As I write this column, it’s a bleak day here in Cleveland: gusting winds howl around darkened streets, rain and sleet pound the windows, and a dismally gray Erie rollercoasters over the breakwall, throwing gray-white spray onto the shore. Can you spell g-l-o-o-m?

In the midst of all this, the election is over and, depending upon your perspective, either all your dreams have come true, or, not. But the truth of the matter is that it’s still too soon to tell and the economy remains in the dumper. This past quarter has been very rough on small to mid-sized businesses throughout the country — stock exchanges world-wide yo-yo daily while energy costs remain uncertain. Here in the U.S., employment is weak, the banking industry remains in shambles, and the country is just starting to recover from this extremely polarizing election.

Yup, gloom is in the air. Right now small business owners really have NO idea what will happen to their taxes and many don’t know where to begin strategizing. HVACR contractors fit right into this scenario and it can be a very dark and lonely place to be.

So what can help take your mind off the negatives and re-direct you to more productive and brighter thoughts? I have two words for you: advisory board.

How many of you have an advisory board — a group of people who don’t compete with you but who you can confide in, can help you think outside the box, and keep you on the positive side of worry and fear? I have an editorial advisory board (see the sidebar to the left) and every day they bring information, humor, and much needed advice into my world.

You can and should have this, too. If you’re a member of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), you have access to potential advisory boards, via their MIX® (Management Information Exchange) Group program. To learn more, just go to http://www.acca.org/mix/ and get yourself set up.

If you’re NOT a member of ACCA, consider joining — the MIX® Group program alone is worth the entire cost of admission!

Each MIX Group is unique and operated entirely by its members. Usually they meet two to three times a year, rotating meetings between member locations.

In a typical meeting, members review company financials, policies, operating procedures, employee performance and related labor issues, advertising and marketing strategies, quality improvement, industry sensitive issues, and service operations — even the state of the economy. The host location gets a thorough and honest review from the other MIX Group members, and everyone shares current challenges and ideas for their colleagues’ feedback.

If you aren’t a member of ACCA, you still have choices for a similar type of advisory group through your local Lions, Rotary, city clubs, and so on.

There is even an independent national organization that I recently learned about called The Alternative Board that can help get you into a local peer advisory board.

According to their website, “The Alternative Board (TAB) was established in 1990 to facilitate monthly peer advisory boards comprised of local owners, presidents, and CEOs who run noncompeting businesses. Each month members gather to share experiences and solve challenges to grow to the next level.”

TAB claims to have more than 300 such boards operating across the U.S. and each one consists of up to 10 members. Meetings are guided by a TABCertified facilitator/coach. Board members also receive monthly one-on-one, hour-long, private coaching sessions from their facilitator/coach.

In a survey of it’s members, TAB found that 83% of respondents report getting practical and emotional support from their peers. The average TAB member has actually seen their business grow by 40% since joining the organization.

No matter how you put together an advisory board, the result can be no-holds-barred feedback and a sounding board for business best-practices.

Don’t let the doom and gloom of the economy and your marketplace get you down. You’re not alone. Get involved with a peer advisory board and weather the storm together.