Selling out: a job for life, or the bigger picture?

It’s often been said that that while American entrepreneurs go into business to see how big they can make their company, British entrepreneurs do the same to see how small they can keep it.  

While this subject is widely debated, what remains a certainty is that at some point, most small business owners will have to decide what the long-term future of their firm is. For some, it will be to keep it in the family, keep it personal, and pass it on to the next generation. For others, it will be speedy growth in order to attract enough corporate interest, sell it, and then move on.

But whatever the decision, there are plenty of things that need to be thought through first. 

Why do you do what you do?
In the first instance, it’s important for all small business owners and entrepreneurs to take time out to review their personal and business objectives. It’s no good setting out on a new business venture with only a short term ambition in mind.

You need to consider the longer term goals, how much time can you commit to your business and does it fit in with your personal objectives? Indeed, without a long term goal, the trajectory of your company may prove to be shaky and, though it is important to review your objectives as you go, a longer term business plan will help you overcome difficult decisions along the way.
 
It’s easy to get lost in the idea of “this time next year, we’ll be millionaires”, but for a huge number of small business owners, satisfaction does not just come from monetary success. Though it’s rewarding to see your business venture flourish, for the vast majority of people rapid expansion will mean losing creative control over the business; a less than attractive prospect. Moreover, a number of business owners set up their companies with lifestyle in mind and will not want to lose that freedom.

Often, the smaller your business is, the more control you’ll have over its creative future and financial workings. You have the power and ability to influence the overall direction and, for those with a small team, there remains a shared focus on a collective goal, not to mention a sense of respect, familiarity and trust that is often lost in larger-scale companies and often the first thing to be missed.

Why grow? 
But there are also positives to the expansion of small businesses. There are, without doubt, a number of financial benefits to business growth and development. But beyond that, at a very basic level, things such as wages and absences from work become easier to facilitate.

Fundamental allowances such as holidays and sick days can pose logistical problems for small businesses as they can have a disruptive impact on the daily running of an office with a small team, especially if you are the sole proprietor. With more staff and greater income, the problem is reduced.

At a higher level, the lack of authenticity that is associated with small, independent businesses remains an obstacle. The hard truth is that people and companies still place a lot of stock in brand power and may prefer to work with or use a more well-established business partner.

Making a name for a business is a massive task, requiring a huge amount of marketing and promotional effort, but for those that manage to break through into the respected brand category, the result will pay in many ways. But be careful not to lose the personal touch – often what most people love about working and dealing with small business.

Is there a right answer?
The truth is that the future of a small business is subjective. There is no shame in wanting to achieve a high financial reward for your business, or indeed to build it up with the aim to sell it, nor is there shame in wanting to keep it as a small and personal endeavour.

There is a legacy to be left and rewards to be reaped from either path, but consider your direction from the off. Although your long term goals may change as your business develops and grows, if you stay true to your ambition and the integrity of your business, success cannot be guaranteed but satisfaction in your own efforts can never be doubted. 

David Critchley is head of SME and commercial at Cisco UK and Ireland.

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