The Decision that (Almost) Destroyed My Business Model – And What I Learned in the Process

As I’ve grown Bennis Public Relations from the ground up over the last 12 years, it’s come with an incredible amount of growth and wisdom that is realized far beyond my bottom line. Simply put, being a business owner is hard. Being a young, female business owner who started at age 23 added even more challenges. And if that wasn’t enough, during the critical “infant” years of running my business, I was also balancing being a new mother (twice over!) with an entrepreneurial husband whose job required extensive travel and time away from home. But I survived – and even more miraculously- I thrived.

There’s a lot more to that story that I passionately share at every opportunity I can, but how it relates to today’s topic is the foundation and intuition these “survival” years built within me. I am keenly in tune with every operation within my business because I’m a solopreneur. I interface with every client, from the courting and selling to the day-to-day operations and implementation of their public relations strategies. I love this. It works for me. But as my business continued to grow, I allowed seeds of doubt to take root within my mind questioning whether I could keep this business model and scale at the pace at which I was taking on new clients.

I’ve never been a traditional or typical Public Relations business, yet I started to consider traditional and typical means of scaling. Specifically, I considered transitioning from solopreneurship to a business model where I would have a partner, possibly even an investor, and would also hire and manage employees. Crazier yet, this was all taking place at the height of COVID when decision-making for any business owner was murky and misguided, at best. I went as far as writing a business plan for this new model, pitching it to a potential partner/investor, and even conducting some selective interviews with key people within my network who I thought would be a good fit to join me on this new journey. But piece by piece and step by step the “warning” sign within my intuition was beeping rapidly in red. Stop! Halt! Pause! Breathe! And I’m so glad I did because here are the important life lessons I learned during a time when I almost turned my successful business model on its head.

Stop Trying to Make a Great Thing Even “Better”

Even amidst a global pandemic, my business was growing rapidly. In fact, the pandemic opened up many key opportunities for new clients who needed PR more than ever to help their business pivot, manage a reputation, and communicate very important messages. People who witnessed this happening for me would make comments like “you’re going to need to hire someone soon to help with all of this work” or “You won’t be able to sustain this pace if this keeps up.” I understand these were well-intended remarks, even complementary. But, because they often came from other seasoned business owners whom I respected, I figured they already knew what I had yet to learn. So I took this as advice. The reality is, at no point was I overwhelmed by all these new projects. I still had my work-life balance under control, was able to “close shop” most days by 3pm, and was present with my husband and kids…who were around ALL. THE TIME.

I had (have) a really great thing going. It wasn’t broken. I was happy. So why pursue change? You can always keep change on the table, but I caution you to reserve this for only when you know you’ve exhausted the possible success of your current situation. Especially a major change, like shifting your business model, should only take place when you know you’ve hit a dead end where you currently are. That was not my story and I’m so glad I stayed the course because things were about to get really, really good.

Know How to Discern the Good vs. Bad Type of Nervous

Throughout the process of mapping out this possible new business model, writing job descriptions, and having serious conversations about steps forward, I felt like an observer watching this take place for someone else. It felt more like a strategy I was designing for a client rather than my own business. You should never feel disassociated from your business, especially over major decisions that will impact its success. In retrospect, I think this disassociated feeling was in response to being very nervous about venturing down a path that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to invite a partner into my business who might have input on my decisions. I was used to complete autonomy. I didn’t need or want to take money from an investor, even if it enabled me to hire employees because I didn’t want to manage other people. I am excellent at managing projects and my own time, but other people…not so much. I don’t want to spend time delegating projects that I could complete in the same amount of time. I don’t want to worry about what an employee is (or is not) accomplishing throughout the day, when they’re taking PTO, and if they’re happy. And I don’t want to have to carefully review every piece of work to ensure it’s up to my standard before sending it over to a client. I can do all these things and more with great speed and efficiency as a sole proprietor. I know this about my personality, yet for a season I forgot. I’m grateful that my screaming intuition finally overcame the many other voices and opinions I allowed in my head to cause me to halt any major decisions that would disrupt my existing business model.

