How to build a peer support network

As a small business owner, you don’t always have the backup of formal social supports offered by larger employers. 

When things get tough there’s no manager, human resources department or Employment Assistance Program to access, so the onus is on you to be proactive about setting up your own support network. 

Don’t underestimate the impact a catch-up with another business owner can have on your own business.

While there are a lot of professional support services available to small business owners, your business peers can also be a great source of information, pragmatic advice and mentoring.

Small business peers have often ‘been there, done that’ and can relate to your situation by providing support based on their experiences and learnings.

It’s this personal experience of running a business that makes small business peer support distinct from the support of friends and family. They get the sense of responsibility and pressures associated with being at the helm of a business and usually peer support is free.

Tips for building a peer support network

Growing a peer support network is about getting out and meeting other small business owners. You need to be willing to ask questions and share your knowledge.

Peer support is reciprocal. It is exchanging knowledge and experience between you and learning from each other, so it’s important to identify people you can trust. This can take time, but it can bring valuable returns to your business when you find people you can connect with on a regular basis.

There are a number of places to get you started:

  • Join your local Business Chamber: Attend their social networking events and try to keep in contact with people you meet between events.
  • Engage in online peer support communities: These can be useful especially if you work in a rural or remote location nor have limited time. You can join the Ahead for Business forum a private, online social networking platform, made up of eligible small business owners. The purpose of this forum is to provide users with the opportunity to anonymously engage in shared experience and knowledge through the discussion of key topics that relate to small business ownership and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Join your industry or trade association: These associations are a great way to meet other business owners from your industry.
  • Attend business networking events: Find informal business networking events near you or attend more formal business events by heading to Eventbrite.
  • Create your own network: A potential idea is to invite other business owners from your industry to a gathering in your local area or create your own Meetup group.
  • Build friendships with ‘competitors’: Call and get to know other local business owners from your industry. You might be able to provide practical support to each other like exchanging work referrals when you have overflows or want to take holidays.

Mental health peer support 

If you are experiencing a period of mental ill-health, peer support from others with a lived experience of mental illness can be invaluable.

Peer support workers are sometimes available within mental health services, or you could join a support group in your local community. For more information, please speak with your GP.

This story is sponsored by Ahead for Business. 2020 was one of the most stressful years on record for business owners, their managers, employees and families. If you or someone close to you is experiencing challenging emotions, please visit The site contains practical strategies and tools to assist people to regulate their feelings, and also provides access to a range of mental health resources.

Ahead for Business is an initiative of Everymind and funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

If you are in need of support for your mental health, services are available 24/7:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

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