Updated September 2 at 10:02am

A bigger, better small biz

'Growth requires continuous learning and improvement.'

All growth is good. Bigger is better. All businesses must either grow or die.

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A bigger, better small biz

'Growth requires continuous learning and improvement.'


All growth is good. Bigger is better. All businesses must either grow or die.

Most business owners accept those business axioms. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. “At best those beliefs are half-truths and at worst they’re pure fiction,” said Ed Hess, a business professor at the University of Virginia and author of the new book “Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses.” “

Basically, Hess argues that everything you know about growth is probably wrong. Yikes! So how can you tell the difference between “good growth” and “bad growth”?

Here are six surprising truths about what growth is really about:

• Growth is change (and change isn’t easy). There are limits to how quickly any person or business can deal with change. Growth forces you to install more procedures, controls and measurements, which must then be taught to employees. Growth also forces you to change what you do. Sustainable growth requires the right leadership, the right environment (culture) and the right processes.

• Growth is evolutionary. Your business model and value proposition must pivot to keep up with change. Anticipating and responding to constant changes can require making some difficult decisions along the way. For example, businesses that grow rapidly must often change management.

• Growth requires continuous learning and improvement. You and your employees must be constantly open to learning, adapting, experimenting and improving. No matter how big you get or want to get, continuous improvement is required.

• Growth requires focus and setting priorities. Owners of growing businesses must learn to focus on what is most compelling that makes the business different from the competition. But every small business has limited resources and time, so to grow successfully you must identify and spend your time on only the key areas that can drive success.

• Growth may require a new recipe. Growth requires implementing processes, which are like recipes for baking a cake. They are the step-by-step instructions for how to do something and are necessary to minimize mistakes, install quality standards and deliver products and services on time.

• Growth creates new risks. Growth stresses people, processes, quality and finances. It can dilute your culture and the value you deliver to customers. Understanding these risks is critical to managing the pace of growth and preventing it from overwhelming you. •

Daniel Kehrer can be reached editor@bizbest.com.

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