“They were working for their companies, but their companies weren’t working for them”

26th Oct 2011
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BIg Enough

Chances are, that if you are an entrepreneur, you have felt this way at one point or another. All you have done for a long time is invest in your business: time, money, effort, indeed everything that you could. All you have wanted from it is to reward you with satisfaction. And yet, something, somewhere didn’t work. For either your business never grew the size you wanted it to or if it did, it didn’t make you as happy as you thought you would be. Why?This is the very concern that Amy Abrams and Adelaide Lancaster, entrepreneurs from New York and co-authors, raise in their book ““The Big Enough Company.”

In an environment that largely applauds rapid and multi-figure growth for an enterprise, the book is a refreshing change that carries the authors’ rejection of the notion that entrepreneurial success is about size. It is a snappy and inspiring guide that encourages small business owners to ignore conventional wisdom that dictates growth and instead, carve their own entrepreneurial destiny by creating more of what they want, and less of what they don’t.

“The Big Enough Company” is loaded with case studies, inspiring stories, sound advice and invaluable tips on growing your enterprise in a way that sustains your own personal goals and needs, not someone else’s standards.

I caught up with Amy Abrams, entrepreneur herself and co-author of “The Big Enough Company”:

When it comes to small businesses, how big is big enough?

The experience of entrepreneurship is unique to every individual and each one brings unique ideas, hopes, skills and needs to the table. Generally an entrepreneur starts a business to look for freedom, autonomy, and a sense of accomplishment; to create something that would provide them a sense of satisfaction that their job could not. But somewhere along the way that is lost. There is a flurry of advice and ton of expectation to grow.

However, true entrepreneurial success is not about measuring your enterprise against another by comparing the size or the profits. Success is not only about growth nor does it come with a one-size-fits-all formula that would tell you how to scale up.

Entrepreneurs need to drown out all the noise, define their own paths and create a company that is big enough to give them what they need, yet is not impossible to manage.

Old-school thinking would applaud fast-paced rapid growth. Is the new generation of entrepreneurs more dismissive of growth-only-for-growth's-sake? 

It’s a lot easier to start a business today but not as easy to scale it up in a sustained and meaningful way. There are certain industries where fast growth is more valued and institutional money backed businesses may have to deal with different expectations but in the economically unstable and insecure world that we live in, long-term security and the control that comes with a slow-paced stable growth is the defining factor for business.

Old-school thinking would commend a business based on size, scale or sales, but new-school thinking definitely encourages owners to exercise creativity and to define their own goals. I have met many entrepreneurs who run smaller but successful companies, who make a lot of money and are pleased with the control they can exercise over their business and their lives.


Pooja

Is there any common observation that you have come across while interviewing so many women entrepreneurs?

The one thing I find remarkable about entrepreneurs, especially women is their honesty with themselves. The women entrepreneurs I met come from a diverse range of industries, each with a different personality and a clear purpose of what they want from their business. Yet when faced with challenges that require them to completely change gears and undertake new directions, they do not shy away. They’re willing to tread new paths and not afraid to ask themselves “is this what I really want to do and will I be able to?”

What, according to you, are the most persistent challenges to a startups growth? 

I’ve come across 3 challenges that every start-up invariably has a struggle with.

  1. Enough money: There will never be enough. The most pertinent and persistent of all challenges that is likely to stay on with an entrepreneur for a good part of his/her journey.
  2. Enough time: Opportunities will present themselves and saying no can be agonizing. But the cost of taking on too much is a lot more than what it was worth. Choosing which one is priority or simply not worth it, is a challenge even to the most seasoned of minds. Sometimes you just have to say no to the obvious growth paths in favor of those that are yet to come, those that will work better for you.
  3. Hiring the right people: Not everyone you hire will know everything to do. Will the creative guy add more value to your enterprise or is a good salesperson more important at this point in time? Every entrepreneur is going to be faced with these choices and the wrong one can make things fall apart just as a good one can change everything in a positive way.

Any particularly inspirational story that you would like to share as a preview to your book?

There is a ceramist we interviewed. She had started a business to create high-end hand-thrown porcelain dinnerware. In the beginning, she got a lot of advice on “outsourcing production” in order to grow bigger. On following that, she did manage to set up a huge wholesale business that was manufacturing 5 times her original capacity, but she also realized that she wasn’t as happy. Her role had changed from creative to management. What she had really enjoyed earlier, the personal approach to creating beautifully hand-crafted dishware was no longer a part of her trade and she missed that. She took a very conscious decision to scale down her business, to make it more exclusive that would give her more freedom to be engaged with her craft and more flexibility. While it took a while, she now says that it’s the best thing she did. Not only is the business making more money than before, but it also gives her more control while allowing her to work for lesser time and the rewards her with immense creative satisfaction.

Any important tips for entrepreneurs from your book?

There are three important things that I like to tell entrepreneurs:

  1. Take small steps. Success does not happen overnight and takes up a lot of energy. Think backwards, it helps to plan your future. Importantly, celebrate the success you have along the way.
  2. Be incredibly clear about what you want from your business. It’s easy to lose sight of what you started for, but deliberate the kind of business you want to create, the way you like to spend your time and what you want your company to be known for.
  3. Don’t do it alone. Business owners who are connected to communities, forums and other entrepreneurs, learn a lot more. Be open to the opportunity to learn from others, find best business practices, collaborate, get feedback and support the ecosystem around you. Eventually entrepreneurship is a rewarding and enriching experience.

What are your views on this story? Share with us by leaving a comment.

- Pooja Ganeriwala

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