The Power of Peers – Why peer support is vital to women entrepreneurs

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Successful business owner Tina Brown, of School Business Services, had a question to mull over – whether to expand her business internationally and if so, into which country?  So that she could consider the issue more fully Tina brought it to the monthly meeting of Women Presidents Organization.  She knew that the experience and ideas of the other female entrepreneurs would give her more thoughts and insights. Sure enough Tina went back to the office later that day energized and inspired by hearing about the experiences of the other businesswomen in the Chapter. Tina’s advice?

[quote] Learning from peers should definitely be on your agenda as part of your business strategy. Getting the advice and support of a smart peer can make all the difference in building your business.  By tapping into the expertise of someone who’s already jumped the hurdles, you can cut to the chase much more efficiently, especially as time is precious.[/quote]

Every month, twelve women from diverse businesses, meet together for three hours in the plush offices of SG Hambros, who host the meeting in London, to help one another – as members of the Women Presidents Organization (WPO). This global not-for-profit organization has over 115 Chapters worldwide, and members are all successful women entrepreneurs who have led their businesses to achieve at least $1million in gross annual sales.  The members in London have average revenues of £5 million and average 24 employees.

You have to be willing to be honest

As Chair of the Chapter I’ve seen the power of peers for myself. The women don’t just benefit from business support, they talk about the whole picture – business, family and personal life because it can often be an issue outside of business that causes an impact within it.  Trust and confidentiality play a big part in the success of the Chapter, because the women are willing to open up, and be honest about what is working and what’s not working, and that way they also get emotional support and friendship.

The members themselves instigated a policy of sharing their financial results rather than just a vague statement, which meant they have to be accountable to the other members, even when business is not going well.  It means that the other women can share similar experiences that directly relate to the issues in hand and explain how they dealt with the issue, which ultimately means the business owner receives timely, relevant support.  Also, because each woman runs a non-competing business this helps to build trust and openness.

The Women Presidents Organization was founded in 1997 in USA by Dr Marsha Firestone to improve business conditions for women entrepreneurs and promote their acceptance and advancement in all industries. Through attending the monthly meetings, members learn to grow their businesses to the next level.

Loneliness at the top

Frequently, before joining the organization these accomplished women business leaders recognize it can be lonely when you head up a business.  And according to research, this is the number one reason why most entrepreneurs join some type of peer support or mastermind group.

Member Sherry Moran, founder of Tribeca Knowledge agrees with this view.

[quote]I get so much more from being part of a peer support group than I would do having non-execs on our board.  It gives me a group of peers who are there to support me, and challenge me at times.  Whilst the numbers are reported at WPO, what the other members are doing are listening for what’s really going on behind the financials, and enabling me as a Managing Director to feel safe enough to open up and explore the underlying issues. You can’t do that on your own.[/quote]

Co-opetition helps everyone improve

Another benefit that the women entrepreneurs have gained from having peer support is the aspect of co-opetition.  This is a combination of competition, and collaboration and sometimes described as cooperative competition.   What happens is that when one person learns about the progress that another entrepreneur has made and it provides inspiration for them to also improve. Seonaid Mackenzie, CEO of Sturgeon Ventures realized that on learning about others’ successes in winning business awards it had brought them greater media and PR attention.  But prior to this, Seonaid had never considered the benefit of applying for business awards so she thought it was something that she could try. Two years on, Sturgeon Ventures have received a string of business accolades in recognition of their success including Venture Catalyst of the Year at the M&A Awards 2013 and 2014, Trusted Regulatory Incubator Firm of the Year at the Acquisition International Finance Awards 2014, and the well-respected Thomson Reuters Compliance Innovator of 2013.

The WPO peer support formula has been so successful that the organization continues to grow worldwide. There are now members in South Africa, Peru, New Zealand, Egypt, Turkey and Mexico as well as the US, Canada and UK, with another chapter launching in Birmingham in November. Being part of this international organization gives members’ access to global contacts and a wider network to learn from. Recent research showed that at least 20% of WPO businesses now trade globally, and the London Chapter has recently evidenced this with over 50% of its members exporting internationally.

Peer support provides so many benefits to entrepreneurs, that it’s the savvy choice for growth oriented business owners.

For further information about Women Presidents Organization in the UK follow us on Twitter @wpolondon or via website

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