Feeling isolated? Peer groups provide support, advice

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the February 24, 2014 Daily Herald



Whether it’s just you and the cat or you and 20 (or more) employees, being an entrepreneur can be lonely. That’s especially true when decisions must be made.

Enter the peer group, where non-competing business owners gather to share insights and experiences.

“You often can feel isolated,” says Judy Dawson, president, Excellent Business Strategies LLC, Oak Brook. ”It’s very beneficial to meet with people who have experienced the same challenges and who share their success stories.

“I may not have experienced everything my peers are experiencing, but when I do I will have seen it.”

Dawson, at four months still new to the entrepreneurial world, is a member of the Entrepreneurs Group, one of three peer groups managed by Michael Shapiro and Mary Erlain.

Peer groups provide “interaction and counseling that make members think through their choices,” says Jim Kelderhouse.

He knows. Kelderhouse recently sought peer input on whether he should accept a new role at Thomas Interior Systems, Bloomingdale. (He did.) Discussions “can get pretty frank,” Kelderhouse says – adding, however, that the discussions “are extremely helpful.”

E-Group monthly meetings “can be pretty intense,” agrees Shapiro, who otherwise is president of Chicago-based Dynamic Management Solutions Inc. “People get value from participating.”

Part of the value is that the group holds members accountable. For example, each member sets, and shares, business goals; meetings include reports of how well members are progressing toward the goals they have set.

“Our group is so strong on goals,” says Frank Blood, president, Caregiver Harbor Inc., a Bolingbrook business that provides a type of Employee Assistance Program service to businesses with employees who have care-giving responsibilities.

“I started out doing home safety evaluations,” Blood says. “I tried to write goals, but I couldn’t meet them. (The group) helped me realize my model wasn’t working.

“They told me, ‘You gotta do these (other) things, Frank.’”

Attorney Tom Bennington, partner at Lawrence, Kamin, Saunders & Uhlenhop LLC, Chicago and Downers Grove, joined the E-Group because law practices, he says, are “essentially entrepreneurial businesses. Each partner controls his (or her) own book of business and how to utilize staff support.”

What Bennington gets from the group is “an opportunity to share my concerns. I look for outside guidance.”

Some of that guidance came when “I threw an issue on the table for discussion and got feedback based on others’ experiences. I was able to pick and choose” from advice members offered, Bennington says.

Peer groups are two-way streets: Get help, give help. “I don’t give legal advice,” Bennington says for example, “but I can ask questions and say, ‘Here’s a risk you might consider.’”

Shapiro and E-Group co-founder Erlain, Peak Development Strategies, Naperville, manage three E-Groups, two that meet in DuPage and one in Chicago. They’re looking to add groups in the northwest and south suburbs. Membership includes a private business counseling session each month, a fairly typical peer group benefit.


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