Dues that can reach several hundred dollars a month may present a significant obstacle for many entrepreneurs. And Egge estimates that indirect costs, mostly in time spent preparing for and attending meetings, often makes the true price twice as much. Yet his study showed that most members who pay up year after year consider it a bargain.
Some entrepreneurs point to precise instances in which membership paid off. Mollerud's group, for example, decided he wasn't charging enough for his services and urged him to raise prices. He resisted, but agreed to try it. Business never slowed, he reports, and monthly profits rose more than the amount he was paying for his peer group's annual membership.
Entrepreneurs who join groups but don't go to meetings, ask questions or offer solutions aren't likely to get good value for their money, say peer group members. Another risk is that the advice they hear won't solve their problems. A survey by Egge found that members rehashing the same old issues was another downside.
Most groups require members to sign documents agreeing not to talk with outsiders about what they hear in meetings. That's a major plus compared to other opportunities to hobnob with fellow businesspeople, according to Erik Saltvold, founder and owner of a six-store Minneapolis chain called Erik's Bike Shop. "In this group, you can be open in discussing whatever you want," says Saltvold, who has belonged to Inner Circle for five years.