How Fast to Grow?

Once in a while, a company faces the challenge of having to expand exponentially. Is that a nice problem to have? Or is it just a problem?

The story in this issue about Professional Drain Services should start any ambitious contractor thinking. What if you had the chance, as this Minnesota company did, to multiply the size of your business almost overnight?

Would you do it in search of the obvious rewards? Or would you defer in the face of the risks, or fear of the unknown? That of course depends on the owner’s temperament and financial position, and on the nature of the opportunity.

Professional Drain was able to make the leap because it could show potential lenders a major, long-term contract that would support the investment in equipment and staff. So here, fast growth was a healthy decision.

On the other hand, companies have been known to grow themselves into near oblivion. Taking on large slugs of new business means gearing up and hiring quickly. And often, people hired in haste are not the best people – or they’re put to work without proper training. Quality suffers. Customers become dissatisfied. Business spirals down.


Two sides

In some cases, owners are just not mentally wired to run a large company. They’re happier and maybe even more profitable staying small. The landscape is littered with contractors who once got big but then got small again on purpose, because they’re comfortable that way. There’s nothing at all wrong with that – it’s a personal choice.

Other owners operate on the principle of carpe diem – seize the day! Given a chance for explosive growth, they’d take it and never (they hope) look back. The key to growing quickly is (contradictory as this may sound) doing it without being hasty.

A business is like a building, with a foundation, walls, a roof, and all sorts of systems inside – mechanical, plumbing, electrical, cooling, heating, lighting. Shoddy workmanship in any area can mean the building doesn’t function in a healthy way.

Growing a business means taking time to put all the pieces and systems in place, step by methodical step. If you’re going to grow quickly, you have to make sure someone – you or one or more trusted managers – does the meticulous work of building. Always plumb, level and square. Measure twice, cut once.


Building it right

You know the basic ingredients of building a business. Setting up systems. Hiring the right people. Training them in the technical and customer skills they need and in the company culture. Choosing the most suitable equipment. Buying it right and, if you’re borrowing for it, structuring the loan to the best advantage. And much more.

As you read this month’s article about Professional Drain, consider asking yourself: What would you do if an opportunity like theirs came knocking? Would you jump at it? Or shy away?

It’s a question many business owners eventually face – not necessarily to grow at such a fast pace, but how much to grow? And how fast? And in what manner? Adding service lines? Building the existing customer base? Both?

Cleaner would like to hear about your experiences in dealing with growth. How have you met the challenge? Have you decided to grow or stay small? Why? Your insights could help others in the industry decide which path is best for them.

Send me a note with your perceptions to I promise to respond, and we’ll report on some of the more interesting comments in a future issue.


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