In recent years, growth is the granddaddy of all business buzzwords. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. If you’re not a millionaire, you’re broke. If you don’t employ a bazillion people, you’re basically a pumped up freelancer. Et cetera.
Where has this come from? When did we start using the word “stagnant” instead of comfortable? “Unambitious” instead of self-aware?
We want to explore the idea that businesses can be successful while standing still. That you, the owner, don’t need to pile new pressures on yourself year after year—you can reap the benefits of your hard labor in the present, not some uncertain future.
And we want to answer the question: Is it even possible to run a business that doesn’t grow?
Why did you start your business?
This question should be in every business owner’s heart, one that they occasionally even write down and revaluate from time to time.
Why did I start this business?
Why? It helps us to choose the next path. There are traditional metrics for capitalist business success: revenue, profit, year-on-year growth, high margins, increasing share price etc. But while goals and metrics are powerful, that power can be dangerous, too:
- If your goal was to support your family, then look around—are they supported? Have you reached that place?
- If your goal was to make a million dollars and you’ve got 7 figures in the bank—what now?
- If you want to save lives and change the world…how many lives is enough?
The problem with “success”
Most people start businesses with honest objectives. But once those early objectives are achieved…what next? For many, the simple answer is “more”. More money, more status, more employees, more offices. In the eyes of western society, these are markers of increasing success. But if you’re working day and night to put money in the pockets of wealthy shareholders…what’s it all for?
Once a business makes enough money, once it’s servicing enough customers and affecting enough lives—why can’t a business stop growing and just exist, doing its part for the world? Well, we believe it can.
Can you run a business that’s not getting bigger?
The short and simple answer is yes. Unless you have a fundamentally flawed business model, once your business is “at capacity” in terms of workload, it doesn’t need new customers, bigger revenues, more equipment or more people.
If you have a healthy customer base, your marketing is working, your people are happy and making enough money… why would you need to grow? As the owner, is your goal to take on the stress and burden of additional staff, finding new leads, moving to bigger premises, and obtaining bigger financing…? If it is, then crack on. If not… why not just be content running your good business?
Growth goes beyond revenue and staffing
This isn’t to say innovation isn’t necessary. You may need to improve products or redesign services; you may need to “keep up with the times” or adapt to your changing audience. You might need to upskill your employees or diversify your product offerings.
But that’s not the kind of growth we’re talking about here.
Some businesses—like a service provider—can earn more money by simply being more skilled and experienced, and increasing rates. The same does not apply to your typical retailer. You can still “grow” your business in terms of improving its ability to do the job well, or adapting the business so that it meets your needs better, not the other way around.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying”
This is a common and horrible argument against “stagnation” in business. Just because people say this and it’s what you read on LinkedIn doesn’t make it true.
Assuming you run your own business, try to think about what fulfills you.
- Is it looking after your kids?
- Having a digitally-minimalist lifestyle?
- Having time to stay ultra-fit?
- Making boat loads of cash?
- Allowing your partner to be a full-time parent?
The truth is that it’s your business. It should be built to support your idea of success. If that’s not about being rich or garnering status, that is perfectly okay.
The reality is that right now, society is absolutely mad about expansion, franchising, hypergrowth, unicorns, and making billions of dollars.
If your goal is to provide high-quality customer service in your local IT store, then why would you get mired in trying to open six other stores to hit $2 million in revenue?
If you sell custom-made products online and reach your order limit for the month…you can reject further orders. Or put them on a waiting list. You don’t need to hire another worker and then manically stress trying to double your orders for next month.
The fundamental point is this: running a business is a hugely personal ordeal. It can be stressful, intimidating, and exceptionally rewarding. And while there’s nothing wrong with pursuing growth, it’s equally okay to make a consistent, tidy profit every year until you retire, without expansion or recruiting or taking on bigger premises or doing funding rounds.
It’s your business. That means you decide what’s “enough”—and thumb your nose at anyone that says you’re wrong.