Each month in this column series I ask a different question to you, the ExitEvent Entrepreneur. Thought provoking questions that are meant to get you to sit back and think. Each month I offer insight into the question, along with common mistakes made by (us) entrepreneurs, and a key take-away for you to think more about. My goal—to increase your self-awareness as an entrepreneur and a leader. 

Insight: When I was writing my first book, “The Second Decision, the qualified entrepreneur”, I conducted a survey in the entrepreneurial community asking: “What would you have done differently, knowing what you know now”? The entrepreneurs, as expected, had invaluable feedback. One of the most popular responses—they wished they surrounded themselves with a peer group earlier in their careers. I wholeheartedly agree, 110%. 

In a previous Yoda column (Why did you become an entrepreneur?) I wrote about the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs start their own businesses—autonomy. We want to be our own boss. Regardless of age or sex, men and women in their 20s through their 50s (and beyond) stated that autonomy was the #1 driver. Makes perfect sense, but, what if… 
Common Mistake made: I don’t know what I don’t know as I am building my business. In my case, right in the middle of expanding our company from three to nine offices in a period of six months in 1998, my wife asked me: “Do you know what you are doing”? Wow, the nerve of her…except she was right. You see, I knew what I knew, but what my partners and I didn’t know was scary. 
There was plenty I didn’t know that I didn’t know, much more than I could have ever imagined. 
We think that just because we started the business, and have the willpower and confidence to succeed, that will be enough to take us to the Promised Land of maximum success. Grave mistake to think this way, as the entrepreneurs in the survey clearly pointed out. So what are we supposed to do?  
Key Take-away: When I get a chance to speak to entrepreneurs and leaders around the country, I tell the story of our company growing an average of 50% per year for our first 10 years. And then I tell them that I wish we had surrounded ourselves with a peer group much sooner. Perhaps we could have avoided many of the simple and plain bad mistakes we made if we had interacted with people who were going through similar challenges. 
I also share my recommendation that you have a mentor/coach/advisor whom you can meet with, an experienced entrepreneur who has “been there and done that”. The following are some of the benefits of following the advice of those much more seasoned in the entrepreneurial world: 
  • They help accelerate your movement from an “I don’t know what I don’t know” to an “I know what I don’t know” entrepreneur. Once you know what you don’t know, you gain a much better understanding of what your organization needs to grow, and you can then add depth to your company with the right people in the right seats doing the right things. 
  • You will gain from “experience sharing”. You have a group of people who are in a similar situation to you with similar issues…you find out you are not alone in your struggles and you will be amazed at the help you will get when you simply ask for it. 
  • You will hear what you “need to hear”, not what you “want to hear”, a crucial step in building a long-term successful business. To maximize success, you have to be prepared to truly listen and understand the feedback you received. 
  • You will have a group that you can tell all of your problems to, and they will want to listen and help. Unfortunately, the more successful you get, your non-entrepreneurial friends will not necessarily be that interested in hearing about your issues. The truth is that some of them will perceive that you have it made, simply because you run your own company! You have people that care about your success, but are independent (they don’t own shares in your company) with no financial stake in the outcome. Peer groups help because they want to! 

Do you have a peer group, mentor, coach and/or advisor that you trust and get value from?