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Half Baked: Knowing When Not to Grow as a Business

When Not to Grow

Every new business owner dreams of wild growth: overnight fame, fortune, and popularity dropped on your proverbial doorstep.

And it’s only natural that they do; those things are indicators of success and potential longevity, but the very thing you aspire to could also eventually be your undoing.

After all, as the old saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Our Key Lime Bundt Cake was featured on “Oprah’s Favorite Things” – the perfect example of an entrepreneur’s dream come true – and We Take The Cake was launched into the public spotlight, becoming the overnight success we had always desired. It’s the sort of story that entrepreneurs think would end with “And we lived happily ever after,” without considering the battles lost, dragons slayed, and villains fought to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

There’s a reason the term “growing pains” is one that people know well. Growth isn’t easy; change is uncomfortable and the future can be hard to predict. Explosive expansion can be overwhelming in a good or bad way, and sometimes it’s best for your business if you pace yourself.

If you lack the following three ingredients, you may need to work on perfecting your recipe for success before falling into the flames:

Expertise

Our expertise was hard-earned; I was not a baker to begin with, just someone who wanted to buy a business. So we found an already established company for sale and thought, “How hard can it be?”

Spoiler alert: it can be really hard.

Before scheming up ways to go viral or to end up as a household name, take the time to know your entire industry inside and out. Don’t just know how to run your business (although you’ll need that too) – have a solid understanding of all of the moving pieces, how they work together to produce your product, and how your product fits in with the competition, your market, and the world. Do research, network with related businesses, go to trade shows, read industry publications, and have a genuine curiosity about what you do and how you can improve.

Experience

You can achieve expert status in an intellectual way without having true experience. We Take The Cake got to a point where we believed we knew what we were doing. We had the public name, we had the big numbers… but we had absolutely no idea what our actual sweet spot was, which led to some failed attempts at franchising and pop-up retail locations.

The good news is that missteps along the way become the experience you need to rise through the ranks. The bad news is that perceived failure hurts pride, and possibly your budget, in the short term. Be humble and honest with yourself so that you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly to grow appropriately.

Assets

A lot of people consider assets to be financially based, but an asset is actually anything that brings value to your business, from staff to equipment to work space. Our biggest complications from our brush with overnight fame were mostly related to the fact that we weren’t prepared for such an onslaught of orders – and that was after our attempt to prepare. Our website went down, our hosting company quit, we couldn’t handle the call volume, and it became readily apparent that our space was insufficient for our new and improved business size.

Consider the “worst” best case scenario and plan for that. It would have been far better to have found ourselves temporarily overstaffed than to realize we had three lines of voicemail filling up every forty minutes.  And, remember, if you mess up on this step, you’ve gained valuable experience, so it all works out in the end anyway.

The truth is that a comfortable pace allows your company to grow into itself as well as its potential. There will always be time for learning through trial and error – and there’s tremendous value in doing so – but getting that education in bite-sized chunks is more palatable, and practical, than plunging face-first into that which you (think you) desire.