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Ask Dave

Being the Tortoise Is Fine

Wayne gets advice from Dave on not growing his small business too fast.

QUESTION: Wayne in Michigan is a general contractor who was offered some business from a large corporation. He would need new equipment to handle the job, and it would use most of his cash-flow. He isn't sure if he should risk taking the opportunity. Why does Dave say it is okay to be a tortoise in this case?

Dave's ANSWER: You are wise to realize that, on the surface, not all growth is good growth. The number-one thing that causes small business to fail is accounting and cash-flow problems. The number-two thing is that they grow too fast and they fall in on themselves. You get a little too afraid of turning down anything so you take everything, and it grows and grows and grows. Then we have a mess on our hands because we can't keep infrastructure and leadership and management and computers up to snuff to stay ahead of the curve on it. It's tough.

It could be some good money there. You have the cash available, but it's going to pinch you. If the existing business has to suffer too much, then you are biting off more than you can chew.

I think what is missing in this is that you've got to have someone help you lead this area. You can't emotionally and intellectually and logistically carry leadership in the whole thing. If you had a strong right-hand guy that did everything like you wanted it done and he was running this new area for you, you'd be set. You could delegate the leadership of this. That's the capacity that you might be missing.

The only way to start this is to start it smaller than it's being proposed until you put leadership in place. When I am in those situations, I just tell God that if this is His gift and He wants me to do this, He has to send me the money and the people. Honestly, the people are harder to find than the money. It's tough.

What may happen is that you may be having lunch and an old friend walks over, sits down, and says he has been looking for a job. That may be the guy and that might be how you move on.

I think there's enough hesitancy here and enough decent reasons why you might pull this off, but it may take some joy out of the business for you. It's okay to be the tortoise. You can go slow—every time I read the book, the tortoise wins. The hare is running around trying new things and can't keep his eye on the ball, and he never wins the race. He looks flashy and moves a lot of things around, but in the end he doesn't win the race.

I'm all right with you going a little slower and taking your time until you've got the resources to pull this off. That includes the human resources.