Yesterday, as I was waiting in line exiting our church, a friend behind me asked how my business was doing. I replied that it is growing and I am spending lots of hours on it. She immediately came back with, “Why don’t you hire someone?” As I turned to answer, she already was in conversation with someone else. Later in the day as I was contemplating what topic I should cover this month, it suddenly hit me. That remark was like a voice from the past.
That very same question and suggestion had been put to me by the
first interior designer I worked for. I was not getting her work
out as fast as she would have liked, so in order to help her out
it was suggested I should hire help—a real employee. Of course,
being so innocent and naïve I agreed that I needed to help
her to get her work faster and so I hired my first employee. Shall
we just say that I have 20/20 vision now that I did not have then?
WHOSE NEEDS MUST BE MET?
In most cases relating to business the customer is the one to please,
but when you are talking about growing your business, that is another
matter. You, alone, are the only one who knows what you want to
give and receive from your business. My guess is that most of you
do not have a clear picture of where you want your business to go.
When I say clear, I mean exact! Otherwise, how will you recognize
success when you get there?
Too often, as I consult with businesses in this industry, I find
the owners do not know where they are headed. A while back, I began
to require all my clients to submit a summary of their backgrounds,
where they want to be one, three and five years from now and answer
a list of questions prior to a consultation. For many, crystallizing
their futures had been a real problem. For others it was easy to
put down on paper what they wanted to do, but in the end they had
no concept of what they were really asking for. In some cases, what
they thought they wanted was not a good fit for their skills and
Too many people start businesses sewing in their homes just because
they keep hearing well-meaning friends and family say, “You
are so good at that. Why don’t you go into business?”
I can see the heads out there bobbing up and down. Obviously, the
friends and family never owned a business. Right?
What do you want? Do you really want a business? Do you really want
to have to determine what you are worth so you can put a price on
your services? Just today, I had someone ask me if I had a suggested
price list I could sell her. I responded, “If I did, I would
be a millionaire by now!”
What do you want from your business? And money is not the answer!
Only you can determine and describe in detail what your business
stands for and what it will give back to you. This step is essential
before you do anything to grow your business. Just because you are
working long hours is not a definite sign you need to grow. You
may only need to increase your prices!
WHAT IS ‘GROWING A BUSINESS?
Obviously some people think that hiring employees is growing a business.
Others think it is making more money. Some might believe that just
owning a business is worth it for status. There are others that
think moving out of the home and into a storefront is what growing
and success is all about. And then there are those who have thought
it through and realize that, besides being a pleasure, owning a
business also will be their retirement guarantee. By that I mean
the business could run itself without the owner’s constant
presence or that it’s a saleable commodity that will fund the
owner’s retirement years.
Your business can grow slowly and be manageable with minimal risk,
or you can invest heavily to make it grow faster and thus “succeed”
faster. That investment might be longer work hours or money. Here
again, how do you define success and what are you willing to give—sacrifice
— to get there?
That’s a lot of ideas, but what is “growing a business”
really? Isn’t it taking you where you want to be? Isn’t
it the means to allow you to have some of the finer things in life?
Isn’t it taking you outside your comfort zone—a little
or a lot? Isn’t it about increasing your income as well as
your joy in what you do? Isn’t it job security?
If you own your own business, can’t you determine how much
money you need to make (or charge your customers) to be financially
secure? As I read over the results of the workroom survey D&WC
did a few years ago (see D&WC May 2000, page 54; June 2000,
page 52; July 2000, page 54), I was appalled that so many people
had been in the workroom business so long and still were not happy
with their incomes. Would they have worked for someone else that
long and feel the same way?
ARE YOU MAKING A PROFIT NOW?
To me, this is a very innocent question that should be answered
easily by any business owner. One more so-called easy question would
be, “How much are you paying yourself?” Can you answer
If you can’t answer these questions, then how can you grow?
How can you quit the full-time job that is paying the bills so you
can go full-time in your current part-time business?
I am reminded of the following joke: William and Allen lived in
Alabama on the border of Mississippi. The latter state had a severe
drought and feed for livestock was scare. William and Allen decided
to buy hay in Alabama for $2.50 a bale and sell it in Mississippi
for $2 a bale. They did this a few times and Allen, realizing they
weren’t making any money, asked William what they should do.
William scratched his head, thought it over and replied, “Maybe
we should buy a bigger truck!”
Growing, no matter how you might define it, can’t happen until
you are financially secure where you are. If you are happy with
what you are paying yourself in salary, with the number of hours
you are working and if after you have paid all the bills you have
a significant amount of money in your business checking account,
then you are at a point where you can grow if you have defined what
Growing, in the sense we are discussing, is not about making changes
in your business because you recognize that what you have been doing
is not profitable. If you know your business is not profitable,
then making changes is the only way to get different results. That
is conscientious business management, not growing, although it could
result in growth.
STARTING A NEW BUSINESS
You probably don’t want to hear this, but usually growing is
the same as starting a new business. What does that mean? It means
you are back to investing time and money into your next success.
If you are working by yourself, you may think that hiring people
to help will get you where you want to go. Not necessarily, unless
you are trying to work into a management position where everyone
else in your business is producing the income. When you hire a person
to help you, you must train them, which reduces your productivity
and income. It is also the beginning of turning yourself into a
manager rather than a producer.
Training in the custom workroom business is a long process. This
is why you must be profitable and have reserve capital first!
My own preference, although my business is not like yours, is to
rely on technology as much as possible. As a workroom, you too can
rely on technology in that you can invest in the proper equipment
to increase your own production. You can invest in patterns and
education for yourself to improve your efficiency. You can invest
in software to do your estimating. Any time you can increase your
productivity and income without hiring an employee, you will eventually
add more dollars into your bank without it costing you more than
the initial investment.
Another important preference I have is to invest in other professionals
to do what I’m not good at or can’t do at all. My accountant,
my Web master, my computer tech and my software trainers are at
the top of my growth investment plan.
Paying other pros may seem to cost more than what you think you
can afford, but they are a valuable investment if you choose wisely.
By the time you figure out how to do what you are paying them for,
you have invested many more hours of your valuable time and your
work may not be as good as theirs. If you do the math, I think you
will find the pros will be cheaper than you are. While they are
doing what you are paying them to do (fabricating pinch pleats,
for example), you can be generating more income with a higher profit
Well, are you ready to grow? Or are you ready to make some changes
to get your business to the growth stage? What do you want your
business to be like in five years? Now get out your pencil and paper
and crayons and draw your future. Don’t forget a smiley face—J—because
that will be you when you succeed!
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran
of the drapery workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms as
one person and as a company of nine, she is now president of Workroom
Concepts a consulting firm offering educational resources to the industry
on its Web site (www.workroomconcepts.com).
Her experience in both the retail and wholesale window covering arenas
has contributed to her success as a business consultant. A professional
speaker and writer, she has authored several industry products including
Order in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications and
Price Your Work with Confidence, available through D&WC.