Finding Purpose in Growing Your Small Business with Paul Jarvis

9 Min Read

Ramon Ray recently had the opportunity to chat with Paul Jarvis about his new book, Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business, and about growth and how to prioritize it in your business.

Paul started working for himself in the 1990s. For about 20 years, he worked as a web designer for companies like Mercedes Benz, Microsoft, Warner Music, and various online entrepreneurs. But, about 6 or 7 years ago, he shifted his business to focus more on products like books, podcasts, courses, software.

He laughs, “right now it’s hard to really say what my job is.”

He’s recently developed a blogging platform, similar to Medium, but without all the “stuff.” It’s nice, calm, easy to use writing platform. He’s also created Spasm Analytics which is like Google Analytics but according to Paul, “far easier and simpler to use. It focuses on privacy. Yours and your site visitors. Stores zero personal information. Stores data as an aggregate.” He emphasized that we don’t really need to store users’ personal data.

Slow Down

To quote Peter Shankman, “slow down.” Paul dished out some serious wisdom for entrepreneurs:

“I feel like I’m doing something wrong in my business if busy is my default state. If that’s the case, I have not prioritized things in my business well enough or I’ve just taken on too much.”

I think that’s advice we all needed to hear. Small business owner and entrepreneurs are so often grinding away, but Paul doesn’t think it has to be that way. You don’t have to be an Elon Musk who sleeps on the couch in your office because you have so much work to do.

You’re the Boss

You are the owner of your business and that means you get to make the rules. You get to say how much work is enough. “If I was working all hours of every day for 20 years I would have burned out. I would probably dislike my business even.” Of course, Paul affirms that your business needs to be profitable, but it should ultimately be set up in a way that suits the kind of life you want to have. If your business isn’t working for you, you might as well just go work for somebody else.  

Paul cited that Pew research confirms that people aren’t productive after working 50 hours a week. Paul’s advice: “If you’re working a 90 hour week, maybe you need to get more efficient with your time instead of sitting at your desk and thinking that you get a badge of honor for working 90 or more hours.” It’s time we started taking a more balanced approach to the way we approach entrepreneurialism.

Is Busy Inevitable?

Ramon posed the question to Paul that we’re all asking ourselves: But are there different stages of business where you will you have to spend 2-3 years of sleepless nights?

“We develop habits that stick with us. If we learn to golf and our swing is poor in the beginning it takes a lot of work to correct it. Whereas if we started golfing with the right swing and the right habits from the beginning, then we’re in a good place,” states Paul.

There are times when you’re going to be busy, and that’s ok. But Paul reminds us that, “It’s ok that I’m busy sometimes. It’s not ok that I’m busy all the time. Being busy as a default state is very difficult to maintain in the long term.”

Paul Jarvis Encourages You to Say ‘No’

Part of managing how busy you are is learning to say, “no.” Not every opportunity deserves your attention. Paul shares that, “every opportunity has an associated cost, and I think sometimes opportunities are great and are well worth the cost, but sometimes they’re not.” We should be focusing on what opportunities makes the most sense for the business that we want to have. Could your time be spent better doing other things to serve your business and the direction you want it to go?

It can be downright scary to say no to opportunities. But Paul reminds us that, “it’s not personal to say ‘no’,” and emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries for yourself and for your business. “If we don’t set boundaries in our own business, we’re left with the boundaries that other people set for us and that can be scary because it can be a line past what we are comfortable with.” For people pleasers, this can be one of the hardest things to overcome.

Being Satisfied—or Not

How often are we trying to keep up with the digital Joneses? In this day in age, it’s not the house or the car. It’s looking at everybody else’s company and thinking, “what’s their gross revenue, how many employees do they have?” Paul says the real question you should be asking is, “what kind of business do I want?” He also recommends combating the growth mentality at all costs.

While we do have to grow from the beginning to make our businesses sustainable and build revenue, there comes a point where we need to evaluate whether we have enough.  Paul explains that we need ego to start off. But, our ego doesn’t serve us when the point of growing our business is to sound important at a dinner party. “Am I running my business so I can sound good to other people, or am I running my business so that I can have a fulfilled life? That’s the counterbalance to keeping up with the Joneses.” He continues by asking, “what does success look like to you? 2 private jets or more time to spend washing your car?” It’s really about prioritizing what success looks like to you personally and using that as your measure. You won’t get very far if you are constantly chasing someone else’s version of success.

Fast Growth Businesses

Company of One isn’t meant to be literal, it’s meant to question growth and make you critically think about how much and what kind of growth makes sense for your business. Air B&B wouldn’t be a success if they only had two places in the whole world to book. Growth for them makes a lot of sense. If you’re planning an exit, it makes sense to grow as big as possible to sell for the highest amount. If you’re looking to be In it for 20 years, the goal is to keep your business lean as possible in order to have fewer expenses so you can be more profitable. Paul stresses that there is no perfect blueprint to be a successful company. In his book, he’s simply presenting businesses “tools to make better decisions in their business to get to the level of success that they actually want for themselves.”

Growth With a Purpose

The narrative for so long has been that growth in business is always good. But Paul says that that’s not always true. He shared that in a study by Startup Genome Project of 3,200 startups, 74% failed. They didn’t fail because of bad business plans or competition, but they failed because they scaled too quickly. “Unchecked growth or growth that doesn’t have a purpose doesn’t make sense and it’s damaging to our businesses in the long term. Growth [only] makes sense if there’s a purpose.”

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