“If this company needs to grow beyond the three of us, I’m out.”
That was one of the first things I said to my ofCourseBooks cofounders when we started the company.
Not because I’m afraid of success, but because “success” to me means being able to get what needs done, done without having to hire a team. If I have to hire someone for support or sales or as a virtual assistant, or anything else, then, for me, it’s not only a failure but also not the type of company I want to have.
For most startups, not growing past 3 founders would be considered an epic fail.
I like being small and scrappy (which is good, since I’m only 5’9, ha). I don’t care about scaling. When I was solely a web designer, I felt the same way. I could have grown (based on the amount of work I was offered) and hired other designers, account managers, programmers, etc — but then I’d have been responsible for them. I’d have to deal with everything that comes with having employees.
I felt the same way when I started making solo products like courses, books and WordPress themes. If they grew beyond what I could handle by myself, then they couldn’t be chalked up as “wins” for me. In fact, when WordPress themes started to become more work than I could handle, I killed them off for a few years (until I realized I could sell them without support, with my own editorial style and without typical promotion methods).
I think we’ve all been ingrained with this idea of what success should look like: working a minimum number of hours, hiring minions to do our work for us and making all of the monies passively. I see people quit unpleasant nine-to-fives in order to become their own boss, but then they don’t change a damn thing about how they work. They often think that they need to model their routine after the way business has been done in the past or according to what some ‘thought leader’ on the internet told them about their own ‘successful’ business model.
It’s not that growing a company or hiring employees is evil or bad or wrong either. It’s awesome and a great place to be in. For some people. But I know this about myself: I’m better at working than delegating work. And I don’t want to learn how to be better at the latter either.
I work for myself because I can build my business around my life. This means that, since my purpose for my work has never been about infinite growth, I don’t have to bother caring about it. Instead, I can focus on maximizing the work I do in a way that works for me. I can work at a pace that suits my sanity, and not at a pace that supports overhead, expenses or salaries.
Sure, it’d probably be easier in some ways to offload some of the work on my plate, since I currently take care of product development, sales, marketing, support, design, programming, photography, video creating/editing and more. But I do those things because I’m happy to do those things. While every task isn’t amazingly creative and challenging, even the boring stuff I really don’t mind. Because the bigger picture is that I like where my business is at. I can easily create, run and maintain things by myself.
To be clear, I do sometimes hire other freelancers, on a gig-by-gig basis. That way there’s no HR red-tape, there’s no responsibility and I only hire folks I don’t have to “manage”. I agree to their project terms, let them do their work and then our business relationship is done unless we work together again. I also sometimes work with others as partners. But again, in those scenarios, I don’t need to manage or be responsible for them. We just work together, equally.
In one of my first real “jobs” I was in charge of a creative team (as a Creative Director at an agency). I hated this job because I’m not built to manage others, especially not other creative folks. Some people are born leaders or managers, but I’m definitely not one of those people.
If it’s your company, you get to call the shots. And, if it’s your company, and you’re not happy with where things are at, it might be your own fault.
You get to define what’s important. Maybe growth and hiring a team to divvy up the work is important to you. But then again, maybe it’s not. And if it’s not, then maybe growth at all costs in all directions isn’t the best thing for you either.
I could work harder at getting more subscribers or more course sales or making what I do more palatable for more people. But then I’d have to scale how everything runs, and that wouldn’t be good for me. I’d rather show up for the small group of folks I enjoy interacting with and make enough money.
It’s fun to see what I can do with a company of one. To see how far things can go or how far is too far. Creativity thrives on constraints and this constraint is well-suited to my personality.
I also enjoy that if people buy something from me, they’re buying it from me. I created it, I maintain it, I support it. I’d rather make less money and have a business I can run by myself. I’d rather have less subscribers, but know who most of them are by name. I’d rather have less customers, but know I can easily support them through what they’ve purchased from me.
For you, this might also be true. Your goal might not be to create a massive company with lots of employees. Or even with a handful of employees. So if you’re gearing up the work you do so it’s only manageable if that happens, it may be time to re-think things. Because it’s possible to stay small or singular and still do well. But you have to define what your own success is, because it’s probably not what others tell you it can be.
For me? I don’t actually care about growth.
This is something I wrote for my mailing list, The Sunday Dispatches. If you dig it, sign up here to get emails like these auto-magically every Sunday.