Geri Stengel

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The Power of Peers: A View From a Consummate Pro

Several months ago, Ventureneer undertook a survey that documented the power of peers when small business owners deal with problems. The results were clear: Everybody needs – and wants – support. While survey numbers are great, nothing drives a point home better than an example.


small business owners, peer support, small business adviceI choose Rob Levin as my example. Rob is publisher of New York Enterprise Report and he has a strong point of view on the subject, both as a purveyor of information and as an unabashed seeker of support. 

His publication makes the insights and experience of experts available to small- and mid-size businesses in the Tri-State area. The Report covers everything from taxes to technology, from marketing to managing people. It does this in print, online, and in person. 

Prior to becoming a publisher, Rob was a CEO, COO and CFO of a variety of companies including high-tech, consumer products, and media. He started his career as a tax consultant at Arthur Andersen when it was one of the "Big Five" accounting firms. He has an MBA and a CPA.

He's done a lot and knows a lot, a very savvy guy. 

But as Rob likes to say, sometimes you have to get outside your  business to see what's going on inside. A great staff is focused on tactics; it's hard to ask them to focus on strategy, too, as Rob points out. Even if you could do both well, you often need a fresh perspective, no matter how experienced you are. 

When Rob needs to free himself from the of the day-to-day rut, he seeks out fellow small business owners to find out what they are doing and thinking. Whether it's an opportunity he's evaluating or a challenge he's facing, nothing stimulates Rob's own problem-solving process better than brain-storming with peers. 

When Rob started his business six years ago, he was hesitant to ask his clients for advice; he didn't want to appear vulnerable. Now he realizes that people are flattered when consulted. But it's a learned skill and one you don't just spring on a stranger. Asking for advice is not a big deal to Rob, but he does build a level of trust first by getting to know the person. For Rob, the third meeting is typically the charm.  

Rob's stable of advisers includes other publishers, small business owners, and experts on small businesses, such as accountants, lawyers and bankers. Some are well-known gurus. That's one of the perks of reporting on the small- to mid-sized business market: He gets to know the movers and shakers. 

Rob also accesses the wisdom of peers through Vistage. He meets with his Vistage peer group for a full day every month. Yes, that's right: Rob thinks his peer group is so valuable that he gives up a full day once a month to meet with them. The group is led by a facilitator. Together, members probe, ask questions and make suggestions to help each other generate better results for their businesses. 

No surprise, then, that whenever Rob is struggling with an issue, he consults a lot of people. Rob is not shy about asking for an introduction to someone who might be able to shed light on a specific issue. More than likely, he's made more introductions to help others than he's asked for but, honestly, he's not one to keep score.

The bottom-line – and that's what we're interested in – is that even a been-there, done-that kind of guy like Rob can benefit from peer support. And if you're not as experienced as Rob, just think how valuable his insights could be to you! 

Rob has one cautionary note: Don't get so caught up in talking about your strategy that the time for action passes you by.

One way to avoid letting opportunity slip or challenges crush you is to have your support network in place before you need it. Find a small business network either in your community or online. Take classes. Talk to other small business owners and professional advisers now. Find out what problems they're facing, pass on your wisdom, and listen to theirs. Get new perspectives on old problems and new ideas for ways to grow, change or keep up. And when your small business needs advice, you'll have your own gurus.

How has peer support helped you? Where do you go when you need ideas? Do you like to be asked for advice or is it a bother?