Thinking Small Is How You Stay Small

hero image depicting lion graphic representative of small business

Here’s the hard truth: the chances of most businesses becoming as big as Amazon or Apple or any of the other behemoth tech or product companies out there is basically non-existent. 

I don’t care how good of an idea you have or how much money you have to spend, there’s only so much room for truly mega-sized companies. Also, the harsh reality is that most of us entrepreneurs don’t actually have whatever voodoo it takes to build and lead a trillion dollar empire. 

Which is why, when business owners are asked why they aren’t taking the steps they need to take to move themselves or their company to the next level and their answer is “I don’t want to get too big. I’m not interested in building Amazon”, we die a little inside. 

That isn’t to say that you should scale at any cost but the notion that you aren’t taking action today because you’re afraid of becoming the next Amazon is like taking fitness advice from that one friend we all have who thinks that strength training turns you into a body builder.

It doesn’t. In the same way that it takes a sh*t ton of work to become strong like Arnold, you have to have a lot of things in place, some totally outside of your control, to “accidentally” build Amazon. 

Let’s put a few things into perspective. The definition of a “small business” is any entity with fewer than 250 employees doing anywhere from $1 million to $16 million in revenue. (Why the range?)

Think about that, at the low end that’s around $83,000 dollars per month in sustainable, predictable revenue. By this math most of us out there are actually considered micro-enterprises. 

Which, don’t get me wrong, is fine. The problem is when people lose perspective of where they really are in the grand scheme of things and start trying to make business decisions like Bezos vs themselves. They let the fear of growth and the fear of creating something bigger than they are currently comfortable running dictate the actions they take instead of doing what, very often, just needs to be done. 

Since glass houses can break, we’ll use ourselves as an initial case study. When we started No-Where we made it clear to ourselves and everyone that we weren’t interested in building a “butts in seats agency”. I would say all the time, to anyone who would listen, that “I don’t want to manage 50 employees” and “I’m not interested in having our clients experience Musical Account Manager because we have such high turnover rates”. 

Are those things still true? Absolutely. The problem is that I was avoiding making some really important decisions based on my fear of what I didn’t want to become when the reality of where we were was so far from that mysterious future that I was just hamstringing our ability to build a sustainable business model. By reminding myself that I don’t want to run a “resource” shop, I put off hiring our first team member for way, way, too long. I was so afraid of having to manage a pile of people and losing our high-touch client experience that I avoided building out business processes and operating procedures. 

I was letting my small thinking keep me small and dysfunctional as a business–forever tied to being the overworked solopreneur instead of the business owner I always wanted to be. 

It wasn’t until I fully absorbed the harsh reality that to be at risk of running just a “butts in seats” agency you have to actually have a talent pool and hiring process that allows you to hire multiple people at once, and that that in and of itself requires something more formalized than just a totally word-of-mouth business, which requires a fully built sales pipeline and sales process, and that all of THAT requires someone who thinks and breathes client onboarding, resource (people) management, and organizational clarity….

The list goes on. I was letting the fear of becoming what I don’t want prevent me from becoming the type of leader and business owner that I do want to be – I was keeping myself small before I’d ever had a chance to become “too big”.

This is, as much as anything, a letter to my future self as it is business or life advice. There are always times and moments and actions that make you feel like you’re stepping too far outside of your comfort zone and that this is the thing that is going to do you in or blow up your perfectly made plans or throw a wrench in your success. 

Sustainable businesses are ones that are growing. And growing can mean a lot of things – the misconception is that most business owners only think about growth in terms of monetary value. They measure everything in annual revenue goals, quarterly expenses, and the number of clients they can bring on or jobs they can run at one time. I get it, we obviously have sales goals and initiatives that we aim for on a weekly, quarterly, and yearly basis. But that’s only one piece of the business growth equation. 

Growth can look like a lot of things that aren’t just money (though these things do often lead to an increase in revenue): 
  1. Improving efficiency across services and teams
  2. Pursuing a different client demographic
  3. Shifting from a sales mindset to a service mindset

These are just a few top-of-mind examples. Growth can also look like expanding your personal Sphere of Influence, setting proper boundaries so you and your team can flourish and thrive, and a myriad of other actions that don’t involve hiring a sales team or hustlin’ til you die. 

What’s your take? Do you believe that your own mindset or beliefs around growth are what are holding you back?