Opinion: Local EO chapter marks a decade of group therapy for business owners

Entrepreneurs’ Organization operates under different rules than most networking groups.

“There is no selling and no telling,” says Todd Jamieson, a board member of the Ottawa EO chapter.

“It’s a secret weapon, almost a secret society of successful entrepreneurs meeting once a month for four or more hours to share stories.”

EO is a worldwide network with a membership base of more than 9,500 business owners across 40 countries. The purpose is to allow entrepreneurs to learn from one another so that they may find greater professional and personal success.

“When you belong to a forum, you have to bring it. You can’t be a passenger or a spectator at our meetings,” says Mr. Jamieson, who is also chief executive of web design firm Envision Online. “You’ll share things that you probably won’t share with anyone else, even your spouse. It’s not uncommon for people to cry at forum.”

Forums are made up of anywhere from six to roughly 10 people who are from different industries and are at different stages of development. They include businesses worth anywhere from $1 million to $50 million. Attendees cannot give their opinions or advice, only their experiences. EO follows gestalt principles based on learning via storytelling and analogy. They call it “experience sharing.”

“If you are looking for a traditional networking organization where you can sell to other members, EO is not for you. Advice that changes the way I do business is worth many times the margin I might get from making one more sale,” Mr. Jamieson says. “In fact, if I had been involved with EO earlier in my career, I am sure I would be much further down the path to success because I would have made fewer major mistakes, which are just huge time suckers.”

The Ottawa chapter celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It has 35 members who collectively employ more than 900 people and bring in more than $250 million in top-line revenues.

To join EO, one must be a founder, co-founder or primary shareholder of a company with a minimum of five employees and annual revenues of at least US$1 million. It costs about $3,000 a year to belong.

Formerly known as the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the global group changed its name to just Entrepreneurs’ Organization as its members grew older and the average age of those starting new ventures went up. More and more people in their 40s and 50s are starting companies – sometimes after being laid off by larger firms – and they are welcome at EO as long as they meet minimum requirements.

“The thing that has helped me most is hearing other entrepreneurs talk about their failures, their ups and downs,” says David Ryan, a fellow board member and a partner in disaster recovery construction firm Xpertek. “It gave me perspective as I faced challenges in my own personal life and career.”

Having a life coach – or, better yet, a group of them – can change one’s life. Just ask former NFL superstar wide receiver Terrell Owens. He says it has made a huge difference in his life and that if he had had a life coach during his playing days, it would probably have made him a better player too.

“Everyone needs a co-active life coach to help them find their way through an increasingly complex professional world and personal life,” Mr. Owens said in a September 2013 CNN interview.

Finally, here’s what Anthony Greenbank said in The Book of Survival: “To live through an impossible situation, you don’t need the reflexes of a Grand Prix driver, the muscles of a Hercules, the mind of an Einstein. You simply need to know what to do.” That’s where EO is positioned.

Bruce M. Firestone is the founder of the Ottawa Senators and a broker with Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBruce.

Sidebar: Company profiles

Envision Online

Todd Jamieson grew Envision Online from a one-person web shop to a TSX-listed marketing agency that he says actually gets Internet-based marketing.

“We’re the Mike Holmes of our space – we really do know how to move the needle for not-for-profits, NGOs, charities and (small businesses).”

A big growth area for Envision is co-ordinating monthly Internet marketing campaigns on behalf of clients. It’s a riff on the old marketing agency model where Madison Avenue firms dream up and then implement national advertising campaigns. Coincidentally, it has generated stable committed monthly recurring revenues for his firm.

Xpertek

David Ryan heads a 24-7 post-disaster restoration firm. Xpertek has grown from two employees to 25 and derives 90 per cent of its revenues from emergency commercial, corporate and institutional restoration and remediation work. Last year, it sent a team of volunteers to Toronto to help with flood relief.

“I’m a salesman really,” says Mr. Ryan. “I sold insurance when I owned a Co-operators franchise. After that, I seized an opportunity to grab a valuable (ByWard Market) parking spot ... for my emerging rickshaw business. Next, I launched a dot-bomb business called Electronic Time Capsule before finally finding my niche with Xpertek.”