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Great Ideas: Company of One by Paul Jarvis {Interview}

Lessons on how not scaling up your business might suit you better

While most businesses are scaling up, there are an increasing number of entrepreneurs who are choosing not to scale, or are scaling down, and succeeding just as well by doing so. 

Paul Jarvis, author of Company of One, is one of them. For most of his career, as a website designer and now author, Paul has lived and worked in a house in the woods on Vancouver Island. He says that by scaling down every aspect of his life, he’s built a successful business on his terms.

Here, he talks about the freedoms afforded by staying small. 

Sometimes growth makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t. Growth shouldn’t be taken as always the best thing. 

The business philosophy behind the book solidified one day at the beach. An accountant friend turned to me in the surf and said “Hey Buddy, I’ve made enough for the year, so I’m going to go rock climbing and surfing down the coast for a while.”

He knew how much his business needed to make to make him happy. So, once he’d made that much, he’d travel for the rest of the year. 

At the time, I was designing websites for clients like Mercedes Benz, Microsoft and Shaquille O’Neal. I liked to be the doer of the work, not the manager. I never wanted to have a bigger business. 

Just because I work for myself, it doesn’t mean I work by myself. As an author, I have a team that I can build for any project, but they’re typically freelancers or partners that I can work with when the need arises. 

There are two mindsets to enough. There is: if you’ve not reached enough, and then after you’ve reached enough; it’s pre-enough and post-enough. If you haven’t reached enough, you have to grow. When you’ve reached enough, maybe you can question growth. 

If you’re the one running your business then you should be the one deciding the way you want your business to run. 

Consider the business model of Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics. He tries to never exceed his target limit of $500,000 a year of profit. By exceeding that figure (through taking on more clients), he’d reduce the close attention he pays to his existing customer base. Instead, he has three months’ holiday a year with his wife. 

It’s difficult to be exceptional at every task. We people drawn to entrepreneurialism think we can do everything; that can be a detriment to us. Focus on the things that are money-makers for the business and outsource the rest. 

All entrepreneurs have ego. Where it can lead us astray is where we run our businesses in a way that looks good to other people, instead of in a way that works for us. It’s like keeping up with the “business Joneses.” 

Best skills for a company of one? Being able to listen and communicate, and to experiment; being able to play with ideas versus knowing how to code, or knowing proper grammar. 

Paul’s GREAT EIGHT, eight getting to know you questions we ask all our authors. 

Recommended book: Cal Newport’s Deep Work 

If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would that be and what’s the book title? Cal Newport. We share an editor. I’d love to explore the idea of digital privacy with him. 

What’ the best advice you could share? Asking yourself questions. The three questions I like to ask myself are: 

•   How much is enough? 

•   How will I know if I’ve reached it? 

•   What will change if I do? 

What’s been your lowest moment and how did you recover? Probably when I partnered with somebody to start a businesses and they ended up not wanting to do the business. And, I’d partnered with them because I needed the skills that they had. So that was really tough and I thought maybe I should shut the business down. A friend stepped in. 

How do you relax? Gardening. My fingernails are dirty because I spent the morning planting lettuce. 

What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you? I’m a fire commissioner; it’s fun to be part of the community in that way. 

What’s your secret to success? Experimenting, I have no idea if something’s going to succeed until I try. 

What’s a prediction for 2025? The skill that’s going to be the most valuable will be our ability to solve problems, and our ability to be creative in the way that we solve problems. Computers and robots will take over the menial tasks. 

This is a snapshot of the interview with Paul Jarvis, co-author of Company of One. Members of The Growth Faculty can hear or listen to the full interview with Paul as he describes the benefits and challenges of working in a company of one. Simply log in to On Demand and click here.

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