I recently participated in a conversation on The New MORE podcast, where host (and friend) Amber Anderson and I discussed making the strategic decision NOT to grow your business.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t every successful freelancer/entrepreneur/small business owner want to grow? Um, actually, no. Sometimes we start a business to be able to do the things we love. Sometimes business ownership has nothing to do with a desire to be rich.
I was less than eloquent on the podcast, but it’s a topic that I’ve been thinking about in the days and weeks since recording the episode. And there are many legitimate reasons not to grow your business. Among them:
1. The more you grow, the more you get forced out of creative pursuits.
I’ve done the creative agency thing, and my experience was that as you move up the ladder, the more you end up being the person resolving client issues, managing projects and budgets, managing people, going to meetings and pitching new business. These are the things that higher -ups do. And certainly when it’s your business, these are skills you need. But what if that’s not what feeds your soul? What if the thing that makes you excited about work is being in the weeds?
In my case, I like writing and editing and working with clients. I recently took on a very large project that required several members of my team to pitch in. It was a great opportunity for us to show what this team of content writers can accomplish. We were successful in creating solid content on a very short time frame with a consistent voice. But I probably wrote less than 10 percent of the copy. I was serving as a project manager and editor.
This is fine for some projects, and I learned a lot from leading this project. But I genuinely like being hands-on. If my business were to grow too big, would I only be doing project management? How happy would I be? Frankly, there’s a good chance I’d be miserable, so I need to be careful about the balance of projects I take on in my business.
2. Growth inevitably leads to stress.
I’ll be totally honest here — I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s incomes. If I have extra work, I like to be able to spread it out and share the load with my copywriter colleagues. But I don’t want to be solely responsible for their income. That measure of stress is not something I am willing to take on. Staying small affords me the luxury of being responsible only for myself. When I can share the wealth, great, but there’s no expectation.
3. Clients get a more personal experience.
A lot of companies want a full-service creative agency. They want access to lots of resources. As with any business arrangement, there are benefits and risks, of course. And some companies prefer to work with someone who has stayed small. You know that most (if not all) of the time, you’ll be interacting with the person you hired. You won’t be passed on to someone junior once you’re up and running. And if you have problems, you can rest assured they will be resolved promptly because it is the this person’s business and livelihood.
4. Growth doesn’t have to be business growth.
Just because my business isn’t growing doesn’t mean I’m not. I’m pretty selective in the projects I take on and the people I choose to work with. I have that luxury as a solopreneur. I seek to work with good people who are doing good work, strategic work. I look for clients and projects that fit my values.
I also look for opportunities where I can learn and grow —projects that will push me to learn new skills, to try new things or to interact with new types of people. The project I mentioned earlier with the large team? That was an opportunity to learn a new content management platform and to work on a very large and complicated website.
One of my standing retainer clients is someone who values my work and expertise, but is also a tough editor and strategic professional. I learn something new every time I work with her, and that is something that is extremely valuable. If I were to grow my business and be responsible for others, I’d likely be focusing on pitching and securing new clients rather than being creative and building my copywriting skills. I personally want my growth not to be in business development but in content creation and communication strategy.
5. I simply don’t want to work the hours.
By most standards, I am a small-time entrepreneur. I have learned quite a bit about business over the last several years. I have learned how to price projects and how to pitch business. I have learned how to network. And I have worked — and continue to work — very hard. I work hard to develop myself, and I work hard on behalf of my clients.
But despite that drive, I am not a person who wants to work 80 hours a week. To be honest, I don’t even want to work 40. I want to have the freedom and flexibility to go for a walk or go to the gym in the middle of the day, to meet my husband for lunch, to pick my son up at 4:30. I want to work on my book or my personal blog.
Sometimes, when a big project is underway or a large deadline looms, I might be online late at night after putting my son to bed, but I never want late-night work to be the norm. I want to be in bed with a cup of hot tea, reading a book, snuggling my son and husband. These are the things that over time, I have learned are most important to me.
Entrepreneurs who want the big business with all the employees and a cool office space have my respect and admiration. They’ll probably retire sooner than I will, and they’ll fly first class while I’m scrunched in coach.
But for me, business growth isn’t the right path — at least not right now. I know that I can learn and grow and do good work while maintaining the life I want and supporting the values that are most important to me. So, I choose to keep it small. And I know this smallness doesn’t represent a lack of drive or smarts or talent — it represents a strategic business (and life) decision on my part. So, to all my fellow solopreneurs who aren’t eager to scale up: Let’s embrace our solo path, savor the benefits it affords us and celebrate the fact that we get to make this choice.