‘Small’ isn’t generally a favourable word when applied to business, somehow implying a gross lack of experience, resources and expertise. And as such, for most entrepreneurs, the primary goal is to rapidly transform any fledgling operation into an established enterprise requiring no explanatory prefix.

But whilst growth is undoubtedly an important aspiration for any business owner, it is in fact possible to have too much of a good thing. You see, as a business evolves and expands, it somehow becomes less flexible, bogged down by systems, processes and annoyingly costly additions like accountants and HR managers. Yes apparently employees have rights – who knew??

Sure it’s great for employees to have medical benefits and leave allocations, but ultimately, these types of prescriptive systems evaporate much of the spontaneity that make an up-and-coming business so unique.

No longer are you a small team of battle-hardened comrades, ready to muck in and fight the good fight, but instead you’ve somehow become those ‘suits’ you once so despised, replete with countless contracts, requisite overtime pay and abhorrent traffic departments that render progress largely impossible.

The main problem with growth is that it tends to occur unexpectedly and rapidly, with a fleeting sense of elation followed by utter despair as you take stock of what’s actually required. Because while money is lovely, it does tend to come with the expectation of results, which are fairly hard to achieve if you have literally no resources in place.

And so arises the dilemma of the entrepreneur – do you keep saying yes to new business no matter what, or do you protect your operation’s identity by exercising discretion? Do you REALLY need that bespoke hand-decorated hessian bag brand on your books? Or are you better off going with what you know?

One’s instinct of course is to furrow away funds for a rainy day, thanks to that well-documented doom-and-gloom mindset entrenched by countless horror stories. Headlines like “Former business owner now lives in a box” are never far from one’s mind. And so you take on the hessian bags. You hire more staff. You acquire more problems. More admin. More money? Not so much.

Contrary to popular belief, an illustrious client list in fact rarely results in a burgeoning bank account. Because inconveniently, much as we wish to believe otherwise, we are all human, and sadly need the assistance of others if we ever hope to achieve the entrepreneurial nirvana of a good night’s sleep.

Another problem with expansion is that it comes along with its own set of expectations. Whereas your employees might previously have been happy to go along with your ‘rustic’ management techniques, they tend to see an elevated business status as their opportunity to cash in. Suddenly they want pay slips, medical aid and other such inconveniences. They want YOU to pay for their laptops and data. And suddenly this brave new world doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as it once might have.

Conversely, clients tend to be somewhat less mindful of your growing overheads, appalled by your attempts to increase hourly rates. Sure, they’re happy that you have more resources (and they’ll be sure to use them), but ain’t no way in hell that they’ll be bankrolling the operation.

So now you’re sitting with loads of expenses, a plethora of responsibilities and an hourly rate reflective of a very different organisation. A situation some might describe as less than ideal.

So before you attempt to transform your small and functional business into a corporate empire, here are a few key things to bear in mind:

  • Your smaller size is in fact an enormous advantage in business, as it allows you to be spontaneous, responsive and more attentive, attributes that are reputational gold.
  • Have you ever tried to find new employees that meet the requirements of both the role and the culture? It’s a special type of hell that you’ll want to avoid if at all possible.
  • Low expectations are your friend – by setting the bar low, you’re able to surpass it far more often than you will if you’re lording over a corporate empire.
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And whatever you do, avoid trying to market hessian bags. No good can come of it.