4 Reasons Not to Grow Your Business

September 15, 2011

9:55 am

This post was written by guest blogger Adelaide Lancaster.

I know what you might be saying to yourselves, “Are you crazy? Not grow my business? Isn’t that the point? How else will I be successful?” I hear you, but before you dismiss the choice not to grow, take a minute to think about your goals.

We have a real addiction to size. We believe that bigger is better. Period. We impress each other by talking about numbers of employees, sales, market share and locations. Even before entrepreneurs start their business or prove their concept, they are encouraged to think about how big this venture can be. As consumers and small business enthusiasts, we, intrigued by fast-growing empires and the myth of the overnight success, egg the process on. “Launch in my city!” “Partner with them so you can reach more users.” “Offer this service too.”

On the other hand, there are a whole lot of entrepreneurs who believe that success isn’t about size; it’s about satisfaction.  And sometimes that satisfaction isn’t congruent with growth, or at least the “bigger is always better” variety of growth. Many entrepreneurs have found good reasons to reject this “growth for growth’s sake” mentality. Let’s look at 4 of the most common.

  1. BECOMING A SQUARE PEG. Growth may take you out of the role that you most enjoy. Let’s say you love the service aspect of your business or want to maximize the time you spend designing, selling, coding or innovating. Building a bigger machine may require you to sacrifice too much of your desired job in order to focus on the  business-building tasks.
  2. INCOME PLATEAU. Many entrepreneurs are surprised that bigger versions of their business don’t necessarily yield bigger incomes, because increased revenues are almost always accompanied by increased expenses. Some entrepreneurs decide that the net gain doesn’t justify the sacrifices required.
  3. UNSUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE. More moving pieces inevitably mean more to pay attention to and more responsibility. A business goal for lots of entrepreneurs is longevity. They want to enjoy running their business in 10 years. This kind of long-term sustainability can be undermined by growing too fast or too soon.
  4. UNDERMINES BUSINESS PURPOSE. Having as many customers as possible isn’t the goal for every business. For some businesses, a high-touch experience is what it’s all about. Others go for depth rather than breadth. Growth can force businesses to compromise on their core purpose, changing what they are known for and moving away from what the entrepreneur cares about.

None of this is to suggest that I am anti-growth or anti-big-“small business” – quite the opposite. I want to help entrepreneurs to pursue the best end for them, whatever that may be. I don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake, but I do believe in growing for the right reasons. So as you consider your own venture’s future, don’t blindly put size before everything else. Instead, define success by your own satisfaction, carefully considering your goals, business purpose, role, motivations, and desired outcomes. It is these elements that will help you decide the company size that is right for you.

Adelaide Lancaster is an entrepreneur, speaker and co-author of The Big Enough Company: Creating a business that works for you (Portfolio/Penguin). She is also the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a first-of-its-kind community, learning center and co-working space for women entrepreneurs in New York City. She is a contributor to The Huffington Post, and a columnist for The Daily Muse and The Hired Guns. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband and daughter. 

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