In Praise of Small
“Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination itself.”
― Jason Fried, Rework
It’s an inevitable progression, I guess. Before you get married, you get asked “When are you going to settle down?”. And then, once you do get married, the question changes. It becomes "When are the kids coming?". Every time I get asked this, my womb feels like answering: "It's none of your business, really" but instead I politely answer: "Not yet; the time will come."
Before becoming a full-time entrepreneur, I was hearing “When are you going to take the jump?” but now that I’ve done it, I inevitably get the follow-up question: "When are you going to hire employees?". I understand the reasoning: most businesses grow, recruit, and expand after a while. However, my answer to this question is very clear. I do not want employees, I do not want to grow my business. I am happy just as is.
Let me explain why I think small is beautiful.
1. Nimble & Agile: In one of my previous jobs, we were told to remain "nimble and agile". Truth was, though, that it was a big ship incapable of changing course swiftly. It was too heavy, too political to react to the coming tides. Result? It was always a little behind the times, trying to catch up instead of leading the pack. Staying small allows for instantaneous reactivity. Think kayaker rather than cargo ship. That flexibility is priceless, for me and for my clients.
2. Choose your colleagues: Who you partner with says a lot about you. So I have decided to choose carefully who I join forces with, project by project, rather than hire employees and have to fill up their schedule. I choose to partner with top performers who excel in their respective field. Not only do I learn a lot by rubbing shoulders with people who are more experienced than me but my clients are better served too. The right person for the right job. It’s as simple as that.
3. Serve your clients yourself: There is a reason why clients want to deal with the top person in your business: he/she is the most invested ones and will work hardest at serving clients because he/she knows the true cost of losing them. When you stay small, you continue to manage your relationships yourself and can ensure their long-term stability.
4. Maintain a better work-life balance: Nowaydays, workaholics are praised. They work longer and harder than everybody else. However, studies have proven that “powering through it” does not yield better work. In fact, it produces worse, even mediocre, work. Why? Because our brain cells function better when they have time to rest every now and then and get oxygen (through exercise) regularly. Small means being able to manage your life in a way that is optimal for your brain functions. And a happy brain means quality work.
5. Give back: Whatever your field of work, your skills are useful for someone or you would not be in business, right? So use them for good. For example, I offer my translation services to causes and non-profit organizations who could not afford my fees. Staying small gives me the time, and latitude, to incorporate giving back in my daily workload.
6. Forgo the office politics: I hate, hate, hate workplace politics. I strongly believe that egos and tempers are the prime reason for office inefficiencies. I recently heard an interview with Jerry Seinfeld* where Alec Baldwin asked him what made Seinfeld (the show) so great. His answer was simple (and I paraphrase): “Most shows spent 50% of their time managing office politics and 50% on the actual show. Our team spent 90% of our time producing content. We spent more time creating that any other show out there”. Small lets you skip the time and energy wasted on politics to focus on actual work.
7. Be free to say no: As an employee, you don’t have a say in what kinds of projects are handed down to you. You keep quiet and you do the work. But that can be alienating. One of the upsides of being your own boss is being able to choose the projects you handle. However, a growing business needs volume and it can be really hard to say no when the bills are piling up. A small business, with less expenses, needs less volume to thrive. This gives you, the person doing the work, the freedom to refuse subpar work and leave time to find new, better projects.
8. Work from anywhere: Flexibility is a beautiful thing. My entire life resides in the computer I am typing this with. If I bring it with me, I can work from anywhere: the park on a beautiful summer day, my bed on a cold winter day, the corner café on a lonely day or even the hotel room while on a trip. Small means versatile and THAT’s a beautiful thing!
9. Keep it simple stupid: Steve Jobs said it best: “Simple can be harder than complex.” Nothing could be more true. Finding ways to be efficient, lean and flexible is hard. But the cost of big and complicated is even worse. The beauty of small is in managing every aspect, having control over processes and being able to change what doesn’t work to make it simpler and better.
10. We do this for the lifestyle: Entrepreneurs willingly choose to walk a difficult road. The responsabilities are big, the potential pitfalls everywhere. However, we believe the payoffs to be worth investment. Why then do we tend to make it even harder on ourselves? Growth is difficult to manage, regardless of the business or industry you are in. Growth takes times away from what motivated you of making that move in the first place: the lifestyle. Our passion may drive us but it can drive us to the ground if we are not careful. Make sure you regularly remind yourself of why you are an entrepreneur. Take time for a round of golf, a weekday ski outing, an extended trip or a visit to the zoo with your family.
Don’t forget to live.
“The new luxury is the luxury of freedom and time. Once you’ve had a taste of that life, no corner office or fancy chef will be able to drag you back.”
― Jason Fried, Remote: Office Not Required
Here are some links to thought-provoking articles about staying small:
*Alec Baldwin’s podcast “Here’s The Thing” (link here)