Why growth isn’t the only path for a successful small business

When you start your own business, you’ll read a lot of advice about growth. Grow your sales! Grow your workforce! Grow your operations! Grow your profits! It’s a mantra that’s often repeated, but rarely questioned. Could it be that growth is not the ideal scenario for every business, and that there are broader, wider goals to aim for?

If you’ve ever stopped to question the growth and profit agenda, you’re not alone. There are plenty of reasons to ditch this mantra and come up with a new focus.

Stability as your core aim, not growth

Getting your startup or small business to a certain size and stability is important, of course. You need to know your company is established, has regular customers and is delivering the revenues you need to stay operational. But does your business HAVE to continue to grow? Unchecked growth isn’t always a desirable goal, after all.

If a system continues to grow unchecked, entropy will kick in and the energy that has driven that growth will be exhausted. That’s true of a mechanical system, and it’s equally true of society as a whole. If all we do is focus on getting bigger, fatter and richer, eventually there will be no resources left to continue that growth. This problem is eloquently demonstrated by the intense impact that industrialisation has had on the current climate emergency, an emergency that’s been driven by the developed world’s desire to grow, scale and expand.

Learning to nurture your business, not grow it

If you buy a pet – let’s say a rabbit – your primary goal is not to make that rabbit bigger. The bunny may mature and pad out over the years, but your primary concern will be to feed the animal enough of the right foods, to take care of it and to ensure that it has a happy life. You don’t set out to create a fat, unhealthy rabbit as your core goal – your aim is to nurture this animal and improve its quality of life.

The same is true of a government’s role as curator of a nation, or a CEO’s role as the leader of a business. You don’t grow just for growth’s sake. You do what’s best for the organisation or nation you’re in charge of. You reinvest profits back into the system, you make sure that the people you’re responsible for are well, not over-worked and that they’re enjoying their lives.

So, does the business world need a change in messaging and outlook? Perhaps the goal is to NURTURE your business, not to grow into something bloated and unhealthy.

This is a radical shift for any business owner that’s been schooled in the thinking of 21st century capitalism. But, as we’ve seen in recent years, the negative impacts of unchecked capitalist growth on the global environment, on workers’ rights and on the socio-economic divide has not been a positive or productive one. 

So, could we change our business vision and move away from growth and profit as our only markers of success? 

5 ways to nurture your business, your people and the environment

Rejecting the growth and profit mantra is likely to be a severe U-turn for most small businesses. This agenda has underpinned the strategy, thinking and measurement of business success for centuries and the core ideas are not likely to disappear overnight.

But there are simple and effective ways to refocus your business aims and to have a more beneficial impact on the world around you.

As a forward-thinking business owner, you can:

  1. Strive to have a positive impact on the environment – industrialisation and the burning of fossil fuels have been shown to be a primary driver of climate change. If you can limit your carbon footprint and use more sustainable supply chains, you can limit the damage done to the environment by your business. As the threat of a climate emergency heightens, there’s a pressing need for ALL businesses, both large and small, to play their part in cutting emissions and operating within a greener business strategy.
  2. Work with your local communities to deliver positive results – there’s huge potential for your business to have a positive impact on your local communities. This could mean donating profits to local charities, supporting local community incentives or being a caring and diverse employer to the local population. The key focus here is to become a partner with the people and organisations around you, and to use your influence, resources and people to make the community a better place in the longer term. 
  3. Look after your employees and see them as more than ‘human capital’ – your people are one of the most important assets in your business – but this doesn’t mean they are just a number on a balance sheet. Taking good care of your employees should be ingrained in your business model. This isn’t a box-ticking exercise, it’s about having empathy, compassion and morality as core ethics within your company values. Treat your people well and they will be happier, more productive and more engaged. 
  4. Aim for stability in your operations and finances, not unchecked growth – every business needs to generate enough sales and revenue to remain operational. But you don’t always need to go bigger and better just to increase your profits. If you can achieve stable operations, sales and revenue, there’s nothing to stop you maintaining this equilibrium without the need for scaling up. If you can deliver competive wages for your team, a decent income for you and your fellow directors and enough surplus cash to reinvest back into the business, there’s no burning need to aim for hyper-growth and huge profits.
  5. Be a force for good in everything you do – having a positive impact is something that tends to be relegated to a ‘nice to have’ for many businesses. Corporate organisations may have CSR strategies to make their annual reports look more media-friendly, but being a force for good is something any business can do. Instead of building a business where the sole aim is to bankroll your own expensive lifestyle and retirement, why not create an organisation that leaves a positive legacy? This can make a meaningful difference for your employees, stakeholders, communities and the world around you. Ultimately, instead of the motivation being personal attainment of wealth, why not make your driver the desire to do good things at every point in your business strategy?

B Corp businesses and how you become one

If you’re thinking ‘Well, this sounds nice but I can’t see how my business could be successful with these alternative drivers’, then the proof lies in the existence of an entire movement with very similar ethical foundations and alternative business values. 

The B Corp movement is emerging as an alternative to the growth and profit-hungry agenda of 21st century business – and there’s nothing stopping your company from embracing this new outlook and strategy.

B Corp companies are for-profit businesses that are committed to: 

  • Meeting high standards of social and environmental performance.
  • Having higher standards of accountability and transparency.
  • Using the business as a force for good by balancing purpose and profit. 
  • Benefitting people, the environment, and the business world as a whole by working to create a more sustainable and equitable economy. 
  • Considering the impact of their business decisions on stakeholders beyond just shareholders – so there’s a broader outlook regarding the company’s impact
  • Helping to create a more just and sustainable future for all, without profit as our sole goal

If these values and ethical foundations resonate with you, it’s worth investigating the B Corp movement and seeing how your business can flex and refocus to work within these guiding boundaries.

Building a successful business is the goal of every entrepreneur, but there’s an increasing imperative for us to look beyond growth, profit and personal gain as our sole drivers for success. By rejecting the current business status quo and moving towards the values of a B Corp, we can make our companies a force for good in the world – and that’s a lasting legacy that any entrepreneur should be proud of.

HELP! I’ve Started A Business!

If you’re beginning your business journey, getting to the point of achieving operational and financial stability can be a challenge. ‘HELP! I’ve Started A Business’ is your guide to the whole business journey, from refining your business idea to founding a startup and getting the whole enterprise off the ground.

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