Erica Wolfe-Murray returns to Female First
Erica Wolfe-Murray returns to Female First

What businesses do you bump into on a regular basis that you really rate? It could be their personal service – a team member that makes you smile. It could be the great coffee served from the back of a café van. It might be an app that absolutely nails your needs. Or a store whose buyer has an eye for amazing upcoming designers.

All of the above and those on your list will be a mix of large and small ventures. They will be aiming to make a profit for their owners, to ensure they continue trading from month to month, and to be satisfying their customers to encourage repeat purchasing. They will be focused on keeping their team happy, perhaps to contributing to their community. Just as millions of businesses around the world are doing.

But when you run a company, there seems to be a pressure from the media, from the start-up and entrepreneurial culture, and from the business world, that you need to focus on growth, to keep on building your venture, to gain investors, to maximise its potential, perhaps leading to a future sale. It feels there is a breathless, forced momentum that if you are not part of – well then, you’re probably failing.

But this intense growth bubble is created by the world of the City, of venture capital, of big equity investment that most of us aren’t party to. And don’t want to be part of.

Go back to your list of those businesses you rate. Sure, some of them will have investment, have grown exponentially and may be listed on one of the large exchanges. But others will be privately owned companies who are proud and happy to be trading in a way they have evolved to suit them. They are likely to be making good profits for their founders, are obviously serving their customers well and may be contributing to their community in a host of ways. They could be large or small.

When you own a company, it is up to you, your co-founders and your team to build the type of company that matters to you. It could stay small but still offer a global service via the internet. It could stay local or regional, opening a chain of stores within a limited geographic footprint keeping logistics tight. Or it might offer a bespoke high value service because of its profound understanding of the needs of a deep sectoral niche. Perhaps you started your business to fit around caring responsibilities, or identified a unique opportunity.

You may have heard many of these types of companies referred to as ‘lifestyle businesses’ in a somewhat pejorative tone of voice. Most of the businesses on the planet are life-style businesses, geared to supporting the founders, their workers and families. Which is absolutely fine.

Growth does not have to mean ‘growth at all costs’ to fit someone else’s vision, to use resources rampantly, to go for an IPO. Growth could mean a high profit to turnover ratio, it could mean growth of customers, of finding one or two more revenue streams, it could mean growth of influence. What matters is that you, as the business owner, understand what you want your business to be, how you want it to grow and develop – on your terms. Not those determined by some external influence taking you down a route you find uncomfortable that may not fit with your values.

So if you are lucky enough to be running your own business or are thinking of starting one, think about what success and growth looks like to you. Ensure it is your vision you are building, rather than being caught up in someone else’s.

Erica’s new book Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business is out now. Full of her usual easy-to-use advice, lots of case studies, quick tips, diagrams and innovative ways to think about growing your business – its 288 full colour pages will help you transform your business. Available to order from Foyles, Amazon and all other good bookshops.