The Corner Office

The problem with the 'Go Big or Go Home' mindset

Let your 'why' guide your goals


If you’ve received any business advice in the past, say, 50 years, I’m willing to bet that it came with the assumption that you wanted to expand. We hear that advice all the time — make it bigger and better, scale this area, try these new strategies for growth and similar ideas. But should growing always be the ultimate goal of every business venture?

At its core, business is a hobby that generates money, and there’s no reason to pretend that money doesn’t matter. Everyone has to eat. But, assuming that you're meeting basic needs and putting bread on the table, it’s important to consider what you want from your investment.

Why did you get into your current business? If it was solely to make boatloads of money, then go with my blessing. Bigger is probably better for you. But for some people, that’s not the ultimate goal. Maybe you started your organization to fulfill a need in your community, or you wanted to work toward a mission goal. If that sounds like you, expanding may not always be in your best interest.

I recently engaged with a small business owner who works in the trades. He’s occupied many positions throughout a long and successful career, including growing a business that was generating good, steady profits with more than 20 employees. But when he sat down to look at what he was getting for his investment — and his time, he realized that he didn’t like what he was seeing.

The business was thriving, certainly, but it took a lot of hours of mental and emotional work from him every week. He was enjoying the profits, but he’d stopped enjoying his work. And he decided that ultimately, making good money wasn’t worth the hassle of managing an enterprise of that size.

So he unwound it. He sold the parts of the business that he could, and he downsized his staff to just him and a few core team members. And he’s over the moon. Sure, he makes a little less now, but he gets to do the hands-on work he wanted to do when he started his business, and he finally has time to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

With the proposition of “go big or go home,” he chose an unspoken third option — to stay right where he wanted to be.

This illustrates the fundamental problem with the messaging that your business is either growing or failing; it’s a false dichotomy. There is a spot for having a satisfying business that serves a purpose and never seeks to be bigger than it is. All you have to do is be honest with yourself if that’s what you want, and then stop working toward a goal that you don’t really want to achieve.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with many “Editor & Publisher” readers, and there are a lot of purpose-driven people working in media today. If you’re operating in legacy or traditional media, there’s a good chance that you do your work for a reason other than money, and your organization likely has a purpose-driven core.

But there’s no reason to think that the industry you’re in should dictate what you want to get out of your business. It's a personal decision, as I saw with two clients I've been working with lately.

Both clients are working in rural places, and they’re both running smaller entities that used to be considerably larger and now need to figure out how to make it work in a digital age. But despite their similarities, my conversations with them couldn't have been more different.

One of them is extremely growth-oriented; we’re having conversations about how to push their sales, get the most out of their production, etc. For them, the focus is on expanding their enterprise and scaling everything up.

But for my other client with a comparable setup, that’s not what’s important. Their focus is on serving their community, and they’re starting to accept that their enterprise will probably never be much bigger than it is right now, given what they're willing to put into it. So our conversations center more around making sure they’re providing services to the community and making sure they can still be happy with their business.

This isn’t an issue where there’s a right or wrong choice. The important thing is that, when you’ve finished your work for the day, and you’re thinking back on what you did, you can feel satisfied.

Be honest with yourself and your team about what motivates you. Don’t feel like a sap for having a mission, and don’t worry about being a bad person because your primary goal is to make money. And once you have your answer, look at what you’re putting into your business, where it’s headed, and make sure that you’re not spending your days working toward the wrong goal.

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here