Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Know-how you need

This week’s Financial Post column looks at the benefits of formal peer networks: organized groups of (non-competitive) business owners who meet regularly to discuss mutual problems and issues. If your business isn't ready for a board of advisors, this is the next best way to get ongoing, informed know-how and advice from experienced entrepreneurs who understand your business.

And as the story shows, in times like these, peer boards can help more than ever.

"We talked about what assets would be best in a recession, and decided that would be cash," says TEC chair Pierre Gosselin. As a result, his peer group all started boosting their balance sheets and disposing of surplus inventory months before it became trendy (or necessary). One business owner cut his firm's inventory to $3-million from $9-million and arranged a $1.5-million financing just before the bank vaults slammed shut. When the recession hit, he was able to expand his sales reach while competitors were struggling to meet payroll.

The article cites an alphabet soup of organizations that offer peer groups, such as TEC Canada (The Executive Committee), Young Presidents' Association (YPO), Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), and the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFE). I also mentioned Innovators' Alliance, Presidents of Enterprising Organizations (PEO), and Communitech, all based in Ontario.

Readers have since reminded me of the Business Roundtable, which operates in BC and the Maritimes, and told me about a new group called the Inner Circle, which is just moving into Canada from the U.S.

UPDATE: Another reader has reminded me that the Strategic Coach program offers similar benefits (although I perceived it to be more for self-development than peer counselling). He says, "I have been a member for 14 years. In my view, nothing could be finer for the business owner for their professional and personal lives."

You can read the complete article here.

As a bonus, here are the Business Roundtable’s Top 10 Survival Lessons:

1) Never run out of cash.
2) The only thing worth cash is more cash.
3) Don't spend time trying to raise cash; spend it trying to find new business.
4) Be prepared to provide collateral to the bank but not more than necessary... Negotiate.
5) Find a banker who believes in people, not just the numbers and keep him/her informed.
6) Learn to say No!
7) When things are really tough, go on the offensive - don't hide.
8) Assume things are worse than they look, because they probably are.
9) Get people involved in your company who can give it some credibility when needed.
10) Believe in yourself and don't forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while.

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