Go get 'em. By Big Cartel.

Creating a Peer Mentor Group

In late 2017, two fellow business owners (and dear friends) and I started meeting each week to talk business. We call it Executive Brunch, but you might hear a group like this referred to as a peer mentor group.

It’s a circle of trust where we can share specifics about our businesses without fear of sensitive details getting out. We talk about money, vendors, hiring practices, product ideas, and more. We don’t actually eat a lot of brunch, but thanks to this group, the past eight months has been one of the most productive phases of my five years of running my online shop.

You know how once you learn a new word or concept, you start seeing it everywhere? Now that I’m hooked, I’m always hearing about trusted peer groups. Elle published an article about Elizabeth Fiedler, Sara Innamorato, and Summer Lee: three first-time political candidates who started a group chat to share knowledge, pool resources, and win their primaries. Designer Mig Reyes paid off $90k in student loans, and his number one tip for others is to build your career support group. A friend told me about a recent trip where he met up with fellow executives to talk about best practices, revenue streams, and more. Everyone is doing it! Executive Brunch for all! 🥞

In my own group, I’m learning to embrace that I’m just not very good at some parts of running a business. It’s nice to have a safe place to admit that, when it can seem like all of the other one-person businesses are doing amazing things, with ease. In the comfort of these video chats, I ask for help with things I don’t feel confident about (lately that’s designing a wholesale catalog), get practical advice about hiring an intern for a specific project, or just soak up a much-needed pep talk.

If you’re a business owner or creative person, I strongly recommend that you form your own group of trusted peers. And to help you get started, I’m sharing a few things my crew and I have learned so far.

spy

Find your people

One of the strengths of my group is the size: with only three of us, we have the patience to iron out organizational kinks, and the time for each person to work through their challenges.

More importantly, though, is that we’re each working on different things. We each have some experience with product design, sales, and marketing. But our current focuses and goals differ, and we’re bringing different strengths, ideas, and contacts to the mix. The conversation is never one-note, and we balance and complement each other. Of course it sometimes means that we don’t immediately come up with perfect solutions to each challenge, but it’s still better than going it alone.

The peer group doesn’t have to solve each problem, they’re there to help you get perspective and start some ideas flowing.

check

Set ground rules

Our little group tried a few formats before we landed on a meeting style that seems to work pretty well. Our calls stick to one hour or less, we have a regular meeting time each week, and since there’s only three of us, we just skip the week if a conflict comes up.

Because our group is small, we each share a project update, then ask questions or outline a roadblock that the others can help resolve. If your group is larger, or you need more time to devote to bigger issues, you might take turns talking about one person per meeting. Try out a few options, and you’ll settle in to a routine that is equal parts comfortable and productive.

The great thing about forming your own mentor group is that it can take shape however you like! You might want some standards in place before you start, so consider things like:

  • Meeting frequency and duration
  • Meeting method: in-person, video, phone, or other
  • How you share resources (maybe a Slack group, shared Google document, or some other solution)
  • How you ensure each person gets heard

partners

Set up a system for accountability

Many of our calls are hyper-focused on specific aspects of our projects: How much someone should charge for a new product, what to do when a retail space would be a game-changer but is out of the budget, or how to effectively follow up with a client who skipped out on payment. But there are opportunities to zoom out and look at the big picture, too.

At the beginning of 2018, Meg suggested we each make a list of goals for the year. We made our lists somewhere we all could see, and after the first quarter of the year, Bekka suggested that we check in on those goals.

Even better than having a list of goals for the year is having someone make sure you’re sticking to them. The quarterly check-in felt just right: we each have enough space to hit our stride, to have an awesome goal-hitting month, or a week when we’re just treading water. But then occasionally someone will ask, without judgement or agenda, how those goals are going.

The answer is usually that things aren’t going perfectly, but that we’re all making progress, bit by bit.

pan

Executive Brunch isn’t a solution to all of our business problems, but it’s an A+ support group. We have a scheduled time to regularly focus on our businesses (that’s especially important to a side-hustler like me), get practical advice, and provide accountability and support to each other. I believe that each of us could achieve the same goals on our own, but having a peer group makes the journey a lot less lonely.