We’ll Never Be Immune to Peer Pressure and Comparison

I think what really got in my head was seeing other successful businesses that have followed a more traditional business model. Agencies with dozens of employees working in a big office space appear highly successful. Everyone is buzzing around, overwhelmed by their workload, taking on major contracts. But what is the net of it all? This is a phrase I’ve come to use often. It means stop looking at the big picture, and focus on what really matters. What’s the net profit, not the gross profit? My suspicion is often confirmed that these businesses carry a lot of overhead and waste in their expenses. They may bring in more money in the top line, but the net profit realized by their owner and CEO does not match the multimillion-dollar income the business portrays. It’s because they have to pour out a lot of their profits to make this business model work. Me, I’m lean and efficient with about as low overhead expenses as possible. That’s a huge benefit of solopreneurship. With this decision of transitioning to partners and employees, I risked this very pitfall – working harder to earn “more” yet netting less.

The lesson here is that we will always be tempted by believing the grass is greener. It’s human nature. Daily, we need to remind ourselves that the grass is greener wherever we’re watering it. Be sure you’re “watering” and nurturing your own business to the best of your ability before you deem it less healthy, resilient, or beautiful than anyone else’s. Stop competing with other people. Their dreams are not your dreams. Their idea of a successful business will differ from your own. You will drive yourself mad, and risk losing all the good things you have going on presently if you continue to compare and strive for someone else’s definition of success. Comparison is the thief of all joy.

Don’t Compromise the One Thing That Makes You Unique

What is your strongest quality? What makes you uniquely irreplaceable? This is your professional superpower! Maybe it’s a technical skill or something directly related to your industry. Or maybe it’s a “soft skill” like your organization, clear communication, or project management style. What makes my business (and me) unique is that I am not a traditional PR agency or firm. I don’t have employees and as a result, I am flexible, efficient, and lean. I set all prices, lead negotiations, and know exactly what’s going on with every client my business serves at any given moment. This allows me to undercut the typical “agency” costs while delivering far more value and expertise. I provide the expertise of a senior-level consultant, with the support and network of a full-service agency – but with the personalization and flexibility of a member of your own team. This is my superpower. And I almost handed that away when I thought a traditional business model would have made me more attractive to bigger clients. Amazingly, my existing business model is exactly what earned me my largest contracts to date – and word is spreading! Now businesses are directly seeking me out through word-of-mouth recommendations because I’m different.

What Could Have Been

Playing it forward, I have no idea what the result would have been had I shift my business model to include partners, investors, and employees, but I’m so grateful to have never found out. Some of the greatest gifts of entrepreneurship are the ones you never have to open, the hurdles and pitfalls you’re saved from just in the nick of time. And the greatest gift of this important “exercise” I lived through is gaining rock-solid confidence in my unique business model. Solopreneurship doesn’t make sense on the surface to people who have a more traditional way of thinking. They’ll question how you can do it all, scale, and thrive – personally and professionally. I agree – not everyone is cut out for this journey. But for those who can resonate with my personality type and work style, let me assure you, solopreneurship can be an immensely rewarding and successful style of business with the potential for success that is beyond your wildest dreams. Keep dreaming, keep pushing against the current, and keep watching for those warning signs within your intuition!

Have you been faced with a major professional decision that almost changed the trajectory of your career? Do you feel you made the right move, or do you have regrets? Share a piece of your personal story in the comments – and let’s grow together!

4 thoughts on “The Decision that (Almost) Destroyed My Business Model – And What I Learned in the Process

  1. Stephanie is wise beyond her years. It’s true, bigger isn’t necessarily better and most successful leaders in any field of endeavor rely heavily upon both experience and instinct. In my role as a broadcasting business consultant I helped to rebuild enterprises that got “too big—too fast.” The obvious solution is to scale down, not up. As a sole proprietor, one both sows the seeds and reaps the harvest. In a good season, the reward can be magnificent.

  2. Another great post, Stephanie. It is a golden rule to know thyself (or your moral compass/ business model). And apparently you have gone through the process of thinking it through. Your solopreneur works in today’s knowledge business because your niche. To scale up, like adding dental assistant to a dentist office, may work as long as it is consistent with you/ your business model.

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