Peer coaching is a lot like having a personal trainer. Think of your peer mentor as the one knocking on your door at 5 a.m., motivating you to leave the warmth of your bed for the chill of a brisk pre-dawn run. Without him or her, you'd hit snooze, convince yourself you need the extra sleep and hinder your progress toward achieving your fitness goal.
Just as a personal trainer is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a peer mentor can be the perfect complement to you and your business.
"When you're an entrepreneur, it's very lonely," says Tom Kruczek, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business. "When you're in a corporate environment, you've got peers you can talk to, but in an entrepreneurial organization, there are certain things you don't want to tell even your No. 2 person if you've got issues or problems."
Enter your peer mentor. "It's people that you know, people that you trust, whose reputation precedes them, who can give you the hard information that you need," Kruczek says.
And, as Kruczek points out, it's a role that can't necessarily be filled by a family member or significant other.
"Family won't always tell you the hard things. But in [peer mentoring relationships], there's no sugarcoating," he says.
Finding the right mentoring partner is crucial. That's why entrepreneurs seeking feedback flock to local chapters of peer groups like the Entrepreneur's Organization, National Association of Women Business Ownersand Ladies Who Launch, in addition to social networking websites like BizzFlip. According to BizzFlip founder and CEO Forrest Kolb, the site's "BizzPersonals" posting category has helped forge many similar relationships both locally and globally.
Discover how these three entrepreneurial teams found each other, and how they've turned their relationships into successful partnerships.
The Accountability Partners
Ann Sachs and Carey Earle aren't afraid to tell it like it is. Though Sachs, 61, and Earle, 42, have very different business backgrounds, they've formed a relationship that they say has strengthened their respective businesses and themselves.
Sachs, president and CEO of New York City-based Sachs Morgan Studio, Theatre Design Specialists, and Earle, founder and chief idea farmer of South Newfane, Vermont-based Green Apple Marketing, a marketing and branding consulting company, met through their involvement in a New York City chapter of the Women Presidents' Organization.
What began two years ago as an assignment in their peer advisory group launched into a relationship they now refer to as an accountability partnership.
"It's the best practice for entrepreneurs," Sachs says. "Every entrepreneur needs it."
Despite hectic schedules, the women find one hour a week, usually on a Monday evening, to chat on the phone and discuss their respective goals and to inspire one another to forge ahead.
"It forces you to step back and look at the big picture," Earle says.
Though they aren't considered peers in regards to their age, Sachs and Earle consider one another peers on a business level. In fact, they say their 19-year age gap has been beneficial.
"At 42, I've gained a big sister who knows things I don't know, who's experienced things I haven't, and that's been really powerful," Earle, the oldest of five sisters, says.
Sachs says her relationship with Earle has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her articulate her hopes, dreams and failures. In fact, Earle encouraged Sachs to begin the process of writing a non-fiction book chronicling her experience applying theatrical techniques to business.
"If it weren't for Earle as my accountability partner, I may not be writing my book," Sachs says.
Earle recently completed the first draft of her work of fiction, with the working title, Confessions of A Fat Girl.
"The fact that we're going through this process together, it's kind of like having double energy because we're both going to find out things as we explore the publishing process that we can share with each other," Earle says. The duo exchange information on agents and book proposals and help one another stick to their deadlines.
The Constant Communicators
Communication is the key to the relationship between entrepreneurs Troy Hoffman, 32, and Shawn Livermore, 29. Livermore says the two speak and meet several times per week, if not daily.
It all started in 2007 when Hoffman, founder of Simpluris Inc., a provider of class action case administration for attorneys, was looking for tech consultants to develop his startup's core software. Livermore's posting on Craigslist offering architecture and development services fit the criteria.
Now, Livermore has his own startup, Jaudible.com, a recently launched video-based storytelling and content website.
They help each other battle the challenges of financing, software development, staff management, legalities and strategic planning--all from the comfort of nearby Costa Mesa, California, cafÃ©s and eateries.
"We meet in cafÃ©s a lot. It's the best place to really get things done because you don't have office interruptions," Hoffman says.
Though their meetings and chats aren't as structured as those between Sachs and Earle, they're just as beneficial. Livermore describes their average meetings as "informal, yet rapid-fire."
Due to their hectic startup lifestyles, Hoffman says no time is off-limits for business chats.
"He'll e-mail me at 11 p.m., and before I know it, we're up until 3 a.m. brainstorming and coming up with solutions," he says.
Hoffman says the differences between him and Livermore make their relationship even stronger.
"Shawn thinks so big, where I'm just focused on making payroll every two weeks," he says. "He has really helped pull out the dreams that are inside of me, and has helped develop a road map that only someone with that large of a vision could provide."
Hoffman and Livermore say they've built a mutually beneficial bond they expect will last a lifetime.
What began as a chat over coffee became a budding entrepreneurial venture for Sue Spielman and Bill Eager.
Both Spielman, 43, and Eager, 50, hail from the small mountain town of Conifer, Colorado. After meeting at a yoga class through a mutual friend, Spielman and Eager continued their conversation at a coffee shop. They instantly connected thanks to their similar interests in health and wellness, technology and the internet.
Now, four years and many espressos later, the duo co-founded a company, bSocial Networks Inc.The company specializes in the social networking e-commerce space with their product, Market Lodge, which allows users to share recommendations and other user-generated content within social networks.
"We have gone from an idea in our heads around a coffee table to having bSocial Networks and the Market Lodge application featured in national media coverage with the likes of Google, MySpace, Amazon, Facebook and other large industry players," Spielman says.
As business partners, Spielman says the two still hold informal chats, mostly for brainstorming, clarity and sanity. The co-founders don't set many restrictions for their reflection sessions, though they do try to limit them to about 90 minutes.
"We don't really operate by agenda, more by feeling," Spielman says. "Many of our discussions are around dreaming in new ideas and then how we might manifest them."
Spielman and Eager say their relationship is all about honesty.
"This means that whether we agree or disagree, we start by sharing exactly what's on our mind," Eager says. "If there's a disagreement, we either resolve the issue or respect the disagreement and continue to move ahead."
Make It Happen
Just like these three relationships, peer reflection partnerships come in many forms. What works for one twosome may not work for another.
- If you're interested in establishing a partnership like that shared between Sachs and Earle, follow their five-step process to getting your accountability plan into action:
- Choose a peer with whom you have chemistry, both on a business and personal level.
- Make a commitment to your weekly call. If you slip up, get back on track.
- Agree on a goal framework so you can both start from the same goal sheet.
- Set weekly goals that build up to your larger goals. The power of the weekly call is that you will commit to the small steps that lead to the larger results you want to achieve.
- Do your homework. At the end of each call, tell your accountability partner what you will accomplish in the coming week. Then, do it!