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When Amy Kardel and her husband, Peter, started their IT services small business, Clever Ducks, she spent years looking for people who were running the same type of company to share best practices. That way, she reasoned, they didn't have to feel as though they were reinventing the wheel.
Kardel met Arlin Sorensen, founder and CEO of HTG Peer Groups, a consulting, coaching and peer group organization, at the IT Nation partner conference. IT Nation is an annual event hosted by professional services automation (PSA) software firm ConnectWise. "I felt like I had finally found my people," she recalled. "He looked like my great uncle, a farmer from Nebraska who also always wears Carhartts. I liked him immediately."
Clever Ducks has been an HTG Peer Groups member for 10 years now. Kardel said she and her husband are "close friends and confidants with the other [business] owners in our group. It has given us validation, challenges and resources we could never have found on our own."
Most of all, she added, "it has enriched our lives by helping our peers. When you go through the school of hard knocks, which every business owner does, it would be a waste not to share those lessons learned with others. And when we need wise counsel, we have a circle of friends who know us well enough to really help us, too."
Kardel believes so much in the power of HTG Peer Groups, this year she began facilitating two groups at quarterly, face-to-face meetings.
HTG Peer Groups expands under acquisition
Channel partner executives will often cite peer groups as a key element to their business success. HTG Peer Groups is one of a handful of peer groups that channel firms have available to them, but it differentiates itself in a couple of ways. Not only does HTG help support a channel executive's business development, it also supports their personal development.
In January, HTG was acquired by ConnectWise, setting the stage for HTG's increased visibility and reach within the channel.
Arnie Bellini, CEO of ConnectWise, said the acquisition was a logical move to expand its consulting services and provide partners with even more resources.
"When we combined forces with HTG, we formalized a longtime strategic relationship between our two companies," he said. "As the integration of HTG into ConnectWise moves forward, we'll be creating new programs and making it easier for HTG Peer Groups members to take advantage of the synergies this acquisition has created."
Being an HTG Peer Groups member
HTG was founded in 2000. Members' firms on average have 20 employees and $3.9 million in annual revenue, according to Sorensen, vice president of HTG Peer Groups at ConnectWise. About 68% of that revenue comes from services and the other 32% is in products or SKU-ed items, he said. Their customers are small companies in the 10- to 200-employee range. "We're a small business serving small businesses," he said.
The cost for belonging to the face-to-face group is $5,250 a year. There is also an online version that costs $100 per month.
HTG offers its approximately 500-member companies quarterly two-day meetings, Sorensen said. Members can also utilize the HTG Hub online portal whenever challenges come up, he added.
There are different peer groups that members can join depending on organizational role, including groups for IT services small business owners, as well as executives responsible for sales and services. Members can seek advice by posting questions to the entire HTG community or to their own peer group.
For example, "today I saw a post asking a question about a security situation and [the person] was looking for feedback from other members on whether they had experienced the same thing with a particular security product," Sorensen said. "Someone else asked about best practices for job descriptions for a service manager since they were hiring for that."
One of the common topics is IT vendors and the different products they offer, he said. Right now, there is a lot of dialogue around cloud vendors, he added, "because there's not a lot of folks familiar with cloud vendors, so they'll ask if anyone's done business with one or used a particular product or vendor and get feedback from the group."
"Each quarter, you have 12 businesses sharing, which means you get three years of business wisdom in two days," Kardel observed. "That's accelerated learning for everyone in the room -- and better than any business school case study can be because it is so relevant, real and timely."
HTG is expanding its offerings "to go deeper inside companies to help more of their teams to deliver what's expected," Sorensen said. This includes human resources, finance, operations and marketing departments -- all necessary components for business success, he said. "The beauty of the ConnectWise acquisition is we have access to people in other areas to leverage as we build out our offerings, and the ability to bring together the two organizations."
HTG coaching services
HTG has a consulting team that offers coaching to its peer groups. The consultants are the group's facilitators, Sorensen said. "We also do a lot of on-site consulting and coaching for companies." HTG developed a software platform called StratOp, "a strategic planning tool we use to help companies lay out the course of what they want to accomplish, and it helps them prioritize the things they need to do to be successful,'' he explained.
The StratOp software, which covers all the financial and operational parts of a business, is installed on site at a member company. HTG team members will spend three days on site teaching employees how to use it. After that, HTG consults and coaches employees to work with the system internally so they can be successful, Sorensen said. Once or twice a year, HTG officials will go back on site and help the company reevaluate where they are and do any necessary updates to their business plan.
One-quarter of HTG's membership uses StratOp or another tool, he said. "When they come to their peer group meeting every quarter, they get measured on how they're executing their strategy, so they're not just chasing some shiny new object that's not part of the plan," Sorensen said. "It helps keep them accountable. The more clarity the group has ... the better."
Additionally, HTG offers individualized coaching through a prescheduled video call, said Connie Arentson, member services manager at HTG. "This provides a safe environment for the client to explore areas where they are looking for growth, both personal and professional, and to add perspective so that they are moving in the right direction," she said.
A focus on legacy planning
HTG's approach to peer groups begins with planning, Sorensen said. Members are asked to develop a legacy plan for what they want to accomplish with their business and their lives. Then there are three annual plans formulated from the legacy plan: a business plan; a life plan for what they need to do in their personal lives; and a leadership plan to grow both themselves and the people around them, he said.
Connie Arentsonmember services manager of HTG Peer Groups, ConnectWise
The plans are provided to the 10 to 12 people in a member's trusted peer group. "That becomes the foundation for what they're trying to accomplish," he said. "The facilitator can then challenge things that aren't in alignment."
That's one of the key elements of a successful peer group, Sorensen said. "The goal is to help them take their company to the next level."
Almost all facilitators are former managed services providers or IT professionals. "We've assembled a team of folks who are industry veterans and have retired or left their profession" and are able to provide a lot of perspective and guidance, he said.
One of the biggest issues that come up in the group is finding a work-life balance in the IT space, he said. "People are working way too many hours and they get caught up in not taking care of what's important at home."
HTG's roots in Christian faith
HTG was formed using a Christian world view, Arentson said. Each member receives a book called The Go-Giver when they join that "most closely aligns with the culture that Arlin Sorensen sought for these peer groups," she explained. "It is understanding the blessing that comes from a giving mindset, and that if you give, you will also receive." Members are asked to read the book prior to their orientation with HTG.
HTG has offered Christianity-based workshops as well in keeping with its mission to help members balance their businesses and their lives, she said.
"If life is in pieces, the business will suffer," Arentson said. "We want to help the whole person, and HTGers will tell you that we dig into both life and business challenges to help people move forward or ignite transformation in their lives."