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Lean but not mean

Being us, by Martin Dower.

Almost 20 years old and still a small company? Why growth for growths sake is pointless.

I’ve not met a first-time entrepreneur who didn’t want to be the biggest and best in their field. Unsurprisingly, most fail.

It seems that somewhere back in the mists of time every budding entrepreneur has the “growth is king” mantra beaten into them. In my view it’s the worst piece of advice or approach to take for first-timers.

Mostly, it kills perfectly good ideas and consigns bright business types back into wage-slavery. it’s a shame, and a waste. The conventional view of how you should do it goes something like this:

Start-up, work like a bastard, grow, grow some more, and then offload the company and live in the Caribbean. Bullseye!

It may sound appealing but has so many drawbacks and hurdles that it almost never happens. And like those obsessive gamblers you see in Las Vegas, so many clever folks keep banging away to the same beat but not getting anywhere, except in debt and stressed.

This rings bells for me. When I started Connected in 1996 (this is my second start-up) I wanted the same. I was going to ride the wave of the Internet and sell-up within a few years and retire. At 35. Really?

Some make it, some companies can bridge from start-up to big company. But many more fail, and largely fail because of the jump they’re trying to make. They fail, generally, in the gap in between small and large. And that’s a shame.

Being not small enough to be small, and not big enough to be big is the worst of both worlds. I’ve seen enough business plans in my life to see that folks usually aim ludicrously high, and it’s often a result of putting numbers into an Excel spreadsheets. Fools.

It might seem conventionally boring, but building a stable small business that engages you and your team, returns steady income and provides the company with the time and resource to pick and choose what it does really is luxury.

I could harp on about quality of life and family-balance, but those are very much products of a much tighter managed company.

Anyone can grow a business, anyone can sail along with single digit Net Profit but it takes a strong management hand to build sustainable, profitable business that can weather storms and invest back into it’s people.

This is where we are at. We cap the number of clients we have so we can offer great service without firefighting and so we don’t leave some behind. We pick and choose the project we work on, selecting companies and people that share and understand our values and approach.

We will be here is 5 years, I can promise that. We have the cash reserves and a business model that ensures we have record a net profit every quarter, without fail. To do this do we need to be we growing our sales at 50% per annum? No, of course not. Do we enjoy being small – yes, of course.

Lean

By not continually wasting money on spreadsheet-defined growth we stay lean, the ideal weight, so to speak so client’s aren’t paying for empire-building, not are they risking losing a key supplier.

Keeping our costs under control is acting responsibly, but not to the detriment of the company, the team or our clients.

But not mean

Without growth pressures we don’t have to be mean, we pay our bills early and do not quibble, ever. The team gets exactly what they need, and when they need it – every time. We simply don’t need to skimp to get the job done and that is reflected in the quality of the service, the happiness of the team and the longest client retention rates in our industry.

We think there is another way. And this is the path we chose.