• John Matthews

Is it OK if my small business stays... small?

Think of how your business is going to change the world. Imagine the ways you can use what you do to produce something no one else could ever make. In the past decade or so, we've seen a lot of startup culture bleed over into the small business world, and the result is a sea of advice telling the self-employed to put on a show for investors who aren't there. And although starting a small business doesn't have to mean re-weaving the fabric of reality, and success in the real world is not measured in how many Amazons you can launch, you'd never know that from reading the motivational literature.

Look, there's nothing wrong with running a house painting business that's just you and your niece doing local jobs for 30 years. Stability isn't death, and a business that isn't growing isn't necessarily dying, either. There's nothing wrong with lofty goals and ambitious plans, but there are niches available for small business - and, yes, even startups - to operate at a reasonable pace, to generate a reasonable profit, and to succeed without enshrining growth as the only guiding principle of the business. Here are a few examples.

  • Gumroad is a space for creators to sell digital goods like illustrations, founded in 2012 and intended from the beginning to be a venture capital unicorn. Wired put out a great piece recently describing their founder's realization that instead of an investment phenomenon, he'd accidentally created a sustainable and necessary service that's growing (slowly!) into its own corner of the internet.

  • Japan is home to most of the world's oldest businesses, and there have been some great articles recently in the BBC, the Atlantic, Business Insider, and others, exploring the phenomenon. The thing that really stands out to me from reading these articles is a closing quote from the owner of one ancient business, via the BBC: “My goal is not to make the company bigger or expand sales or go worldwide. What’s most important is to just continue this [work].”

  • Dan Price of Gravity Payments made news in 2015 when he raised the company's minimum salary to $70,000 and opted out of the millionaire lifestyle. Follow-up articles from 2017 and from just this past week have highlighted the value of that decision. The very short version is that Dan and his employees are measurably happier and feel demonstrably more secure, and if that doesn't motivate you, the company is growing faster now than it was before the change - although, again, not unreasonably so.

Honestly, there's nothing wrong with trying to found the next AirBnB. It's admirable to have goals that excite you and that engage other people with their audacity. But there's a lot of literature about startups, small business, and entrepreneurship in general that focuses on helping you change the world. I think it's important to remind everyone else that there's room for any businesses to prioritize consistency and excellence instead of just ambition and scale.

If you want to automate your small business sustainably so you can focus on the work you love, we can help. Get in touch for a free consultation!

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