Why Some Entrepreneurs Choose Not to Grow Their Businesses
Written by Doug and Polly White
It’s undeniable that small business is the growth engine of the economy. The Small Business Administration reports that there are 22.9 million small businesses in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that 90 percent of all net job creation from 1996-2007 came from small businesses. There is little question that if the US is to recover from this recession and if unemployment is to be driven down, small business will lead the way. Yet, not all small business owners choose to grow.
Harvard Business School teaches that the primary objective of a business in our capitalist system is to create shareholder value. To oversimplify only a little, businesses increase shareholder value by growing the bottom line. To be sure, if a business has financial investors, there is a fiduciary obligation to grow the bottom line. You might think that this is a no-brainer. Certainly all business owners would want to grow their enterprise. What we found might surprise you.
During the course of conducting research for our new book, Let Go to Grow; Why Some Businesses Thrive and Others Fail to Reach Their Potential, we interviewed the owners of more than 100 small and midsize businesses. More than a few had made a conscious decision not to expand their companies any further. Growing their businesses is simply not something they wish to do or feel they can do. We found three primary reasons that small business owners decided not to grow.
1. To avoid risk and maintain their lifestyle – We spoke with a concrete contractor who has revenue of about $2 million per annum. The owner pulls enough cash out of the company each year to make a very nice life for himself and his family. He has time for a wonderful personal life and is able to pursue some hobbies that he loves. As a businessman, he is highly respected in his industry. Because he is honest, trustworthy, reliable, and good at what he does, there is usually more work than he can accept. Even when times are tough, he keeps his crews busy.
There is little doubt that he could grow the business significantly if he decided to do so. Growing the business would mean buying more equipment, hiring more people, probably working longer hours, and definitely delegating significant decision-making authority to new managers. The owner has decided not to take that path, at least not right now. All things considered, it’s a completely reasonable decision. We spoke with numerous business owners who, like this concrete contractor, had made the decision not to grow their businesses to avoid further risk and to maintain their comfortable lifestyle.
2. To avoid regulation – A local bank was very successful. Through hard work and excellent customer service, it had grown its assets exponentially. In the process, it had created wonderful jobs and hired many people. It was a great example of small business fueling the growth of the American economy.
As the number of employees grew the diligent head of human resources approached the president and said, “You know, when we hit 50 employees; we’ll be subject to FMLA” (the Family Medical Leave Act). After gaining a thorough understanding of the complexity of complying with the Act, the President made a conscious decision to stop the growth of his bank. Job creation came to a screeching halt. The president wasn’t opposed to extending the benefits of FMLA to his employees. Rather, he made an informed decision to avoid the considerable cost associated with the complexity of maintaining records and making judgments about what qualified for FMLA and what did notâ€•so much for small businesses fueling the growth of the economy.
Large Fortune 500 companies may be able to afford the cost of regulation because they can amortize it over tens of thousands of employees and over billions of dollars of revenue. Unfortunately, small businesses don’t have that luxury. Further, a company doesn’t have to reach the 50 employee mark to be subject to significant regulatory requirements. In fact, in the Commonwealth of Virginia (a relatively business friendly state), we count dozens of different state and federal regulations with which a business must comply when it hires its first employee. They include acronyms such as CCPA, FLSA, USERRA, OSHA, FICA, FUTA, HIPAA, ERISA, and the list goes on and on. It’s enough to make an entrepreneur's head explode.
We spoke with a small general contractor who, after trying to grow, made the conscious decision to eliminate all of his employees to avoid the burden of these regulations. He remains in business as a “solopreneur.” We were quite surprised to find that a government, which claims to be focused on reducing unemployment, is actually crushing job creation with over regulation and yet, there it was.
3. To avoid having to delegate responsibilities – Through hard work, perseverance and sacrifice, George Carson had grown his cabinet business, Riverside Manufacturing, to a company with 40 employees. The employees operated the equipment. They built and installed the cabinets. They made sales calls and resolved customer service issues. They scheduled production, shipped product, sent invoices and paid bills. Overhead was still very low. There were no supervisors or managers. To the extent that there was any formal organizational structure, everyone reported to George.
George was unwilling to let go of decision-making responsibility and he wouldn’t delegate the hiring or management of any of the workers. Once his capacity to perform these tasks was exhausted, growth stopped. Although he struggled to explain why, George just wasn’t comfortable delegating decision-making authority.
He was probably right, because Riverside lacked the infrastructure necessary for successful delegation. It didn’t have the right managers in place. It didn’t have well documented processes to communicate to employees how George wanted things to be done. Finally, it didn’t have a robust set of metrics to let George know what was going on in his business if he weren’t personally present. Without these three things, delegation is risky at best. George chose to continue making all of the decisions himself. When George’s capacity was exhausted, Riverside’s growth stalled because he decided not to delegate decision-making responsibility and he wouldn’t delegate because he didn’t have the right infrastructure. Although he didn’t realize it, George was the constraint to growth in his own business.
Whether it’s satisfaction with the status quo, a desire to avoid the burden of regulation or not understanding how to delegate, many small business owners have implicitly or explicitly made a decision not to grow their businesses. Some pundits subscribe to a mantra that in business you have to grow or die. We found example after example of entrepreneurs who debunk this myth every day.
