When did big become the only way?

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One of the things I love about having my own business is that I can set my own rules and create my own definition of success. But to be honest, even though I have so many friends who also have their own businesses, we never really talk about the numbers -- and thus relative levels of "success". When I have made the mistake a couple of times of revealing the revenues of my businesses, I am often met with looks of horror about the small scale of them. I don't see it that way. I have a profitable, self-funded consumer brand company with virtually no debt and no outside investors. This company allows me to lead a pretty nice life and to have the freedom to create my own schedule. Sure I work consistently and diligently, and while it’s hard to step away from it for long stretches of time, I'm not pulling all-nighters or giving up my weekend plans to work on the companies.  

That's my choice. It turns out I value freedom and fun over being a gazillionaire.

But when did it become a definition of failure to have a profitable company that is not a multi-million business? When did it become a definition of failure if you are not attracting millions in venture capital or private equity investments? When did it become a definition of failure if your business is not doubling in size every year, creating enormous pressures on cash flow management?

Approximately only 3% of women-owned businesses in the USA have annual revenues over $1 million.  Men-owned businesses, by the way, are not that different. The number is 5%. This is seen by society, politicians, the money culture, and the media as being a problem.  I disagree. The vast majority are "small but sweet" businesses that provide a lifestyle, an income, employment opportunities, and needed products and services in every aspect of the economy. What's wrong with that? Nothing, I say.

It took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that I wouldn't be growing my businesses to multi-millions in a matter of years and then selling (isn't that so many people's dreams?). But through necessity to smooth out the cash flow (I'm single with no spouse and no trust fund or outside investors), and facing the toughest economic crisis in our lifetimes (I launched the first business in 2008), I had to make do with getting to profitability before growth. If the business couldn't pay all of my business AND personal expenses, I wouldn't make it.

Now I am so glad it worked out that way. Why? Because I now have the such a fun, flexible, and safe life. While I watch several of my friends being laid off from their high-paying corporate jobs, my business is running at a scale which pays all of my bills and then some, and it is at a pace that I know I can keep doing for the next few decades. No worries about retirement for me. 

I'm not saying it is all smooth sailing. Far from it. There were weeks in the beginning when I couldn't even meet a friend for a cup of coffee at Starbucks because that would have blown my budget. There are years when I have invested more in the business than I have been able to take out of it. There are months when I do feel a bit strangled and anxious due to the current cash flows. But all of those factors have made me so disciplined and creative about building the businesses to the "right" size, that now I can breath and relax and enjoy my lifestyle business.

The biggest discipline is not comparing myself and my achievements against the media darlings, or even against my friends' businesses. It's deeply personal getting to the level that is right for you. And I can positively say, with a big smile on my face, that I have found the level that is right for me. So, societal expectations, here is what I say to you: "No thank you. I've found my own way."

By Jennifer McKinley

New Zealand's only certified Profit First Professional, I help small business owners implement Profit First so that they can finally have the clarity and peace around their company finances. Having implemented Profit First in my skincare company -- Cor Silver -- I now help other small business owners implement Profit First.