Support Group: (definition)
: a group of people with common experiences or concerns who provide each other with encouragement, comfort, and advice.
As a business owner, I openly admit there are many times when you are not sure which way to turn, yet at the same time you need to instill confidence, poise and enthusiasm as you meet clients, prospects, colleagues, and business partners. How do you balance always putting your best foot forward to getting guidance when you feel lost or overwhelmed? Where can you go to get advice that is confidential, non-judgmental and knowledgeable? A support group for Entrepreneurs.
Below are some examples of how support groups can help you grow or sustain your business through all the obstacles, trips and falls ahead.
I. Answering Questions. In professional support groups, you usually get a great mix of industry types, talents, skills and in different stages/roles of their business. For example, if you’re looking to hire employees for the first time, there is usually someone in the group who has already handled that challenge and can offer advice, answer questions or share their experience (including successes and fails). Support groups are a great way for business owners to swap their expertise to help other local businesses grow.
II. Overcoming failures. Everyone business owner makes mistakes, reach insurmountable challenges, are affected by the economy’s fluctuations, or have occasional staff issues. Where can you turn when you have to continually portray a positive and enthusiastic persona to foster a successful brand? You never want to let on with customers, colleagues, partners or contractors that things behind the scene are in chaos.
I tell my clients, “I don’t care if your office is on fire, you’re being sued by a client, and your staff just walked out on you. When a customer walks in and asks, ‘How is business?”, you always say ‘Great!’ No matter what is happening, you put your best foot forward, you put a smile on your face and you create a positive energy that people will be attracted to and come back to invest in your products/services again and again.”
Instead, take your issues or failures to your support group, where its a safe, confidential (most support groups require confidentiality agreements) environment to vent. Usually there is someone there that has or is going through something similar and you will get ideas or the encouragement you need to carry on and overcome.
III. Learning from others Mistakes or Successes. Some of us have to go through the school of hard knocks to learn life or business lessons, but most of us can take stock in the experiences of others. Even if their experience doesn’t help you now, file it away for later, because you’ll probably confront it some time in the future. So listen closely and be open, thinking how you can apply their mistake or success to your own business.
IV. Networking & Referrals. Although most support groups discourage referrals and sales pitches, you can’t help getting to know each other strengths and business models. You can’t help but think of them when you encounter prospects that need that type of service or product. You may even need their products and services, so who are you going to call? “People do business with people they know, like and trust.” Although networking is not the mission of the group, it happens … naturally.
V. Giving Back and Helping Others. There’s a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction when you help others. When you give back to your community, it gives back to you in so many ways. When you support other businesses, you support local economic development and create partnerships and friendships that provide support now and may be just what you need in the future.
If you’re part of a support group or even a networking group and you feel that you’re not getting anything out of it, ask yourself these questions.
- Are you there regularly or are you missing scheduled meetings?
- Do you come early and stay after to get to know the other members?
- Are you engaged during the meeting, listening, asking questions and offering comments?
- Can you get involved, offer help or get on the board? Usually these groups are run by volunteers and they will rarely turn down assistance offered.
- Can you schedule lunches or coffees with other members to get to know them better?
- If you’re still not getting the benefits you hoped for, go to the board or facilitator and talk to them about possible suggestions or topics you’d like to see covered in future meetings. If the board cares about their members and the group’s success, they will listen.
On a personal note, I’ve been a part of several very helpful groups in the Lexington KY and Madison County area. One such group is provided by Commerce Lexington, called BOAB (Business Owners Advisory Board), which I’ve been a part of for over four years now, and a year ago became a facilitator of one of their groups. Each member signs a confidentiality agreement and is assigned to a group without any competitors in their industry.