It’s completely reasonable for business owners to make an explicit decision not to grow because they are satisfied with the current size of their enterprise. That’s their choice. It’s shameful that our government incents small businesses not to hire and crushes job growth with unnecessarily burdensome regulation. It’s unfortunate that some entrepreneurs unwittingly become the constraint to growth in their own businesses because they don’ know how to delegate properly.
About the Authors: Doug and Polly White are Principals at Whitestone Partners; a management-consulting firm that helps small businesses build the infrastructure they need to grow profitably. They are also coauthors of the groundbreaking new book, Let Go to GROW; Why Some Businesses Thrive and Others Fail to Reach Their Potential (Palari Publishing 2011). The book, which was named a Best Business Book of 2011 by the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) explains how entrepreneurs can avoid the most common pitfalls as their businesses grow and is available at www.WhitestonePartnersInc.com
Six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda
New Deloitte research reveals that tax leaders are under increasing pressure to add strategic value as companies accelerate business model transformation, from undergoing digital transformations to rethinking their supply chains or investing in green initiatives.
According to Phil Mills, Deloitte Global Tax & Legal Leader, to “truly deliver value to the business, the tax function needs to rethink its resourcing model and transform its technology infrastructure to create capacity and control costs”.
And the good news, according to Mills, is that tax and business leaders have more options at their disposal to achieve this.
Reflecting the insights of global tax and finance executives at global companies, Deloitte’s Tax Operations in Focus study reveals the six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda.
Trend 1: Businesses seek more strategic counsel from tax
Companies are being pushed to develop new digital products and distribution channels and accelerate sustainable transformation and this is taking them into uncharted tax territory. Tax leaders say their teams must have the resources and skills to give deeper advisory support on digital business models (65%), supply chain restructuring (49%) and sustainability (48%) over the next two years. This means redrawing the boundaries of what tax professionals focus on, and accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and lower-cost resourcing models to meet compliance requirements and free up time.
According to Joanne Walker, Group Tax Director, BT Group PLC, "There’s still a heavy compliance load today, but the vision for the future would be that much of that falls away, and tax people become subject matter experts who help program the machine, ensure quality control, and redirect their time to advisory activity.”
Trend 2: Tipping point for resourcing models
Business partnering demands in the tax department are on the rise, but 93% of tax leaders say their department’s budget is remaining flat or falling. To ensure that the tax function can redefine itself as a strategic function at the pace that is required, leaders are choosing to move increasing amounts of compliance and reporting to a combination of shared service centers, finance departments, and outsourcing providers that have invested in best-in-class technology.
Trend 3: Digital tax administration is moving faster than expected
in addition to the rising focus of the corporate tax department partnering with their business counterparts, transformative changes to the way companies share tax information with revenue authorities is also creating an imperative to modernize operations at a faster pace. Nine in 10 (92%) respondents say that shifting revenue authority demands on digital tax administration will have a moderate or high impact on tax operations and resources over the next five years—and several heads of tax said the trend is moving faster than expected.
"It’s really stepped up in the last couple of years," says Anna Elphick, VP Tax, Unilever. "Tax authorities don't just want a faster turnaround for compliance but access into a company’s systems. It's not unreasonable to think that in a much shorter time than we expect, compliance will be about companies reviewing a return that's been drafted by the tax authorities."
Trend 4: Data simplification and lower-cost resourcing are top priorities
Tax leaders said that simplifying data management (53%) and moving to lower-cost resourcing models (51%) must be prioritized if tax is to become more proactive at delivering strategic insights to the business. Many tax teams are ensuring that they have a seat at the table as ERP systems are overhauled, which is paying dividends: 56% of those that have introduced NextGen ERP systems are now highly effective at supporting the business with scenario-modeling insights. Only 35% of those with moderate to low use of NextGen ERP systems said the same.
At Stryker, “we automated the source P&L process for transfer pricing which took a huge burden off of the divisions," says David Furgason, Vice President Tax. "Then we created a transfer price database to deposit and retrieve data so we have limited impact on the divisions. We are moving to a single ERP platform which will help us make take the next step with robotics.”
Trend 5: Skillsets are shifting
Embedding a new data infrastructure and redesigning processes are critical for the future tax vision. Tax leaders are aligned — data skills (45%) and technology process experience (43%) are ‘must have’ skills in a tax department of the future, but more traditional tax specialist knowledge also remains key (40%). The trick to success will be in tax leaders facilitating the way these professionals, with their different backgrounds, can work together collectively to unlock lasting value.
Take Infineon Technologies, which formed a VAT technology and governance group "that has the right knowledge about how to change the system to ensure it generates the right reports", according to Matthias Schubert, Global Head of Tax. "Involving them early was key as we took a greenfield approach, so we could think about what the optimal processes would look like and how more intelligent systems could make an impact
Trend 6: 2020 brought productivity improvements
Improved productivity (50%) and accelerating shifts to remote working (48%) were cited as the biggest operational benefits to emerge from COVID-19-driven disruption. But, as 78% of leaders now plan to embed either hybrid or fully remote models in the tax function long term, 34% say maintaining productivity benefits is a top concern. And, as leaders think about building their talent pipeline and strengthening advisory skill sets, 47% say they must prioritize new approaches to talent recognition and career development over the next two years, while 36% say new processes for involving tax in business strategy decisions must be established.