Grow the right way

  @FortuneMagazine October 31, 2013: 6:50 AM ET
RAM18 growing
(Fortune)

Not all small-business owners intend to stay small forever, but few take the time to map out how they plan to grow. A recent survey by the National Small Business Association found that most don't have a new ad or marketing campaign in the works, and one in five has absolutely no growth strategy in place for the coming year.

Instead, many entrepreneurs move toward new opportunities like a plant seeking sunshine, going where the light is most easily found. Some never slow down to consider whether those jobs are profitable, rewarding, or ultimately efficient uses of their time.

The key is not always to think big at the start -- it's to focus. With these tips, you'll learn how to hone your strategy, cultivate the growth you want, and pay for your build-out safely and wisely.

FOCUS YOUR STRATEGY
Even if it means turning away business.

To create a business capable of blossoming for years, you'll have to prune it from time to time. Working with customers or offering products that can't achieve healthy profit margins can sap time and stifle growth, says Nat Wasserstein, managing director of Lindenwood Associates, which helps turn around small and midsize businesses. So thin out ventures and customers that bleed your energy.

1. Figure out which services are worth it. Giving clients what they want is important, but it should never be your only criterion for the products or services that you provide.

When architect Bruce Wentworth considered expanding his 12-person company -- Wentworth Inc. in Chevy Chase, Md. -- he thought about what his firm excelled at: combining transitional-style interior design, which blends modern and traditional finishes, with detail-oriented construction. And he discovered there isn't enough profit in projects below $50,000. "By the time we get involved in design, construction drawings, pricing, and permits, it's not the most efficient use of time," he says. The firm's sweet spot is in the mid- to high-end market -- kitchen remodeling, for instance, ranging from $70,000 to more than $300,000.

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