Can you grow without growing big? Entrepreneurial definitions of success are not one-size-fits-all, contrary to popular belief. Pick up any business magazine and note headlines touting the “grow big” philosophy. The popular business model is the startup with a lot of debt, creative office space with foosball tables, and a bunch of recent graduates running around in hoodies.
The more typical small business operates a single location, with the owner at the helm. Growth is bootstrapped using credit cards, business lines of credit and a lot of hustle at payroll time. There may be recent grads running around in hoodies, but they’re probably not playing foosball on company time.
What does the ‘right’ size business look like, and can growth be structured for entrepreneurs who don’t want 2 or 48 or 906 locations in 10 years?
The typical entrepreneur might not WANT the hassle of growth. What they might want, really, is profitability; more money in their business (to pay employees more, take home more pay themselves), they might want a more balanced life (more staff to lighten their personal burden so they can take time off, for instance.) They might want to work more normal hours – and be home for dinner with their family. All of this is growth, but its smart, balanced growth. And it’s rarely taught in a master class online. It doesn’t sell books. It doesn’t make for a sexy headline on a social media ad.
Our staff began working on a marketing worksheet to help clients understand how to plan for and grow their businesses in a smart, strategic way via a modest growth plan. We mapped out a way to slowly scale a business based on the owner’s revenue goals, and pegged that to specific marketing activities.
Many entrepreneurial programs are designed to scale businesses, globally, at a rapid rate, largely to fuel the return on investment for the venture capitalists who funded them. Not necessarily what the business founder could do or even might want to do. In our work with new emerging market startups, we have more stable, measureable goals such as regional growth and profitability, first.
Most business owners started their business because they had a good idea. They wanted to work with a specific kind of customer and they wanted to work IN their business, not on it. But of course, they have to work ON it, too (we talk about that all the time!) So my job is to help them work ON their business by providing training, tools and technology to let them have the business that they want, the role that they want in it and make it fun again.
I recently had dinner with a friend, for whom I designed his first business brand, 15 years ago. He said he’d decided he would retire within a year and was easing his clients out of his business in that time. Over the course of the conversation, he said he’d loved working from home. He had a special chair in his office for his kids to sit in to tell him about their days at school. He went for bike rides at lunch. I was astounded. Here was a guy who, by all definitions of success owned a very small business. But he was superbly happy about the years he was home for his kids when they came home from school (they’re all grown now.) He was delighted to have run a small business from home for fifteen years. I wanted what he had, and clearly, I was doing it all wrong!
In the process of my own business growth journey over the decades, I lost the fun of my own business. It felt like jail, with the door open. I was handcuffed to a building I owned, to a twice-monthly payroll I had to meet and to a role that I found stifling. So I changed it. You can, too.
In our marketing coaching business, we talk with many clients, who, on the outside, (on social media,) they are the picture of success, but they really want to be home with their families for dinner, or spend more time with their grandchildren. That they want to work less hours for more success. Helping them redefine success by teaching them HOW to market their businesses in a smart, efficient way is our job. But we also have to be respectful that we don’t help them grow too big, too fast. Because that isn’t what they want.
The size business that works best for YOU is the one that YOU define. You don’t have to get bigger. You should be more profitable, you should get to work fewer hours to do it.
Work with great technology, find efficiencies in working on your business that mean that you can work fewer hours. Learn how to maintain (and yes, grow) your business. But keeping in mind that you want more than just growth, you want a happy business life.