When I set out to start my company, I knew it was important to choose the right mix of employees. I wanted a group of smart, creative, problem solvers with open minds and strong work ethics. Ideally, everyone on the team would get along, be invested in the quality of our product, and want to provide a high level of customer service. At the time, I did not consider how the number of employees in my company would also be so pivotal. I figured that as my business grows, so will my team. And of course, that is true to some degree: The more you manufacture, the more resources and diversification you need. What I did not realize is that it is possible to stay small and nimble while your business expands. A bigger team does not mean better performance or profit. A bigger team often means more miscommunication, paperwork, and disconnection within your organization and most importantly with your customers.
Intentionally staying small in business has its benefits. I have discovered that there is a sweet spot where you have the right number of employees. For your operation, that may be 10 or 100. The key is not to scale up too quickly. Your number needs to be big enough to avoid employee burnout, but small enough to allow for autonomy and culture to be cultivated within your team. There are smart ways to grow, and hiring a solid team is essential. You want valuable people to stay with you for the long haul. So, decide the company culture you would like to create, and find the right people to make it happen. If a tight-knit group is what you are looking for, stay small. The smaller you are, the more likely you can develop your company’s vision and goals. Plus, a lean team has more opportunity to innovate. And most importantly, a small team can deliver personalized service to clients.
A Strong Team
One of the biggest advantages of staying small is the amount of facetime between leaders, employees, and customers. Within a smaller company, individuals can form strong bonds with each other. To be honest, I feel like our team has become my second family. If there is a problem or struggle, it is quickly found and worked through. And because there are not very many of us, we have gotten to know each other very well. I think it is important to hire a variety of people with different ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and skill sets who can work together. I like to look past a person’s CV when hiring, as there is so much more to consider. Get to know their personality, drive, communication skills, and values before you add them to your team. Once you find a cohesive group, everyone can contribute in their unique ways. Their strengths and weaknesses will balance each other out. Often, employees in a smaller team will wear many hats, so individuals can try something new and broaden their skills. As with any relationship, it is so important to keep your team supported and engaged.
The Flexibility to Act
Within a smaller company, it is easier to pivot, tweak and make updates to products and processes. There is less bureaucracy and more flexibility to make impactful changes. And these changes can happen in hours or days, not weeks or months! If something does not work, smaller businesses can fix or change it without a long, drawn-out process. For example, when the market evolves and prices for freight and materials dramatically increase, small companies have the upper hand. They can respond more quickly to these events and find creative solutions to economic disruptions. During challenging times, our company made significant changes to our business model to help our customers. Through it all, we stayed transparent and true to our vision. Small teams can quickly and effectively identify, strategize, and implement such changes.
Personalized Customer Service
Smaller companies are uniquely positioned to provide better communication and transparency with customers. And having close relationships with clients is the best way to achieve brand loyalty. It is possible to do things like shorten lead times, lower costs, and improve quality and responsiveness. But it is also possible to implement other initiatives that can help our customers. We like to get our whole team involved in brainstorming for new product features and designs. And when you are small and nimble, you can work through kinks on the spot.
Just the other day, a customer let us know about an issue he was having with the flooring of one of our relocatable self-storage units. Within an hour, our team produced three different solutions that we were able to choose between and implement before the day’s end. It is not always the case when we can solve a problem on the same day, but we can always respond and communicate promptly.
My goal has always been to build a business that I feel good about. And running a company feels like it has gotten harder over the past few years. With today’s short tempers, economic woes, and labor shortages, we need to listen to each other to elevate how we work together. Company size does not dictate company success. It is the quality of your team, your product, and your service that matters. The best business size is one where you cannot hide what is good or bad in a day’s work. Rather than growing the size of your team, focus on creating a dedicated team who can strategize together to create lifelong, happy customers. That feels good.
Rod Bolls is Founder & CEO of Boxwell, the Boulder-based manufacturer of innovative storage solutions for businesses around the world. He leads a team of 25 with honesty and integrity, prioritizing a balance between working hard and playing hard. At the core, Boxwell uses a hands-on, personalized approach to business — from the first phone call to the finished installation and onto the next order. Their storage solutions are produced at Boxwell-owned facilities in China and the USA. This diversity in facilities allows for a wider range of products, better customization, quality control, and shortened lead times. Boxwell believes that anything is possible and works to help their customers succeed.