Over the past few months this column has focused on the importance of continuing to build your business — in good times and bad — by sticking with “offense” activities. One of the most important things you can do to stay positive and keep things moving in the right direction is to surround yourself with successful people, and there’s no better way to do that than to become part of an expert study group.
Regardless of your previous experience with study groups, there are a number of very good reasons for you to become part of one now. Consider, for example, the volatility of today’s markets, the changing needs of aging baby boomers and the wide diversity of newly available products and services. With so much to stay abreast of (let alone master), an expert study group can be invaluable in helping you to stay at the leading edge of creating and offering value to your clients.
Moreover, CEG Worldwide research and numerous anecdotal reports from advisors in our coaching programs confirm that highly successful advisors are more likely to be members of expert study groups than are advisors who are less successful.
Expert vs. Non-Expert
What Your Peers Are Reading
Having determined that you do in fact want to join an expert study group, your first and perhaps greatest challenge will be to find one. That is, while you might find a regular or non-expert study group, true expert study groups are not only much more desirable, they are much more difficult to locate. There are four key factors that set apart the true expert study group.
The first factor is the degree of structure that characterizes the group. You want to join a group that is highly structured, that creates and follows clear agendas, and that meets according to a regular schedule. Ideally, an expert study group will have 12 to 15 members — we recommend a minimum of eight — and will meet one to two days, three or four times a year. So, for example, look for a group that meets one day four times a year, or two days three times a year. Meetings should be determined a year in advance; that is, in the 2nd quarter of 2009 the group should be scheduling its meeting for the 2nd quarter of 2010.
Generally, meeting venues rotate through, with one member being responsible for providing an office conference room or setting up a hotel meeting room. Although meeting in a hotel incurs an additional cost, the advantage is that there will be no distractions or interruptions — none of the members will be running out of their conference room to handle emergencies — and meetings will be more focused and productive overall.
The second distinct characteristic is the use of interactive training methodologies. You want to join a group that uses an interactive educational approach, one that encourages or requires a high degree of membership participation. That is, you want a group that innovatively challenges and brings out the best both in yourself and in the other successful advisors you are surrounding yourself with.
Third, expert study groups regularly make use of outside presenters. Study groups that don’t bring in outside presenters are less likely to be successful because they require the members of the group to constantly develop new materials to be shared. As a result, these groups become inward-looking rather than outward-looking and fail to stay on the cutting edge. So look for a group that frequently retains outside experts to make presentations, share ideas, catalyze effective brainstorming and develop concrete action plans.
Finally, true expert study groups focus on best practices and building and growing outstanding business. In distinction, non-expert study groups frequently focus on products. Compared, then, to non-expert study groups, true expert study groups will generate more and better ideas and approaches, along with frequent sharing of success stories on how to build better businesses.
The Right Group