The Problem with Business Growth

by Rob Spiegel

All companies love growth. Growth is a primary goal of a business, just as growth is essential to kids and young plants. Not all growth is desired, however, and it certainly comes with its own disruptions.

But we don’t live in an orderly world. Life is chaotic. Your rose bush may be flowering in a gentle explosion of buds and blooms while a sizable patch of your grass dies. Same with business. You can struggle to grow for months, even years, and then suddenly growth comes with a surprising force that threatens to topple your small company.

I’ve experienced growth with a number of companies. It’s always exhilarating, and it’s difficult to plan. You push and push for more business, and when it comes, sometimes it seems too little, too late, while other times it’s difficult to manage. With many companies, accommodating growth is a matter of hiring new employees and promoting experienced employees into management. But if you own a home business, it’s not that easy.

Running a business from home is typically a lifestyle choice. There are some small companies that begin at home because of the low overhead costs. For those, growth is an opportunity to move out of the house and build an independent enterprise. But most home business owners really do want to stay at home. They like the idea of being a one-person shop.

I’m one of those business owners. I like my work – writing, with a smidgeon of teaching to break up the day. I built my small client group over many years, and things have been stable for some time. As new clients come in, I work a little harder, a little later, and I ease back on my effort to bring in new clients.



In the past couple years, I’ve been bobbing up and down at the top of the full mark. I quit looking for new work altogether and managed my time carefully so I wouldn’t fall too far behind. I still had plenty of time with my kids, which was one of the reasons I wanted to work from home in the first place.

Lately, though, a little growth as started to rock my tidy little world. Now I get to practice what I’ve long preached about this single professional with clients. You churn out the bad clients to make room for better clients. I’ve always managed this easily enough, as there have always been a few clients I’m ready to ditch – the high maintenance, low return ones. Do this over a number of years, and you’ll create a nice group of good, steady clients.

My latest opportunity came at a time when all my clients were just dandy. My worst client is still a dream who pays well and pays on time. Yet the new opportunity is too good to leave behind. The new client is substantial and fits well into my existing work.

But something has to give. I considered hiring someone. James Michener hired graduate students to do his research. But the work I do requires that I stay close to the source material. I can’t outsource it and still stay sufficiently in the loop to deliver quality work. So I had to pick a very good client and say, “Get lost.”

Everything’s a risk. The new client could turn out to be a nightmare or disappear without warning. But staying with my current client mix is also a risk. Without careful maintenance, each of my clients will eventually leave. One of the principles of physics applies here: entropy increases. Without care, everything will dissent into chaos. Without getting too metaphysical, it’s natural to work toward improving my client mix, even if I don’t want to grow larger. And the more I think about it, the more I really don’t like the client I’m about to kiss off.

Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at robspiegel@comcast.net

 
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