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You can’t sell from an empty wagon. If you aren’t too busy, you aren’t busy enough. Keep all the balls in the air. Don’t cry over spilled milk. If you want something done right, give it to a busy person. What are the other metaphors that could apply?

Too often I find many small-business people to be too conservative. I don’t mean in the political sense. I mean they become too risk-adverse and afraid to take on new things because they are “too busy.”

“I will think about that tomorrow,” as Scarlett O’Hara said to Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.

Of course there is another extreme. There are those people that are always living on the edge and never seem to get their business or life under control. Life and business can be a challenge and depending on our personality, one must manage “within our limitations.” As Clint Eastwood said in Dirty Harry when he eliminated the bad guy: “He didn’t know his limitations.”

What’s this got to do with us?
It’s simple. We need to keep challenging ourselves to find out where our limitations are. Another way to look at it is to ask ourselves, “Where are the bottlenecks in our company that keep us from growing and/or becoming more efficient?” Too many small business reach a certain plateau and never seem to get to the next level. This is what separates real entrepreneurs from what some call lifestyle entrepreneurs. They want a certain lifestyle and when they attain that level they are satisfied and never get beyond it. This can be an acceptable way to manage a business but that can also create risk. Tom Monaghan, the man who founded Domino’s Pizza was an investor in the franchise company I ran as CEO. One of his favorite sayings was, “you either grow or you die.” Growth is necessary in any business. As a business owner only you can decide how much you want to grow and what is your personal risk tolerance. Some risk, being willing to spill a little, is necessary if you are to have a sustainable company.

I always felt that if I did not have more than I could get done, it was time to take on something new. The same is true for staff members. If they are not taxed a bit, they become inefficient. I recall one acquisition we did that came shortly after we had done a pretty big one only two months prior. We really had all we could absorb with the first one. But, the second opportunity was going to pass us by and most likely go to a competitor if we didn’t jump on it. We jumped!

We ended up spilling quite a lot. Our customer service suffered for a while as we merged new people and started running a company that was twice the size as it was only a couple of months before. We came out of it fine even though we spilled a few customers who became unhappy with our service, and we weren’t close enough to them to notice. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Just don’t ask my former partner or the staff members! It was rough on them, but we all got through it and we were a much bigger and more successful and profitable company as a result. The short term pain and risk ended up paying big dividends.

Spilling a little can make good business sense as long as you don’t put your company at too much risk. Sometimes you just have to go for it and spill a little.

Carl Gerhardt is a 30 year veteran of entrepreneurship and is retired Chairman of Alliance Franchise Brands. He is currently a consultant with FranNet a company that matches individuals wanting to own their own business with franchise opportunities. cgerhardt@frannet.com. Carl is also a volunteer with SCORE offering free counseling for small business entrepreneurs. www.score-reno.org.