By design and intent, any very small business (fewer than five employees) has had to learn to work smart. The owners can become generalists, willing to handle all types of challenges on their own, or they can choose to outsource non-core tasks. Most rely on technology to operate efficiently and to connect to potential and existing customers.
In fact about 23 million of America’s small businesses have no employees other than their owners. Called non-employer businesses, these microbusinesses are almost always sole proprietorships, although a few are partnerships or corporations.
Look at the businesses you deal with in a month: your barber or hairdresser, CPA, attorney, air conditioner and appliance repairman, IT technician, fitness studio and more. These very small businesses have found a niche that suits them and their market. A few may even have plans to grow, but not get bigger.
Small by choice
Matt Hamby, CPA, has had a solo practice for six years, assisted by his wife Kara. “It’s a different dynamic when it’s husband and wife,” he said. The flexibility to come and go is important because the couple has two young children.
While working at a large accounting firm, Hamby saw that dealing with a group of employees takes a lot of time out of the administrator’s work day and that the training process goes on for an extended period. “That’s a factor if you are the prime producer of the business,” he said. Nevertheless, Hamby might expand in the next few years … if he finds a self-sufficient CPA. “It will be difficult to find the right person.”
The preference for small may be genetic, since Hamby’s brother runs a one-man company from his truck. Since 2001, Chris Hamby of H20 Construction has operated solo, whether he has taken on commercial construction, remodels, utilities or seawalls. “It is easier that way. I contract everything out.” Backed by his engineering degree, he oversees each project, hiring preferred subcontractors only as needed.
“I can focus on getting the job done,” he said. And there is another major benefit. “You get to pick the jobs you want to do.”
“When you think of why you’re small, for us it’s because it’s comfortable and it works,” said Eric Watters of E. Watters Air Conditioning. “You look at other people’s example, hear their stories, and see what having employees entails.” His father, Harry, started the business in 1986, “as a means of putting food on the table. From there it grew.” Eric began working with Harry in 2004, and in 2014 the company name changed and the younger Watters became the lead man. “We work together. We don’t consider either of us the boss.”
“There was not a decision to stay small. If we can handle it ourselves, we prefer that route,” Watters said. With a more or less seasonal business, it would be a chore to make sure additional employees have year-round work.
Since 2001, Suzanne Herzing has operated Indian Ridge Bed & Breakfast with one salaried employee and two others as needed. Although Herzing has opened a sister lodge in Costa Rica, she does not intend to grow much larger. “I think the smaller you are, the more capable you have to be,” she said. For her, developing diverse talents and deciding to outsource projects like a kitchen remodel are part of the balance needed to run a B&B. The fact that the Travel Channel will feature Indian Ridge on its “Hotel Showdown” series in March is not going to change the business strategy.
Herzing has observed that the more employees you have, the more personalities and headaches you must deal with. “You have to be more diplomatic more often.” Having a very small business gives her the freedom to establish a schedule which includes volunteering at Cinderella Pet Rescue.
By day, Will Haraway runs Haraway Construction. On weekends, he’s the owner of License to Carry LLC, which offers six-hour concealed handgun and basic handgun use courses. “Half the town thinks I’m a contractor, and the other half knows me from teaching,” said Haraway, who launched his very small business in 2012 as an extension of a hobby.
“I felt like there was a real need for quality instruction. I approach it not from a law enforcement or military perspective, but from the perspective of the average person who has concerns and wants to learn how to handle a gun,” Haraway said. “It’s fun to teach people. I look at this as a public service. It’s not a huge grossing business.”
Haraway’s website allows people to register for his classes. He also offers family and private instruction. “A lot of people don’t have any intention of carrying a gun. The concealed carry course teaches you about self-defense law, and when it is and is not appropriate to use a gun in self-defense.” For the handgun basics, Haraway gives meaningful advice on what handgun is appropriate for the clients, given their size and situation. “I’ve run into people who really needed to know about using a gun.”
Fit In–Home Therapy, owned by therapist Lisa Porter, contracts with home health and nursing agencies to provide physical therapy to patients Valley-wide. “For us, the benefit of being small is we are able to maintain close relationships with the patients,” she said. For four years, she has been able to balance seasonal variations in the demand for therapy with the availability of individual physical therapists she can call as needed.
“It works well. It allows therapists to work for multiple small offices,” said Porter, who has no fixed plans to grow her business.
Scott Kimak, who began Bei Shaolin Kung Fu Center 20 years ago, knows a similar reason to stay small: “I know all the students and their parents. They are not just a number to me.” The business has evolved to include Xtreme Cheer and tai chi classes. Now in a more visible location on Business 83, Kimak teaches with his son, brother-in-law and two cheer coaches in rooms filled with tournament trophies.
In February, Kimak began leasing space to a brand new business, Fourth Quarter Athletic Training Center. Adrian Cavazos’s recent UTB degree in exercise science enabled him to branch out from the family business, First Choice Trucking. For several years, he had led conditioning classes at his church. With the opening of Fourth Quarter, he invested in gym equipment and has formalized the unconventional training which employs kettle bells and other equipment not normally used in gyms to develop strength, agility and conditioning. “I’ve always wanted to do this and to help people get healthy.” He has women’s, men’s and co-ed classes four nights a week.
For more information, call Fit In–Home Therapy at 495-6953; Fourth Quarter at 200-6100; H20 Construction at 495-6953; Matt Hamby CPA at 428-4300; Bei Shaolin at 425-2468; Watters Air Conditioning at 428-8366 and see indian-ridge-bb.com and licensetocarryllc.com.
March 2015 cover story by Eileen Mattei.