One of the biggest mistakes I made in business was not getting out and connecting with other entrepreneurs both in my industry and outside my industry.

My feeling was, why should I? I knew it all anyway! I had tons of business experience and a Harvard Business School education. Besides, meeting with other entrepreneurs would probably be more of a social thing and would just get in the way of moving my business ahead. And to be honest, despite my multimillion-dollar-a-year income, it killed me to pay the several thousand dollar annual dues that the better business groups required.

What a dumb mistake that was! It is just another example of working harder as opposed to working smarter: “Pennywise but pound foolish.”

Joining the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) Paid Big Dividends

The big benefit for me in joining YPO came from the monthly small group “forum” meetings, where you get together with maybe ten other entrepreneurs and in a confidential setting advise one another on business and personal issues. Personal issues! When I first joined I was surprised to see the important emphasis on personal issues, but I learned to appreciate how personal issues impact your ability to run your business, to run it with a clear head and to be as successful as you can be.

Even though the entrepreneurs in my YPO forum group were all from different noncompeting industries, the advice and knowledge and insights I learned were incredible!

Later I edited a book for YPO International filled with hundreds of stories from YPOers around the world about how YPO helped them—the stories were amazing, and they generally tended to emphasize the forum experience.

While I highly recommend YPO, the criteria to join can’t be met by everyone, as your business must be a certain size, you need to be within a certain age range, and so on.

If you don’t quality for YPO, there is also Entrepreneurs’ Organization as well as other alternatives. Currently, I am in a monthly forum group for Harvard Business School alumni modeled after the YPO example. Before I joined YPO, I belonged to a forum-type group put together as a small private business by a local entrepreneur who acted as the professional facilitator.

Industry Associations That Really Exchange Business Ideas Can Be Very Valuable

Also, I recommend you consider looking into industry associations. Sometimes these associations put together a group of people in the same industry but from different geographical areas. For example, a friend of mine belonged to a group of independent furniture retailers with noncompeting locations in different parts of the country who met every several months to exchange business ideas.

Small “Forum” Groups Can Be Particularly Powerful

This January I presented to my Harvard Business School forum group a concept for a new business that I had been thinking about for a couple of years and recently spent many hours working on. Within 30 minutes, they completely changed the direction of my thoughts!

Another time in a forum group a member gave me just three minutes of advice that ended up saving me millions of dollars in taxes.

Another time my YPO forum group strongly advised me to shut down my money-losing website CareerCity.com. One member said, “Show me where the server is plugged in and I’ll unplug it now!” Stubbornly, I didn’t listen, and while I ended up eventually selling CareerCity.com to TrueCareers, a subsidiary of Sallie Mae, I sold it for much less than my ongoing losses between that forum meeting and when the sale took place.

In summary, while joining a lot of groups and associations can potentially help your business, what is most likely to move it ahead is joining a group that has regular, very small group forum-like meetings.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Don’t be a lone wolf; get out and network.
  • Consider both general business and industry groups.
  • Monthly small “forum” group meetings can be particularly powerful.