By: Jill Mendoza Let’s grow! It is a simple New Year’s resolution for a small business and yes that was the message I gave each IDO associate as we successfully concluded the 2012 year. But then over the Holidays I pondered a bit and realized the single most over-used term in business is probably the word “growth”. Every business plan, every strategic plan, every five-year timeline we use talks about “reaching your growth potential.” So if you experience these increases, and you can increase the size of your small business you will be able to serve more completely. And let’s face it, an increase in size means you must make more “money” – which in our industry is one stone upstream from “you must have more work.” I admit as a small business owner that I sometime fall victim to the blind pursuit of using business buzz words. It’s not that growth is a bad concept; but when examined in the context of small business it can be misleading. So here are a few characteristics of the growth conversation that I’m going to pay more attention to in 2013: 1. Growth doesn’t have to mean BIG. Great ideas are everywhere, and small businesses aren’t going to get to what the markets think of as big on ideas alone. In our market there are very few large interior design firms. We must remember that being small and impactful is fine. Changing lives in one town, city or region is great. Good work that keeps us employed is sometimes just as meaningful. So perhaps instead of thinking “big,” we should think “deep.” 2. Growth doesn’t always mean more efficiency. I know I have been known to say; “the more efficient we are, the higher our profit margins will be”. Yes, there are aspects of our operational system where this is the special sauce. But in general, we have to remember we are not making widgets. We are human beings serving other human beings. We are sometimes changing the way people work, or the way a student learns or the way a patient heals, or the way a constituent gives. We are constantly trying to improve something. And quality matters. We want to be sure that we do not grow more inefficient and more about preserving our business margins rather than improving the lives and businesses of those we serve. 3. Growth is more work. You can’t grow without it. And unless I’ve missed something, the U.S. growth rate is now between one and two percent. And small business “investing” is still small because it is usually self-funded. Even if your firm is the best around there’s a ceiling up there. If you’re projecting “growth” in your strategic planning, it must be realistic. 4. Growth takes a long time. Like decades. Back in the 90s when IDO was founded, there seemed to always be an opportunity to take a well-executed idea and turn it into a bit of growth each year. In this new economy it appears that it will take even longer, and for good reasons. The work we perform today is both harder to accomplish and more difficult to measure than the work we performed a decade ago. So the real winners are the small businesses who stick it out, grow over time, weather the storm, and build a wider base of support. In recent years, this has been IDO’s special sauce. Perhaps our conversation for growth in 2013 will be about “consistency, steadiness, resilency and widening that base”! What will your conversations be about this year?