Board of Empathizers

On a previous entrepreneurial adventure, I had joined a group called The Entrepreneur’s Network in Minneapolis, that later became Inner Circles ®.  The purpose of the group was to bring together owners of small and medium-sized businesses to collectively solve problems, share ideas and lessen the isolation of being an entrepreneur.

In those days, there wasn’t even a hint that the internet would provide community nor common ground for pioneering business owners.  Each group of 8-12 members (Inner Circle)  was a mix a people with diversified businesses.  While our peers didn’t know the nuances of each other’s business type, we all shared many of the same organizational, financial, staffing and marketing problems.

For me, The Entrepreneur’s Network served as a quasi-Board of Directors.  My peers were my advisers, my confidants, my harshest critics and my staunchest supporters.  I could share with them the business and emotional problems that came from being an entrepreneur, and knew that they would treat my comments with confidentiality and concern.  I couldn’t get nearly the same response from my banker or investors and we were too small to have an executive team.

As I was thinking of this group the other day, it occurred to me that I could re-create the same atmosphere in cyberspace.  Not only could I have virtual meetings with an substitute Board of Directors, I could pick people for this group that I know only from online interactions.  There are many marketing people whose tweets I follow and admire.  There are also many whose blogs offer interesting insights on small business.  One of the first people I chatted with online was a sharp woman working at a brand agency.  I wonder if she would join my reinvented Inner Circle?

What about face time?  There’s so much credit given to being in the same room with people to create rapport.  Isn’t that what social media is all about?  Aren’t we conversing and creating connections, on big things and small–140 characters at a time? 

A business coach friend of mine does all her work by phone.  She insists that seeing her clients is actually distracting to working on business problems.  My friend pulls up research to show that coaching is far more effective by phone (without the web cam) than it is done with on-site visits. 

Has anyone tried getting together what I’m calling a Board of Empathizers?  How would you entice people you’ve never met to join your business circle and how would you make this successful for your business?

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