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The challenges of going from a small to medium/large size business

As a small business owner, the goal is to grow and expand, right? To acquire more customers, sell more stock, hire more people, and establish a well-known brand – to be bigger and better. 

Well, in truth, that’s not the case at all. 

For some small business owners, going from a small to medium/large size business is not actually what they want, while for others, it’s not an easy decision to take things to the next level. 

As the founder and creative director of S-kin Studio Jewelry, my goal was never to be the next Steve Jobs. I wanted to create and run a business that I was passionate about, that I adored working on every single day, and with jewellery that sparked joy and was sensitive on people’s skin.

After leaving a career that didn’t fulfil me in Management Consulting, I put my heart and soul into launching my small business in early 2018. 

And I thought it would remain just that – a small business that my husband, Alex, and I would work closely on, maybe with one or two staff to assist with customer service, packing orders and marketing here and there.

But when my humble little business started to gain real momentum by late 2018 with revenue around $200k annually, the time came to decide to either stay small or expand. 

What surprised me was how hard this decision was to make. How hard it was to accept that we were outgrowing current operations and needed to change. 

I was working ten-hour days trying to juggle marketing the business, packing orders, making jewellery, customer service, and everything else in between out of my spare bedroom. Alex would sometimes come home and help for hours into the night packing orders. It was proving more and more difficult to balance work and life.

And yet, despite these struggles, in some respects staying small and nimble while still being profitable seemed easier than taking the next step to expand and grow the business further. Why? Because I knew that expansion would also bring a set of new tasks and challenges, many of which were in uncharted waters for me. 

I knew that hiring would require finding the right people, managing them, payroll, superannuation and nurturing their careers, implementing processes to follow, delegating tasks, trusting others, and working with new manufacturers. And I knew would result in changes within the business. And with little to no experience in many of these areas, it was extremely daunting. 

I’ve always worked by myself, and the transition to having a team intimidated me. I didn’t think others would take my business seriously. I thought no one would care about it enough, and I held onto the idea that I could do everything myself. The alternative to expanding seemed so much more ‘romantic’ – keeping stock limited, doing marketing for the joy of creating, and making jewellery as a hobby instead of fulfilling orders, which sometimes felt like a chore to me. 

But despite all my reservations and fear, I decided to go ALL in. Because while I didn’t envisage S-kin to be a large company, that’s where she was heading, and I owed it to myself to see where the journey could take us.

Before I started S-kin, I asked Alex, ‘should I really do this?’ and he answered, ‘you need to do it, or you’ll regret it. What have you got to lose?’

The very same logic applied here: ‘What have I got to lose?’ So I went, and I did it. We expanded.

I hired new staff to help reduce my workload to pack orders, allowing me to have more time to work on marketing, increase stock, and move to a new office. I opened my first retail store in 2020, hired my first full time employee, am now adding two more to the team to help with operations and jewellery making. Less than a year later, we’re moving into a bigger office and bigger retail space, and it’s only the beginning. 

Did it come with challenges? Absolutely. I had no clue how to manage people. I had to learn to delegate. I needed to not only help them do their jobs effectively but build a team and lead them. I needed to think of cash flow. I needed to budget more effectively. 

But now, I have a work-life balance. A place of work I’m so proud of and time to myself to design what I envision. And a brighter, more sustainable future for a growing business that now doesn’t rely solely on me for its survival. I’m excited to come to work every day and be surrounded by people driven by my mission.

Five tips for others who want to expand 

  1. Outsource the things you don’t enjoy doing. Your time as a founder is precious, and there’s no point slaving away at things that are either not your strengths or you find incredibly tedious. Use your time wisely. 
  2. Use technology to optimise your workflow. Some tools we like to use at S-kin are Discord, Friday and Google Calendar.
  3. For product businesses, having a good supply chain is super important. I learned it the hard way in 2020 when COVID first hit and my factory was closed. I didn’t have a lot of my stock for eight months.
  4. Hiring people is one of the hardest tasks. It’s trial and error but once you have the right talent, work hard to keep them – not just financially, but through intangible benefits such as flexible work, good culture and career progression.
  5. Think two steps ahead of time and foresee problems before they come up. This will help reduce stress in expanding if you are not scrambling last minute to put out fires or pull things together quickly. 

Read more: How to prepare your small business for an unpredictable future

Read more: Scale up or streamline, back to basics or diversify? Key questions in the ‘new normal’

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Chi Mai

Chi Mai

Chi is the Founder and Creative Director of S-kin Studio Jewelry, a Melbourne based ethical jewellery label that focuses on high-quality everyday jewellery that does not hurt or irritate your skin.

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