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Start: Mark Evans

To grow or not to grow? Add to ...

To grow or not to grow: That is the question facing many small businesses.

While it can be difficult to start and establish a business, it can be just as challenging to take a business to the next level. Getting bigger can mean adding more employees, moving into bigger or new offices or locations, and embracing the additional risks that come along with a larger operation.

For some entrepreneurs, staying small is a safe option if their business is giving off enough money to support a comfortable professional and personal lifestyle. For people who have bigger aspirations, the decision to grow seems like a natural and logical move.

The grow or no grow dilemma is something I have experienced first-hand because of my involvement with mesh, a Web conference I started along with four partners in 2006.

We started the conference pretty much on a whim after meeting for drinks on a cold February night at a downtown pub. We came to the decision that Canada needed a conference where people could talk about the exciting things happening online.

Next thing you know, we were in the conference business.

For the first couple of years, we were content to do one conference a year – albeit one that attracted nearly 500 participants and speakers from around North America.

Before long, however, it struck us that there were other opportunities and ideas we wanted to pursue. The decision to grow or just keep on doing mesh every year was difficult because the five of us have other full-time jobs. There was only so much additional time we had to invest.

After a lot of discussion, we decided to grow by putting on more events. It started with the launch of meshU, a one-day conference focused on Web design and development. With another event under our belts, we decided to do a digital marketing event, which spawned meshmarketing in 2009.

And next week in Calgary, we’ll be launching meshwest, a one-day version of mesh, which is focused on how the Web is changing how we live, work and play.

In the process, we have gone from five guys who knew nothing about putting on a conference to a business with multiple events. We still have full-time jobs so growth means having to make some decisions about how we are going to structure the organization. It could mean hiring someone to help us with the administrative, marketing and sales functions.

In some respects, it is forcing us to make tough decisions because mesh has become a thriving business as opposed to a hobby.

Managing growth is a nice problem to have now that we have embraced the idea of growing. The question facing many entrepreneurs is whether they want to similarly go down this path.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers ‘stories’ for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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