Seven reasons to keep your business small and scrappy

“Go big, or go home.”

Are you ready to adopt that ubiquitous phrase as your mantra for the new year? After all, small businesses are taught that we should scale, replicate, partner, and grow into something so much bigger.

It’s thrilling to dream about how you’re going to be the next big thing. You’ll ring the bell on Wall Street when your freshly minted stock surges on the opening day of trading, become a household word, and create a legacy that outlives us all.

If you’re the next Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Mark Zuckerberg, then going big is your destiny. But after working with hundreds of new companies over the course of my career, I have to let you in on a little secret: the odds of becoming the next big thing aren’t in your favor. Some of your companies will be gobbled up for a fraction of what you thought they were worth, and others will just shut the doors with hardly anyone noticing.

But what if you just want to live in the moment and savor the simplicity of a streamlined operation, focusing on net profits rather than gross revenue? Does it mean you’ve failed?

Quite the contrary, especially when you check out the Hartford’s annual Small Business Success Study. Turns out that most small business owners are a conservative bunch, with 55 percent of respondents saying their primary goal is to maintain their current size. The number whose main goal is growing the business has decreased from 41 percent to a relatively paltry 33 percent.

You might argue that these companies are hardly the next unicorns. The survey includes a lot of restaurants, dry cleaners, and construction companies, but they have important lessons to teach all of us about leading profitable and sustainable businesses. Moreover, they’re feeling good about their companies, with 73 percent of respondents reporting that their business is operating successfully. They’re not going for broke and then winding up back working for the man. Instead, they are building long-term independence.

So rather than aim for the sky, consider the many benefits of being small and scrappy. Enjoy the business, financial, and lifestyle advantages of growing organically. Here’s a few of the tangible benefits you’ll discover.

You’ll be fast and nimble. You can damn the bureaucracy and politics that bog down most big organizations. Instead, you can be like a speedboat that runs circles around a battleship.

You’ll be in demand. When you’re a big beast, there can never be enough business. When you’re smaller, you’re in demand and customers want you more.

You’ll be responsible. You can follow your own moral compass about doing the right thing and follow ethical business practices. When you don’t need to feed an army of staffers, you can just say no to irksome people offering lousy deals.

You’ll be large. Ironically, when you keep things small, you can afford to be large. Rather than being part of a corporate behemoth that cuts costs to the bone, you can be generous to your staff and give back to the larger community.

You’ll do more quality work. Rather than just cranking it out, you’ll have the chance to take pride in what you do.

You’ll be more in control. Face it, you’re a bit of a control freak. If you’re a founder and try too hard to get too big, you might be haunted by the lyrics from this song from the ‘80s band 38 Special: “You’re gonna lose it, you’re gonna lose control…. And usually it’s too late when you realize what you had.”

You’ll have more fun. And I mean at the office and everywhere else. If you want to take the day off and make your own tracks on fresh powder snow, you can get away with it.

You’ll be more profitable. Isn’t that what the business comes down to? To hammer home the point, let me share a lesson I learned long ago from my first business. At my first PR firm, I was striving to reach $2 million in annual revenue. It was December of 2001, the market had already started tanking, and I was only about $100,000 away from the goal. My genius accountant, Steve Frushtick, said he’d make me an offer: “I’ll write you a check right now for 100k, then you’ll turn around and write me a check for 100k. Are you better off? Of course not!”

Like a leader asking the electorate during an election year, will you be better off being big? In 2016, you should run the company you want rather than the one people say you should want.

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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