I spent a few days last week in Atlanta today for Next Level University, the annual gathering of the members of the Next Level Network.
The owners (and top employees) from the group’s companies get together once a year for a development meeting. This year, Jim McCutcheon and the team at HighGrove Partners hosted.
Next Level formed about 10 years ago as a way for large regional companies to network and learn from each other. The members – firms like Mariani Landscape, Enviroscapes, Pacific Landscape Management and others – are all stand-outs in their own right.
But here’s why it makes sense for someone like Frank Mariani to spend a week away from his office right before the season starts and be a part of a group like Next Level.
- They can do more together than they can apart. Companies of the same size tend to go through the same problems, and the owners can learn a lot from each other. The decisions each owner has to make every day probably aren’t brand new to the industry.
- They have buying power. The don’t share budgets for mowers or trucks, but they can pool their money to pony up for a few high-end speakers, training for their managers and retaining Jenn Buck as an exclusive recruiter.
- They keep each other honest. After three days, the employees go home and the owners stick around to compare financials. They take a candid look at each others’ business and ask tough questions about operations and financials. Unlike a banker or board of advisers, these owners know the right questions to ask of another owner.
Many industry consultants offer peer groups – this one just happens to involve some of the industry’s best companies. But there’s no reason you can’t start your own, with other landscapers or other small business owners.
The point is that you seek out other smart people who are going through – or already have gone through – the same things you and your business are. Don’t reinvent the wheel – it’s already there. Just work on making it better.