- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

For many entrepreneurs, it's the small-business version of the American dream: a startup that is hugely successful and grows beyond their expectations.
For other entrepreneurs, the dream is very different a company that provides a good living but never grows beyond a certain level. They've come to believe that a small business can remain small and meet all their goals.
When Ellen Kruskie started Carolina PetSpace, a store where dog owners can wash their pets, "I did not open my business in order to become the Dave Thomas of dog washes," she said, referring to the founder of Wendy's, the fast-food chain.
Miss Kruskie said that soon after she opened her Raleigh, N.C., store nine years ago, other business owners suggested she franchise it.
She started working on a franchise plan, but in the end decided against expanding.
"I've had a lot of opportunities," she said. "But I opened this place to make a living for me period, end of conversation."
Scott Gross, an author and speaker on customer service, scaled back his business which used to include video production and video-based training programs because it wasn't fun anymore. As his company had grown, there was too much work to do.
"I'd have to get a president to do the junk stuff I don't have any interest in, or give up some of our spare time and pay attention to management," said Mr. Gross, who lives in Center Point, Texas.
By downsizing his business five years ago Mr. Gross now has four employees, compared with 12 a few years ago he has the easygoing lifestyle he wants.
Many successful business owners don't think twice about growing and expanding, building a bigger company to meet the increasing demand for their products and services. They are thrilled to have their hopes for the business fulfilled.
But some, such as Miss Kruskie and Mr. Gross, start second-guessing the small-business dream.
"They had followed the 'this is what I'm supposed to do' model. Then they came to the conclusion that this couldn't be the only way to do things," said Jamie Walters, author of "Big Vision, Small Business," a book that looks at ways to have a small yet successful company.
Mr. Walters said there are many pluses to staying small, including the ability to focus on customers who are the biggest revenue producers.
"You're working with customers that serve you best," Mr. Walters said. "You can provide a master craftsman level of quality that small groups can do best."
But running a company with a small number of customers can be a daunting prospect, especially because small businesses are warned continually against becoming too dependent on a particular client who may leave, taking away a big chunk of revenue. Turning down business is also hard for many owners.
Elizabeth Lake Key, a consultant and owner of Lake Business Development in Denver, agrees that it takes some fortitude to say no.
"No matter which way you go, it's a risk. It's always a balance," she said, acknowledging that when companies lose customers, owners will have to increase their efforts to bring back business to the level they want.
Mrs. Key said she had made the decision to keep her business small enabling her to leave work by 3 p.m. every day to pick up her children from school after having worked 80 hours a week in a company she co-owned 12 years ago.
But she said she has increased her revenue and makes a good living in her current business, which is 5 years old.
Mrs. Key, who helps other business owners structure their companies to be small but successful, suggests owners focus on adding services for existing customers.
"It takes a lot less time to keep one client happy with multiple things than three clients happy with one thing," she said.
Business owners who keep their companies small may find satisfaction they wouldn't have if they were bigger.
Robin Blum, owner of New York-based In My Book, a 2-year-old publisher of greeting cards, decided against selling to big retailers because of some of the frustrations inherent in the publishing business.
By selling to independent bookstores and museum stores, she is able to have more control as well as the level of quality she wants.
Miss Blum isn't looking to the business for a living at this point "I like being able to do the things that I do at home" but she is looking to expand, as long as she can do it on her terms.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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