Q: Robert, you’ve just semi-retired after twenty five years running Bacal & Associates as a solo business. Was there ever a point where you wanted to grow your business into something a lot bigger, with employees, and the trappings?
Robert:? Well, yes and no. Unlike a lot of other entrepreneurs, I never really had a “BIG” dream for my business. I wanted to have the freedom that comes from running my own business (or at least that’s what I though), so growth was never something I was committed to.
On the other hand, I did make a few attempts to grow through associations with others in the various niches I practiced in.
Q: Can you tell us about those attempts?
Robert: At one point it looked like there was an opportunity to expand revenue hugely by having an associates in Toronto who would offer my seminars, and serve to access my client market in Ontario (I was in Winnipeg, Manitoba). We even started the process of training him until he came across something else he wanted to do. I never pursued it past that point. The only reason I tried in the first place was that the opportunity was there, and the person involved was a long time friend who was extremely talented.
Q: So you were disappointed? Why didn’t you pursue it with someone else?
Robert: Honestly because I didn’t want to have to rely on someone I didn’t know well. I think most solo business owners tend to be possessive, or over-possessive when it comes to business.
Q: Do you regret not expanding or having employees?
Robert: No. If I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t have the challenge of managing the growth of the company. For me, that’s what would have turned my crank, not the money, or anything else. My younger self would have relished the challenge.
Q: What were the best and worst parts of staying as a one person business?
Robert: Well, the toughest part, the part that I missed was having people in the business aimed at the same targets as I was, and immersed in the business — people to bounce ideas off of, I guess.
The best part? Not having to take responsibility for the welfare of employees, and particularly financially. When you are just one person, you look after yourself and family financially, without concern for others dependent on you. If you have staff, that’s a different game, and you have to have a whole different skill set.
Q: What about leaving money on the table as a result of staying a one person business?
Robert: Couldn’t care less. Money has never motivated me, although fear of not having enough money has. I wanted enough money and security to live a relatively non-acquisitive life…in fact I’ve never bought a new car….in other words, I wanted ENOUGH, not MORE. So I have no regrets financially.
Q: Just a couple more questions, Robert. Would your business have been very different if you oriented towards growth, and having staff?
Robert: Hugely different. I never would have transformed from a “training” company, to a “learning” company. Partly out of necessity, but also because I had my hand in every aspect of my business, I considered the company purpose as enhancing learning through all media — books, job aids, face to face training, keynotes, rather than just the face to face stuff. That happened because I was involved in stuff like designing and coding my own websites, which in turn resulted in them becoming profit centers that still sat within the company purpose.
Q: So you are saying that being hands on with almost everything helped you define new possibilities?
Robert: Yes. If I had farmed out web development I never would have come across all the revenue possibilities connected to running websites. Those possibilities provided a lot of flexibility for me. If I had just hired a web designer, well, I just wouldn’t have known those possibilities.
Q: Final question: Any advice for solo business owners on expanding?
Robert: Yes. Don’t look at growth as a REQUIREMENT for business success. It’s all going to depend on what you will consider as success. If you want to rule the world, then look at growth for its own sake. Keep in mind that the gap between being a one person business and running a growing business is BIGGER than the gap between being an employee and being a business owner.
Seriously, the skills gaps are huge. The attitude gaps are huge. It’s a completely different ballgame, and that you might be successful with a one person business doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in scaling the business.
Grow slowly if you have the luxury.