What If I Don’t Want To “Scale” My Business?
Everyone wants to grow their business over time, but not everyone necessarily wants to scale their business.
“Scaling” is a buzzword you hear all the time in startup circles (and the media). They talk about it as if it’s the ultimate goal — the thing you should do, not simply something you could do.
Well, I’m here to tell you: You have options.
Growing vs. scaling.
Before we go any further, let’s clarify the difference between growing and scaling.
- Growing means you’re adding revenue at the same rate that you’re adding resources.
- Scaling means you’re adding revenue at an exponential rate while only adding resources at an incremental rate.
Imagine your business is like Room & Board, but instead of furniture, you sell magic carpets. Like Room & Board, your magic carpets are delivered by truck to the customer’s door.
Growing requires adding more store locations, which involves all of the related expenses (rent, staffing, store inventory, etc.). That’s growth — you’re adding revenue at the same rate you’re adding resources.
But what if you get your hands on a new technology that allows you to teleport every magic carpet order directly into the customer’s home? You would be able to sell magic carpets to virtually anyone, anywhere, without needing trucks, drivers or distribution centers. That’s scaling — you’re able to grow exponentially.
Software companies are usually a good real life example of scalability. Once the expensive development phase is complete, the company can sell endless copies with very little incremental cost.
YOU get to decide.
It’s up to you whether you want to grow or scale. You get to define what success means for you.
Perhaps you want to build a business that supports a particular lifestyle. Or one where you can remain hands-on with the work you love doing. Maybe you only want to grow your business up to a certain point.
No matter what you decide, it’s perfectly valid and entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong answer.
Why might a business prefer to stay small?
Business for business, most people don’t want to scale at all. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with scaling your business. And if you want to grow big, then by all means do — I’m here to support you and help you make that happen.
But it’s okay to stay small if you like, too. (Small has its perks.)
As the person in charge, you get to keep your business as small as you’d like to fit your own personal, lifestyle and career goals. So don’t let anybody tell you anything different.
There are a host of good reasons you may not want to grow your business beyond a certain point. Among them:
1. You don’t want to manage other people.
The more you grow your business, the more people you have to take on — and they need a consistent, effective, available boss. It doesn’t take long before all the “management stuff” forces you out of the work you actually enjoy.
Managing other people also ties you down to a more fixed schedule. Doing things like taking vacation, becoming a digital nomad or working remotely in Tahiti can become a lot harder to do.
2. Continued growth = more stress.
At a certain point, every entrepreneur has to make a choice, intentionally or not: Keep things as they are or hire people to continue growing.
I’ll be totally honest here — I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s livelihoods. That would mean more demands on my time and divided attention…. which inevitably leads to more pressure and more stress.
Staying small affords me the luxury of being responsible only for myself. This in turn allows me more control over where I focus my energy and — bonus! — who I work with and what projects I take on.
3. You love the work you do.
Whether your business involves you working with clients one-on-one or making artisanal bread, you probably don’t want to stop doing it — and neither do your clients or customers.
In fact, one of the reasons people are coming to you (aside from your talent) is probably because you clearly love what you do!
In many cases, scaling takes away that opportunity to be hands-on — whether it’s with clients or bread. I don’t know about you, but I love the work that I do with clients… and I don’t want to stop doing it.
4. You love learning new things.
One of the joys of working on new projects is the excitement of learning something new, whether it’s new information, new skills or new perspectives.
This one’s especially resonant for me. Every client project is unique, and I love learning new things and diving deep to really understand them. Just as important to me is what I learn from my clients personally while working closely with them.
If I were managing other people, I wouldn’t be able to keep doing that, which would take all the fun out of having my own business. We all know that running a business is a lot of work, but trading the fun parts for the financial gains of scaling just isn’t worth it.
5. You want to set your own hours.
For many business owners, this is the one that matters most. So many people choose to start and grow their business according to the needs and wants of their lifestyle.
Maybe you’re a parent and want the flexibility to drop off and pick up your kids from school, attend performances and take part in teacher meetings. I know I did. Staying small let me keep a flexible schedule for all of that. When my children were little, I would work during their nap times, at night and on weekends so I could be more available for them.
Perhaps you’re a caregiver or supporting a partner and need flexibility in the hours — and days — you’re available to work.
Or maybe you want to set your hours just “because.” You want to choose when you work 24/7 and when you don’t. We all have our rhythms and routines, and staying small means that you can preserve that.
Staying small doesn’t have to be a permanent choice.
Lots of people choose not to grow past a certain point right now — but it’s a decision that can change as their personal lives evolve.
It’s not uncommon for someone to keep their business small while they’re raising children, supporting a partner or caregiving, and to do that for years or even decades. Then, when they no longer have those obligations, they shift back into growth mode or, in some cases, even decide to scale.
A colleague of mine kept her consulting business very small — just her — for years while she raised a family. When her children entered high school, she was able to devote extra time to client work and grow her business a little bit more. She also began working with me, developing a growth plan for when her children went off to college. In the years after they left the nest, she grew her business significantly by hiring staff, expanding her network and adding new services.
Life evolves over time, and sometimes your growth plans evolve alongside them.
Personally, I love keeping my business a small one.
I’ve been in this field for more than 20 years, and throughout that time I’ve wanted to keep my business on the smaller end — for each and every one of the reasons above.
I’ve had the opportunity to grow my business beyond just myself — and when offers have been made for me to scale the type of work I do, I haven’t even hesitated to decline.
Why? Because I love the benefits. It’s less stressful, my schedule is my own and I consistently get to focus on the client work that I love and find so rewarding.
Maybe you feel the same way about your business, and despite all of the buzz around scaling, you don’t want to grow past a certain point.
If that’s the case, you have my full permission.
Whichever path you choose — to scale, to grow or to grow “just enough” — you can feel good that you’re choosing the one that’s right for you.
And if you want or need help working out what your next steps are for your chosen path, I’m just a phone call away.
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