Being an entrepreneur and business owner can be challenging, satisfying and sometimes scary. You are chief cook and bottle washer and the buck stops with you. You are faced with decisions on who to hire, when to hire and what they should be paid. You also need help managing your cash flow and inventories.

Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? No. You need to talk it out with your board of directors.

What if you don’t have one? I know where you can get one and it won’t cost you hundreds of thousands a year for outside expertise. Join a CEO group. Believe it or not, there are many organizations out there that are waiting to welcome you to their CEO groups.

As a member of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) for more than eight years, I have had the opportunity to discuss my challenges and concerns with other seasoned executives. We meet monthly at a downtown club or sometimes at each other’s businesses. We have open and confidential discussions regarding the opportunities and challenges that impact our businesses. This is my sounding board, my personal board of directors.

COSBE has a variety of roundtables for CEOs, for second in command, for rapidly growing businesses and for CFOs. Many roundtable members have maintained their membership for more than ten years, and new roundtables start each year.

When you interview these members you hear one common theme, how the other members have helped them navigate some difficult situations. In fact, a great number of the COSBE group members are repeat winners of the MMAC’s Future 50 awards.

Some groups meet for 90 minutes, others have longer meetings, and some even participate in annual retreats. In our CEO group we have discussed potential acquisitions, strategic planning, human resource challenges, salary and benefits, sales and marketing, banking relationships and financial planning.

In other CEO groups members have sold their businesses to fellow members.

In each CEO group there are eight to ten members representing both the service and manufacturing sectors. In our group we have CEOs who are sales professionals, involved in manufacturing, engineering, accounting, business consulting, IT consulting and others who own on demand printing and other service firms including providing temporary and permanent employees.

So what are the direct benefits of such groups? Each of our members has experienced levels of growth, both rapid and sustained. One member was able to establish a new banking relationship, another expanded to a new territory, another is growing by acquisition, and another is repositioning his business to take advantage of a change in market conditions.

In one session, a group of us who are baby boomers were introduced to the world of social networking and its advantages and disadvantages.

As a result of the Koss investigation, we had a detailed discussion about forensic accounting and business ethics. Each of us went home and began to rethink our financial controls and our relationship with our accounting firm.

We discuss real world problems and develop real world solutions.

While some groups charge an annual or monthly fee, COSBE roundtables are included in your annual membership in the MMAC. If your firm joins a second group, there is a small fee, but the return on investment is immeasurable. Besides the candid feedback, the sharing of information and the opportunity to network with fellow professionals, you have eight to ten fellow owners who have “walked the walk” and “talked the talk” for years. Over 500 of the most successful small and medium sized business owners in southeastern Wisconsin belong to the MMAC and participate in a fifty-two COSBE roundtables.

As a roundtable leader and member, I know that I have grown as a businessman and a person through my experiences in our CEO group. Maybe it is time for you to join a CEO group and strengthen your enterprise while making business connections that will help you grow as a leader and decision maker. Besides COSBE, you have other choices such as TEC, The Forum, and The Alternative Board.

Join a CEO group and see the difference having an informal board of directors makes in your ability to run and grow your business.

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