A guide to peer advisory groups and their benefits for business owners and leaders

There’s nothing like positive peer pressure to keep you on your toes as a business leader. That’s why so many entrepreneurs and executives have found success with peer advisory groups, organizations whose main purpose is to create an environment for non-competitive business leaders to share ideas, solve problems, and support one another. 

The premise behind peer groups is simple: fellow business owners and executives, who often face similar challenges in their professional roles, can provide objective advice and perspectives in ways that employees and customers cannot. When it comes to high-level strategy for your business, peer groups can not only help you to innovate and grow, they can help you stay accountable to your goals. 

Is joining a peer advisory group worth it? 

It’s crucially important to remember that true peer groups are not the same as networking groups or local business groups, such as chambers of commerce or business improvement districts. A proper peer group has members who all have similar professional status (CEO, owner, executive), but come from entirely unrelated industries—no competing businesses, and no vendor-client relationships. Furthermore, confidentiality rules maintain that you cannot use information from the group to gain a competitive advantage over a peer, or attempt to sell your products/services to fellow members. 

In fact, joining a peer group is much more of an investment in your professional growth than it is an investment in your business. Of course, the business eventually benefits as you become a better business leader. 

The high membership fee that some of the more prominent peer groups charge can cause many entrepreneurs to reconsider its worth—and this is somewhat warranted. The truth is, peer groups only provide value to those who are committed to it. This means attending meetings regularly, helping your peers whenever possible, and being open about your own problems and concerns with your business. 

In short, you get out of it what you put in. If the peer group not something that you can fully commit to, whether because of time or lack of direct business benefit, then it’s probably best to save on the membership fee until you’re ready. 

Which peer advisory group is right for me? 

Many of the most prominent peer groups have both international and local affiliations, allowing you to benefit from both the closed small-group peer sessions as well as a wide network of global business leaders. Many of these organizations also have numerous side benefits, such as access to speaking opportunities or publishing articles. 

The key to any successful peer group is its members—sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right fit. Also important is the presence of moderators or facilitators, who are trained to maintain a collaborative dynamic among members. 

Here are a few of the well-known peer advisory groups to consider: 

Vistage
One of the oldest and most notable organizations, Vistage offers peer groups targeted specifically for CEOs, small business owners, high-level executives, and trusted advisors (professional service providers such as lawyers and accountants). Peer groups conduct regular monthly meetings with a Vistage-trained facilitator and have access to their online library of webinars and best practice studies. Vistage annual dues range from $3,610 to $15,075 plus enrollment fees. 

Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO)
Also a veteran peer organization, YPO boasts 23,000 members in 130 countries. To join, you must hold a top position at a qualifying company (meeting minimum payroll and revenue requirements), and you must apply prior to turning 45 years old. The group offers events at the chapter, regional, and international level, with a large social network hosting events that include spouses and family. Yearly dues include $3,250 international fee and chapter fee, plus initiation costs. 

Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
An organization targeted exclusively for entrepreneurs, EO features 153 chapters in 48 countries. One of their primary benefits is their Forum, a small 7-10 member peer group led by trained moderators. In addition to global and regional events, EO also offers robust executive training and mentorship programs, as well as a healthcare program. Dues include global fees of $1,900 plus local chapter dues, as well as a $1,500 initiation fee. 

Young Entrepreneurs’ Council (YEC)
YEC specifically targets younger professionals in startup businesses—you must be under 40 and the owner or founder of your business, and the threshold for joining is $1 million in revenue or financing. Though they don’t offer the equivalent of a small closed-group peer session, YEC members can connect through peer-to-peer support forums. The organization also offers a number of other benefits, including media exposure, discounts on business services, and travel concierge services. Membership dues range from $850-1000 per year. 

The Alternative Board (TAB)
Based on the traditional peer advisory group model, TAB targets owners of small and midsize companies. Each group consists only of 4-12 members and are run by a facilitator with at least 10 years of management experience. The focus is primarily business—the groups meet regularly and individuals are expected to present their challenges and opportunities to their peers. Membership dues range from $350 to $700. The TAB method and brand are available for franchising. 

Women Presidents' Organization (WPO)
One of the key peer groups serving highly successful female business leaders, WPO targets presidents, CEOs, and managing directors of second-stage multimillion-dollar companies. In addition to attending professionally facilitated peer forums, members also tap into a network aimed at increasing the visibility of women presidents in the workplace. WPO currently has 1,800 members in 120 countries and hosts an annual WPO conference. Fees start at $1,800 per year. 

Should I start my own peer group? 

Many of the leading peer advisory groups started exactly this way—a small self-organized group of business owners deciding to meet regularly. If a small local group is what you’re looking for, consider forming your own, but remember some of the key points that make peer groups successful: 

  • Curate the group to include only non-organizational peers (no competing peers, vendor/client relationships, or conflicts of interest). 
  • Ask for commitment to the group. Progress can only happen when everyone participates regularly. 
  • Ensure utmost confidentiality. What’s discussed in the room stays in the room. 
  • Foster a spirit of collaboration and maintain positive group dynamics, even if that means getting rid of members who are negatively influencing the group. 
  • Use an experienced moderator to help group sessions be more productive and efficient. 

Ultimately, the goal of any successful peer group should be to foster a trusted environment so that everyone in the group has the opportunity to learn and grow. As management expert Ken Blanchard would say, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”