In nearly every business book I read and from the lips of nearly every business guru I listen to is the premise that you have to grow your business. Grow, grow, grow — think big — and you’ll feel successful. More products, more services, more revenue — and you’ll be happy.
Bigger is better, right?
Here’s a secret that I’m going to start shouting from the rooftops: there’s no shame in declaring that you want to keep your business small. This push for growing our business to the next level (whatever that means) might not be the right thing for many of us.
I’m not talking about people who remain small because they’re scared, or because they don’t have the skills or financing to grow big. I’m talking about the people who choose to keep their business small because, after careful analysis, it’s what they really want. There’s an unspoken taboo about saying, “I want my business to remain small,” and I want to halt that taboo.
In his book The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber says that if you elect to stay small and work in your business (instead of working “on” your business by creating a system where someone can run your business for you), you have a job, not a business. I don’t understand his logic and I can’t see where there’s something inherently wrong with wanting to stay small and do the work yourself. Most self-employed people start their own businesses because they love what they do.
Gerber’s principle is that a business should be created to get more out of life. Certainly the work you do should allow you to have the lifestyle you want. But I didn’t start a business just to make heaps of money; I could get a corporate executive job and do that. I started a business to provide the services and products I love, that gives me personal fulfillment and creative challenge. And the freedom…let’s not forget about the freedom that self-employment gives us.
If you love the work you do, there is nothing wrong with wanting to continue to be the technician, as well as take on the role of manager and entrepreneur. You’ve got to do all three, so don’t try to avoid it. But if you’re willing to take on all three roles, you can find much meaning and satisfaction in running your own business.
There is a new way of looking at small business that challenges the notion that all growth is desirable. In Bo Burlingham’s book, Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big, he talks about small business owners who had a choice to grow their business to majestic proportions and chose instead to remain small, to perfect their business to great heights without selling their soul to the “you must grow” mantra.
There are those business owners to elect to stay small, and create a great business. I didn’t create a business in order to create a franchise-able model of it where someone else did the work. I created a business to be great at what I do, offering the best service and products possible. For me, the only way to do this is to remain small, boutique, and connected intimately with my customers. This allows me to listen to their needs and create solutions quickly. It gives me a kind of independence and joy that I never found in corporate life.
Seth Godin says, “Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model. Small means you can tell the truth on your blog. Small means that you will outsource the boring, low-impact stuff like manufacturing and shipping and billing and packing to others, while you keep the power because you invent the remarkable.”
In fact, Seth wrote a book called Small Is The New Big. Maybe I’m on to something here.
Loving What You Do
While your business can be a means to an end (a lifestyle you want, or maybe to send your kids to college), why can’t your business also be enjoyable in and of itself?
If you love gardening, you don’t just work “on” your garden plan, you work “in” the garden every chance you get. You don’t try to figure out ways to delegate all the work just so you can sit back and get the rewards of a pretty garden. Instead you want to get your fingers in the dirt and do it yourself because the very act of working in the garden is enjoyable to you. And sometimes that means you have a smaller garden so that you can find joy and fulfillment in doing it all yourself.
Many self-employed people don’t want to be an absentee owner. I don’t want to lose touch with my customers or the reason I do this work. I don’t want to manage employees; instead, I’d rather work with partners who love what they do. I don’t want to create a big business model that any low-skilled employee can implement just for some extra cash.
If you want to be the CEO of a big company with lots of people working for you — go for it. But for me, I want to get my hands dirty every day. I’d rather stay focused and build a business that’s small and great.