After you’ve been in business for a while, it is natural to feel a slight sense of letdown when the adrenalin of running to survive is no longer pumping.
Frankly, it can get a little boring when every day looks like the last.
Once you’re past survival mode, it’s a good time to re-evaluate your long-term goals for your business. I see three basic models for going forward:
Scale up and sell
You could choose to scale up your business and make growth a priority in order to sell it in the intermediate term.
To do this, you’ll have to find a product or service line that you can teach employees to deliver (or that you can program technology to handle) and hire a sales force to sell it.
You’ll likely need to pour your cash and profits into growing, which means you’ll have to be content with drawing a basic salary and avoid declaring dividends for a while.
Depending on how fast and big you want to grow, you may have to take on outside investors (angel, venture capital, private equity).
If you’re successful, you’ll likely have a business you can sell down the road, which you’ll need to do to satisfy the shareholders you invite to invest.
Focus on building a great company, not a big one
My friend Bo Burlingham, who wrote Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, describes a growing number of CEOs whose focus is to build an amazing company, not necessarily a big one.
He points to companies like Anchor Brewing, which shunned an initial public offering needed to raise capital to increase brewing capacity in favour of staying small and focusing on brewing great beer.
There is something special about building a truly outstanding company piece by piece. Almost like an artist creating a masterpiece, the entrepreneur focused on being great instead of big can take his or her time, sanding off rough edges over months or years without the pressures to grow and cut corners.
Assuming you retain 100-per-cent ownership, you can use your company as a piggy bank, declaring a fat annual dividend. If you build a great yet slow-growth company, your end game might be to sell your business to your management team over time, or to find an outside buyer looking for a premium offering to add to their lineup.
Expect to get a lower multiple for your business when your growth rate is modest.
Be a guru
The third option is to shun building a traditional company and build yourself up as a hired gun, instead.
While there is little leverage in the guru model, the better you get, the more you can charge for your time. Provided you don’t take on a lot of extra expenses, you can create a very nice lifestyle for yourself as a guru.
Keep in mind it is virtually impossible to sell a guru business, nor is there the same satisfaction you get from building a great company. However, you can create a nice income for yourself without many of the hassles that preoccupy a lot of business owners.
What you want to avoid is mixing these objectives.
For example, if your goal is to grow a business, you can’t strip out all of the cash each year in the form of dividends as you could if you were slowly growing a great business over time.
Likewise, if you want to build a great company instead of a big one, you can’t succumb to jealousy when you see your entrepreneurial peers enjoying big-time exits.
If you’re a guru, don’t fall into the trap of hiring a bunch of staff or renting more office space than you need. There’s no point: You’re not building a company to sell, so the financial objective should be to maximize your annual take-home pay from one year to the next.
I think the answer to the post-start up blahs is to decide on one of these paths, and never look back. All three models can create a wonderful lifestyle. The only danger comes when you think you want one thing but act as though you’re chasing something else.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, published by Portfolio Penguin.