The Benefits of Keeping Your Business Small

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saddleroad
I was wrong. I thought the best path to free up my time to work on other projects was to grow my appliance business as big as I could. So I took on a partner and also hired my brother full time to help. The three of us sold a lot of appliances in past ten months. But my partner and I each had our own vision for what we wanted our lives to be like and neither of us felt we were making any progress. So we consciously uncoupled.

When I started out, my goal was to create the largest used appliance business in my city. So I took on an operating partner that was going to help make that happen. The problem was, for the business to scale we needed more delivery/pickup people, more vehicles, more storage, more repairman etc. As we would grow, the growth would bring about more problems. To solve the problems we would need to spend more money and need more help. Then we would need to sell even more appliances. The stress and pressure for the business to provide for everyone kept growing as well. So my partner and I went our separate ways and now it’s just my brother and I running the appliance business. More on that later.

Last summer I wrote a post about 6 reasons why you should expand your business. I still believe those are all good reasons, but experience has shown me that there are also good reasons to keep a business small.

Reasons I believe it can be good to keep a small business small

Less Stress

Stress can come from all sorts of places, but the bigger your business gets, the more stress it seems to bring. You have more pressure to make more money so everyone gets paid. You have the stress of managing the workers in your business There is the stress of dealing with the public that at times can be…challenging.

Less Risk

The business world is a crazy place right now. Technology and the internet is changing the business landscape pretty rapidly. It’s now possible for an entire industry to be disrupted very quickly. This adds a lot of risk to running a business, especially a large one. On top of that however, you have regular circumstances that are out of your control. A snowstorm that shuts down your business for two weeks is much easier to handle if it’s just you, or you and one other person. But it’s a different story the more people you bring aboard.

More Freedom

To work on other projects – One of the best ways to succeed in business is to try a lot of different ideas. Most won’t go very far. But you learn something each time and eventually you will start something that you really enjoy doing and that might become very profitable. I believe the more ideas you are able to try, the higher the likelihood of greater success. If growing your business ends up demanding most of your time, you better make sure you are content focusing on that particular business. Right now, I would rather have extra time to innovate and work on other projects.

To work less hours – If you are able to start a business that is low volume but high profit, you could essentially spend less hours working each week. Once a business starts adding partners and employees it becomes much more difficult to scale back the number of hours you work.

To spend time with family – Maybe you would like to coach your kid in soccer for a season for 2-3 months. Maybe you would like to take your kid to swim lessons a few times a week in the middle of the day. It’s an incredible thing to have the freedom to spend a lot of time with your family and children as they are growing up. Structuring your life and business with this freedom in place is something you will never regret in the long term.

Travelling – For those with the ability to travel, nothing will bring peace of mind like not having to worry about problems that may arise in your business while you are gone. It’s very subtle, but it can be difficult to fully relax when the business that you are so involved in is continuing to run in your absence. Why? Because when it really comes down to it, if there is a problem with something in the business, you are probably going to be contacted. This possibility kind of looms over you like a dark cloud trying to rain on your vacation. I know that most people in life aren’t able to avoid this. For those that have a small business with the ability to shut it down while they are gone, it can be a very nice thing.

It’s just my brother and me working the appliance business now, and it’s going well. The appliance business is a fantastic business for one or two people.

I’m back to writing more and spending more time helping other people start their own businesses. That’s what I’m really passionate about. In fact, I’m going to be spending a considerable amount of time this next year helping create more resources for those interested in starting their own business. Look for more on that soon!

What have your experiences been like? Have you ever wished that you had kept a business smaller, even if only so you could devote more time to another venture?

13 COMMENTS

  1. Ryan, Solid post..in construction related industry now and have been around construction industry and I’ve seen your scenario happen all the time.

    Masonry contractors hire more people, equipment then you go from $2K/week payroll to $8k/week payroll and you have to feed the monster.

    Maybe you can “sub out” some portions of your business where you can keep your business robust but take a little more pressure off you and your brother. Appreciate you writing this.

    • That’s so true. Then at the end of the day you are often left asking yourself if it’s worth it, and in many situations it’s not.

      I will continually be looking for ways to make the business more efficient. Over time we have been continuing to push the profit per transaction up so that it’s requiring less work to make more money. It has also been nice to be learning from the students in the ApplianceSchool as well. You can learn something from everyone. Appreciate the note Joe.

  2. This is so true! I have always tried to get others to buy into my ideas and had the thought that I needed to go big or go home. Through the years I have found that the best thing to do is stay small and rely only on yourself…

    “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.”
    -Swedish Proverb

  3. Without the understanding you’ve given, it would make sense that you’d have more if you had a larger business. But it is encouraging to hear the benefits that come from keeping a business the right size for you. We need balance in life and to make business our number one focus can cause us to loose sight of very important things and opportunities we would miss, if money or achievement were our priorities. If we loose everything else along the way, achievement isn’t as rewarding. I appreciate the wisdom you have shared because we don’t have to learn the hard way, if we can learn from another’s experience.

    • Thanks. Yeah, the opportunity costs of things that take up much of our time can be enormous. One of my primary goals in sharing some of my experiences, especially the hard ones, is that others would benefit by learning from them. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Great thoughts! I think that it is also good to look at what you are content with. If you make enough to provide a comfortable living, is it really necessary to kill yourself working too much? There are a lot of riches and value in a peaceful, contented life too. It’s kind of the whole diminishing returns thing.

  5. Ryan, this has been one of the most relevant posts for me on your blog thus far. Partially because of the timing. As stated above, it’s refreshing to hear some wisdom about keeping a business small vs. the constant drive we hear from the business world about “expansion!” & “bigger is better!”

    I might add that you have a different dynamic in your life which is family. As a single guy with no female prospects, my intention is to grow my business to be a main source of income instead of just a secondary source. Being alone allows me to pour more time and energy into this process. But that’s what’s so great about us as individuals: we each have our own vision of a fulfilling life.

    Kind of surprising to hear that your partner is now gone, but I’m glad it’s for the best! Hope to keep hearing updates.

    • Thanks for the note Aleks. Yeah, each person is different, and each situation and place in life is different. I think you are in a great place right now to be able to pour a lot of attention into your business. (especially while you are single, take advantage of the extra time!) This is often needed for a period of time, especially in the beginning.

      Will keep updating! Hope all is well!

  6. I love your articles and ideas about expanding versus staying small with no employees. You’re an inspiration.

    Joe had a great idea, though, with subcontracting for someone to clean and shine some of those ovens.

    Keep up the good work.

    🙂

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