Q: What outside advisers are the most important to business success (e.g., bankers, accountants, investors, board of advisers, mentors, etc.)?

Professional Services Client, Bloomington


A: All the advisers you mention are important to running and growing a successful business. However, one “outsider” not mentioned, one I think is the most important, is a peer. I’m talking about other business owners with a range of experiences. You will learn not only from peers who have already grown a successful business, but also from those who currently are facing the same challenges as you.

It’s my experience that business owners get the best, most-practical advice from someone who has walked a mile in their shoes, which is why I suggest to my clients that they join a peer advisory group. These groups engage in confidential “What would you do?” kinds of conversations that most business owners aren’t free to have within their own shop.

The old saying is true — It’s lonely at the top. And it’s important to overcome the isolation that comes with being the boss. Peer groups offer an opportunity to discuss important issues with those who can empathize and offer unbiased advice.

Bankers, accountants and investors can come to the table with biases and agendas that aren’t necessarily aligned with those of the business owner. I’m not implying any evildoing; they just have a different perspective.

Board members and mentors can offer the voice of experience and be a sounding board; I recommend that business owners assemble a trusted board. But one note of caution: Keep an eye out for those who are a little too eager to join your board. Some people simply use board memberships to pad their résumé or as an opening to snag a paid consultant gig. Peers, on the other hand, have their own show to run, and just wish for your success by offering their best, frankest advice.

Leading an organization comes with tremendous pressure and responsibility and can be a roller coaster of emotions that you probably don’t want to share with your employees. Having a group of trusted peers allows you to share your thoughts and blow off a little steam, too.


Mike Ryan, is the director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.