Networks, Peers, and Mentorship

Martina New

As small business owners and solopreneurs, most of us seek out some form of business network. Whether for the purpose of marketing our business or to practice our elevator pitch, it is important to be part of a group that is external to our business.

Such connection may be downright essential for some. Being the one in charge of our business and handling all aspects of it can, at times, be overwhelming and isolating. Where is that sounding-board when you need one? Who provides the voice of reason when you are stuck in some way?

I recently learned more about some of the differences between a network and a peer group and their distinct advantages.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says:

  • A Network is a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons
  • A Peer is one that is of equal standing with another: especially one belonging to the same societal group
  • A Mentor (or business coach) is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced [and often younger] person

Here in Toronto, business networking groups abound and can be found, often bleary eyed, over early morning breakfasts or occasionally later in the day in cafés and restaurants. Typically meeting weekly or biweekly, their main goal is to provide one another with referrals for potential or actual business. Casual conversation before or after the formal meeting part allows little time to get to know each other’s businesses in much depth.

A peer group, on the other hand, usually meets less often, maybe only monthly. Here, business referrals take place more incidentally with the main focus being discussing business challenges. The group will brainstorm ideas on how to solve someone’s particular business issue. Peer groups can hence provide that missing sounding-board for solo business owners, where challenges can be reviewed, dissected, and step-by-step solutions be offered without having to hire a personal business coach. Like the latter though, it provides a platform for accountability.

A specific structure for peer groups is described in a book and method by Elizabeth Verwey, called The Mentors Circle. In a recent Lunch & Learn seminar, she shared how her background as business coach and desire to enable others to coach and mentor one another lead to her formulating this method and book.

A Mentors Circle is a peer group who meets once a month for two to three hours. A facilitator or leader guides the group through the steps and exercises laid out in the book. The group may review one or more case studies from attending business owners, and brainstorm together.

The difference to a networking or other peer group is that the group’s existence is, or at least can be finite, meaning they commit to just six months’ of meetings. This provides a start, middle, and end so that after completion of this time period members can choose either to stop or restart a new circle of meetings.

Finding an accountability buddy is also important. As Elizabeth says, the probability of completing a goal you set yourself is only 50% if you only plan how you are going to do it, and 95% if you commit to reporting back and make an appointment (or set a deadline by when you will do it). Fittingly, the “M” in Mentors Circle stands for motivation, “T” for testing new ideas, and “S” for support and success.

Your peers then, as well as the book and accompanying workbook, provide the mentorship aspects. While I enjoy and benefit from networking groups – bleary-eyed early mornings or not – I really like the sound of a guided and structured peer group. Now who will be my accountability buddy?



Merriam-Webster online dictionary,

The Mentors Circle,


Martina Rowley is the founder and operator of Beach Business Hub – THE co-working space east of the Don Valley. She combined her passion and experience in the environmental sector with her community engagement side to create a local work environment where space and resources are shared. She fosters and facilitates collaboration, networking, and learning for and with small business owners and new start-ups.  Contact her at:, on Facebook and on Twitter

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