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posted: 5/13/2020 1:00 AM

Kendall: Here’s a piece of good news, but you’ll have to reach for it

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Some days the coronavirus news seems better, but on other days not so much. Today we're going with a piece of good (but, please note, nonmedical) news that might make life a tad easier for the perplexed but still proud and still battling small business owners who, not so long ago, had never heard of a novel coronavirus or its COVID-19 spinoff disease.

The good news: Thank goodness somebody once thought of peer groups.

And perhaps there's a bigger Thank Goodness that in spite of the group gathering limitations that are the result of the COVID-19 scourge, the combination of friendship, camaraderie and (best of all) ideas that came with the shoulder-to-shoulder, around-the-table discussion of business issues that filled the need for so many business owner peer groups are alive and well.

In fact, with modern communications tools -- peer group attendees will need their own computer while the group host will need a connection with, for example, a Zoom meeting app or a Google Hangout option -- creating today's online peer group meeting as a video conference is relatively easy.

And, if you have a tech-savvy teenager or college student in the family, the connection could be relatively easy -- or you could check out existing peer group operations. It turns out that text, voice and video connect rather well.

Please remember that the e-peer group is a small business option that perhaps gives business owners a new way to look at their market today. "You still have to know yourself, your business and your market" cautions Dennis Poulin, president and half owner (with his wife) of R & G Vent Cleaning Services Inc, a Gilbert, AZ (Phoenix area) company that cleans restaurant kitchen vents.

I met Poulin at an e-peer group meeting sponsored by Ray Silverstein's PRO President's Research Organization. PRO President's has peer groups both here and in Arizona.

Silverstein is president of PRO, an acronym for the President's Resource Organization

I have attended a handful of PRO President's Research Organization peer group sessions over the years, mostly as an observer to gather material for my then weekly Daily Herald newspaper column; the most recent meetings I have attended are computer-based, and while I miss the personal touch of the live meetings, others like the video aspects of Silberstein's PRO peer groups.

"When you get to know each other, that makes up for the loss of intimacy with video," says Mary Jo Kringas, whose Coeur d' Alene, ID, LowCarb Specialties Inc. turns out ChocoPerfection, a sugar-free candy bar.

In fact, Kringas thinks the online meetings often have a better focus, though in truth that may be the result of Silverstein's experience. "Ray asks us to be accountable," she says. "'Why did you do that?'" is a regular conversation item that gets members going.

There's an agenda for each meeting that typically includes at least notes from appropriate business books. Over the years, Silverstein says, "The number one issue (we have discussed) is HR-related. Business owners may know how to build something or develop a business concept, but generally we don't know how to manage people issues," from recruitment to firing to promotions to pay.

There are options to the PRO peer groups. Loyola University (Chicago) has a family-centered business program with a strong reputation; California-based Vistage has Chicago-area groups. Computer searches will turn up a plethora of groups, but while you're looking for a business home remember this piece of advice Kringas shared when we talked: Go for a group that doesn't simply exchange business cards and leads at every meeting. Instead, she advises, you probably want serious, confidential discussions about how to navigate today's business world.

Maybe you'll discover better small business news.

© 2020 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.