growth.

Look here for more on how our groups are run.

“Round tables” don’t have to be round! Our groups meet in a board room with a long table, comfortable chairs, and a large coffee pot. And plenty of white boards to take notes on while members discuss their issues.

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