Sometimes you have to say goodbye to the things you know and HELLOOO to the things you don’t!”
Boon Hoggenbeck (Steve McQueen) in the movie “The Reivers,” 1969

Do you, like the hamster on the wheel, just keep chugging along, making that wheel squeak but never getting it out of the cage itself?

Keep reading and I’ll give you a powerful clue to getting off the wheel and climbing out of that cage. But first you have to get out of yourself.

Yes, you have to get beyond what your old self knows. That’s because one of the biggest mistakes you can make in business is strictly relying on your own experiences and what you know (or think you know) to guide your career success. Eventually, you’re going to have to rely on others to help you grow.

I’m referring to networking, one of the most powerful and inexpensive company builders available to you.

Networking, most simply explained, is the establishment of mutually beneficial relationships with others — in most cases individuals outside of your immediate circle of family and friends. Networking takes many forms. You can network with colleagues within the industry. Or you can develop and nurture relationships with business professionals outside of your particular industry. You can network to gain valuable knowledge. And you can network to develop prospects and connections that lead to sales that grow your business.

Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes many of us make is viewing networking too narrowly. We tend to seek relationships and associate with people with backgrounds, experiences and outlooks very much like our own. Why limit what we can learn to essentially expanding upon what we already know?

Networking for Education

One of the biggest trends in the landscape industry the past decade has been the development of “peer groups” administered by an experienced industry business consultant. These networking vehicles typically consist of the owners or senior managers of five or six noncompeting landscape companies of similar size.

The consultant typically serves as the organizer and facilitator for the peer groups. This individual, cooperating with members, establishes ground rules for the meetings, which usually take place in-person about twice a year. Many meetings are kicked off with a nice dinner, a friendly and informal get-together. Then, over the course of the next day, but usually two, the “networkers” share experiences and information (oftentimes sensitive financial information), perhaps tour a local facility or site, and sometimes play golf or share some other fun experience together.

Many landscape business owners improve their operations because of the knowledge they learn from others in these peer groups. But education is just one of many benefits that networking offers.

Networking for Prospecting

Ken Thomas, co-founder of Envisor Consulting, urges not to overlook the valuable contacts you can establish beyond the circle of your landscape friends. Thomas also views networking as a key component in prospecting for new business ­— the crucial first step in filling your company’s sales pipeline.

Thomas can talk that talk because he walked that walk, having founded and grown a $5 million company he sold to LandCare in 1998. Then he helped build Scapes, a second Atlanta-area power that he sold to ValleyCrest in 2008. More than 300 landscape pros (myself included) learned a lot about networking from Thomas at the 2016 GIE+EXPO.

Do you know about the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Property Management Association or any other groups of property management decision-makers allied to the commercial landscape maintenance in your market? You should.

In fact, if you want to be a “player” in that market, seriously consider becoming an active participant in at least one such organization, says Thomas.

Get on a committee and work with and get to know other people on the committee, urges Thomas. As you develop relationships within the group, share what you know. How about offering a lunch-and-learn “Landscape 101” presentation for the members or a barbecue featuring a demonstration of great container floral arrangements. Perhaps you can even sponsor an event, such as a charity golf tournament or other fundraiser, in tandem with the organization. To receive, you also must give, he says.

Building Your Own Circle of Help

Relatedly, have you considered forming relationships with allied industries serving the commercial property in your market — with movers and shakers in construction, HVAC, janitorial, real estate and banking, to name a few? “Choose your partners wisely. They must be well respected,” cautions Thomas.

Consider how valuable it would be for you to meet once a month over lunch in a relaxed atmosphere with a small circle of these knowledgeable people to talk about business, share referrals and perhaps even invite existing customers or prospects — folks each of you would like to know better.

None of us knows everything we need to know to get to where we want to be in terms of our personal and professional goals. When we admit this to ourselves and actively seek out other like-minded, friendly and generous people, then can we begin to make good things happen — not only for businesses but for ourselves, too.