Small Business Owners Rise Through Difficult Times With Alternative Learning

By Christiana Henry

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

This article was first featured in The Daily Herald.

Next Level Northwest has helped a number of small-to-mid-size businesses in northwest Chicagoland create jobs, expand facilities and grow revenue through entrepreneurial education. A nonprofit dedicated to business acceleration, NLNW supports local businesses through collaborative and innovative initiatives that have been designed to coach business leaders and grow the economy.

But over the last several months of the pandemic, helping businesses achieve new heights has presented a new type of challenge -- and new ways of learning. One of the most recent program successes has been with Miller Industrial, a maintenance, repair and operations product supplier owned by Peter Jackson. Jackson maintained a 100% employee retention rate during some of the hardest months to face local businesses in recent times, thanks to sessions that focused on how to structure his business growth initiatives.

A Business Education Alternative With On-The-Job Training

NLNW's Business Acceleration program gives business owners the opportunity to get free, on-the-job coaching while discovering new ways to grow their operations. It's not an MBA, but it offers business owners a more life-based approach to developing lasting business plans.

Former program graduate Min Bowler, co-founder and president at Lakeshore Title, has praised the program as being a phenomenal experience. According to her, having a marketing plan and professional image that reflects your service offering is key -- in or out of a pandemic.

"We've always been a group of dedicated professionals and one of the top agencies in the state, and now our image in the industry is finally reflective of that fact," Bowler said in a recent success story. "Lakeshore Title has hired four new people and we're looking to hire a fifth. We've increased our sales revenue by 120%, and our first-half sales revenue is 80% of everything we made in all of 2019."

Finding Measurable Success

The NLNW model was designed to work for all types of industries. It's designed to help business owners refocus on their business model, with help from experts who have similar or related experiences.

After completing the program, Country Style Donuts created two new jobs and projected a 23% growth in revenue. According to the business' founder, Manan Joshi, setting up a new business model with his coach was key.

"It was a different point of view versus me constantly making doughnuts," Joshi said of working with his coach, Sybil Ege, a professional business coach and the CEO and co-founder of The Business of Food. "We looked at the top three things that I wanted to work on. One was marketing, one was procedures and the third one was growing sales. It was a phenomenal experience, especially with Sybil's expertise."

NLNW president Ray Rummel added, "The NLNW Business Acceleration Program is a unique approach to education because it addresses the real needs of business owners, giving them advice not just from a team of economic advisers who are working to coach them through different challenges, but also from professionals with experience in their industry through shared experiences."

Creating New Growth Paths With Alternative Education

Even with the setbacks of the pandemic, Joshi feels confident about the work he was able to achieve under NLNW's guidance. "As things get back to normal, we still plan on hiring and including more team members in this new process," Joshi said.

Examples like these prove that traditional education opportunities aren't for everyone -- especially business owners that already have several years of experience. And while making time to study and explore a different approach to business models may take time and work, for a lot of businesses, establishing a stronger business plan can lead to much quicker growth.

About Next Level Northwest:

NLNW is a Business Accelerator Program, which provides free coaching and ongoing development support to qualified businesses that need a boost to get to the next level. Do you qualify for support? If your business is located in the participating communities, has two or more employees, revenues of $200,000, and has been in business for three or more years, you may be eligible for this program.

Click here to apply:

Are you ready for growth?


Christiana Henry

Christiana Henry

Account Director

As an account manager, I’m successful when my clients are successful. I’m a proven digital marketing leader and client-savvy brand builder who loves building relationships with clients to grow their businesses. My main focus is creating successful multi-channel marketing strategies and campaigns. I have both big and boutique agency experience. And with an early background in writing and editing, I always keep an eye on the details.