Most roofing contractors tell me they want to spend more time working on their business and less time down in the weeds working in it. They also say they really don’t know how to make that happen.
You say it would be nice to not have to always figure out everything for yourself, that you feel like you’re constantly having to, “Reinvent the wheel.” You’ve also discovered that inventing wheels is not so easy!
What I also see and what contractors almost never tell me is that, after stripping away the effects of inflation and the influences of whatever the economy might be doing at the moment, they’re not actually growing. They don’t want to admit it, but they’re stuck. Would you like a solution for that?
There’s a solutions for all of these (and more).
You need a peer group. A peer group is composed of companies that are of similar size and focus that come together a few times a year to spend a couple days working on their businesses jointly. They share best practices, brainstorm solutions to common problems and help each other. More on that in a bit.
Peer groups can be self-organized, meaning you find people in the industry you know, like and trust. There are also facilitated peer groups where a company finds appropriate members and then organizes and facilitates the meetings for a fee. Self-organized groups tend to be fairly small with three or four members. They have the advantage of intimacy and time spent in meetings and can include things that are more “personal.” A facilitated group will usually be larger — between eight and 12 members. This can be a big advantage when working on issues, because there are more people involved and therefore more diversity. Diversity of ideas can be a powerful tool, especially when working on problems that none of you have solved. A good example of this is finding quality talent in our current economy. The more ideas, the better. While larger groups tend to be more focused on the specific work-related topics, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t develop really significant friendships.
There are also two types of facilitated peer groups. There are some really terrific national organizations that facilitate peer groups. The best known are Vistage (www.vistage.com) and EO or the Entrepreneurs Organization (www.eonetwork.org). Both are structured around bringing local businesses together in a peer group setting, but because members must be non-competing you may be sitting in a group with your local auto dealer, or somebody with a local chain of pizzerias, but no other contractors just like you. The advantage of this can be that they all bring perspectives to a conversation that are quite different than yours. The disadvantage is they really don’t understand your business. The second type of facilitated peer group is industry specific. If you’re a commercial roofing contractor, everybody in the group will be a commercial roofer of similar size. A group like this has terrific advantages. Everybody in the room will understand your problems in a very personal way. Most of them will share exactly the same issues. If you want to upgrade your estimating software, somebody in the group will probably already be using what you’re considering. They can give you the pros and cons that they discovered. You can share industry specific best practices on safety, insurance, compensation, exit planning, equipment, manufacturer’s discounts, new products and all of it should be applicable to you. No more “reinventing wheels.” If somebody stumbles on a unique solution that’s helping them hire talent, they’ll share it with everybody. If somebody has discovered a great marketing solution, they share it. There’s one really big advantage that a facilitated group has over one that’s self-organized — they have a facilitator!
A professional facilitator will usually be a trained coach and, in the case of an industry-specific group, will likely have expertise in your industry. They’ll be responsible for the mundane aspects of running the group: scheduling meetings, selecting locations and coordinating all pre meeting paperwork. Those in self-organized groups will understand that these are time consuming chores. That person also facilitates the meetings. They’ll make sure that they run on time, focus them so conversations don’t get too far into the weeds, keep egos in check, and insure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute.
They’ll also, on occasion, contribute. If you’re in an industry-specific group and they have industry knowledge, they’ll likely have a larger pool of resources to draw from. That can be a big plus. Sometimes in meetings contractors will dance around the real issue. For instance, a contractor might complain about poor performance by his or her team when the real issue is that he or she is unwilling to hold them accountable. A trained coach will sniff out something like that, usually pretty quickly, and will then find a way to address it. By focusing attention on the real issue, contractors can make progress and get “unstuck.”
A few years ago Gallup did a survey of businesses in facilitated peer groups. What they found is that those businesses in such groups grew at three times the rate of those businesses not in such groups. What they didn’t say is that we believe the growth was more stress free and sustainable, less subject to the whims of the economy.
Peer groups work and will “supercharge” your business.