Hendri Pelser: Growing Pains – A tango in a quagmire

The different stages in building a business brings with it varying challenges, each unique to the point in the lifecycle. Former journalist Hendri Pelser is now plying his trade as a woodworker, in a small business that’s looking to expand. He’s unpacking these challenges and his latest contribution looks at how to grow the business. One that has no clear answer. – Stuart Lowman

By Hendri Pelser*

Hendri-Pelser
Hendri Pelser

Plan, revise, execute; rinse and repeat.

Almost every day, Cherryhill Woodcraft’s owner David Meyerowitz and myself spend at least 10 minutes talking about the big picture and the myriad of details it is made up of.

Where is this business going? What do we need to do to keep growing? What is the status of current projects? Human resources? Suppliers? Cash flow?

The list is quite long. And, there are few clear answers.

That is why we need to ask the same questions over and over again.

Then, once we have made the best plans and have patted ourselves on the back for a job well done, an email, text message or phone call throws everything in disarray.

“They have launched another High Court application to stop the construction,” one client said one sunny morning. The job had to be parked and there was nothing else lined up. That was a year ago.

“We won the case, with costs,” he said two weeks ago, out of the blue. “How soon can you be finished?”

So, now we have to pivot. Throw the old operational plan out of the window, park new projects for a while and start again.

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Copyright: Hendri Pelser

The beauty of a small entrepreneurial operation is that you can pivot quite quickly. Decision-making is swift and often requires little more than a conversation.

The problem is that every time you need to adapt from an operational point of view, the details need your complete attention. As a result, the big picture needs to take a back seat.

Each time, it feels like you have been pushed back two steps and you have to claw a hellishly small step forward.

Rinse and repeat.

But, that is also the nature of a small business in a growing phase and the reason why so many small enterprises never graduate to the next level – the cards are stacked against you.

Growing eats up time, effort and cash. As a result, you find yourself in a quagmire; chasing your tail day in and day out if you are not careful.

Over the years I have interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs, CEOs and business owners. Not once did I receive a clear answer on how you get your small business to the next level.

The closest usable answers were “get lucky”, “don’t grow” or “just keep at it”.

Sage advice.

The closest we have come to something that resembles a plan is for David to start to remove himself from the daily operation and grind, and to focus on the future, bringing in business and keeping the ship steady.

And, after 20 years of growing and running the show it is something of a bitter pill to swallow.

At the same time, I am still new to the bespoke furniture business and the learning curve is steep, especially at the top end of the market.

So, every day, we set aside a few minutes and talk about the big picture and ask ourselves a bunch of questions.

Slowly but surely, the steps taken backward will lessen and the steps taken forward will increase.

Or that, at least, is what we are hoping for.

Any sage advice out there would be welcome: @HendriPelser on Twitter.

  • Hendri Pelser is a former business journalist and editor, turned woodworker. He practises his craft as an apprentice cabinetmaker at Cherryhill Woodcraft, an exclusive bespoke furniture manufacturer. He shares some of the business’ adventures with the BizNews community.