Half Baked: Knowing When Not to Grow as a Business

business growth story from bakery

There’s a reason the term “growing pains” is one that entrepreneurs know well. Business growth isn’t easy, change is uncomfortable, and the future is hard to predict. 

All new business owners dream of wild growth: overnight fame, fortune and popularity dropped on their proverbial doorstep. And it’s only natural that they do. After all, these things are indicators of success and potential longevity. However, the very thing you desire could eventually be your undoing.

Consider another familiar saying: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Back in 1997, We Take The Cake began as a modest mail-order bakery. In 2004, Oprah named our Key Lime Bundt Cake to her “Favorite Things” list. It seemed like an entrepreneur’s dream come true. Our bakery was launched into the public spotlight. Overnight, we became the success we had wished for. It was the kind of story that entrepreneurs might think ends with “And we lived happily ever after,” without ever considering the battles lost, dragons slain and villains fought.

There’s a reason the term “growing pains” is one that entrepreneurs know well. Business growth isn’t easy, change is uncomfortable, and the future is hard to predict. Explosive expansion can be overwhelming, in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes it’s best if you pace yourself—especially if you don’t have the components for long-term success.

If you don’t have the following three ingredients, you may need to work on perfecting your recipe for success before falling into the flames.

1. Expertise

Our expertise was hard-earned. I was not a baker to begin with, just someone who wanted to buy a business. So we found an already established company for sale. We thought, “How hard can it be?”

Spoiler alert: It can be really hard.

Before scheming up ways to go viral or become a household name, take the time to research your industry inside and out. Don’t just know how to run your business (although you’ll need that too): Gain a solid understanding of all of the moving pieces, and how they work together to produce your product, plus how your product fits within the competition, your market and the world. Do research, network with related businesses, go to trade shows, read industry publications, and have a genuine curiosity about what you do and how you can improve your product.

2. Experience

You can achieve expert status in an intellectual way, without having actual experience or deep understanding. We Take The Cake reached a point where we believed we knew what we were doing. We had the public name, we had the big numbers—but we had absolutely no idea what our actual sweet spot was, which led to some failed attempts at franchising and pop-up retail locations.

The good news? Those missteps along the way become just the experience you need to rise through the ranks. The bad news?  Perceived failure hurts pride, and possibly your budget, in the short term. Be humble and honest with yourself so that you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and then act accordingly to grow appropriately.

Read more perspectives on business growth from the Octane blog. 

3. Assets

A lot of people consider assets to be financial, but they are actually anything that brings value to your business—from staff to equipment to work space. The greatest complications from our overnight fame were mostly related to the fact that we weren’t prepared for the onslaught of orders—and that was after our attempt to prepare. Our website went down, our hosting company quit, we couldn’t handle the call volume, and it became very apparent that our space was insufficient for our new business size.

Imagine the “worst” best case scenario and plan for it. It would have been far better to have found ourselves temporarily overstaffed than to realize we had three lines of voicemail filling up every forty minutes. And, remember, if you mess up on this step, you’ve gained valuable experience, so it all works out in the end anyway.

The truth is that a comfortable pace allows your company to grow into itself as well as its potential. There will always be time for learning through trial and error—and there’s tremendous value in doing so— but getting that education in bite-sized chunks is more palatable, and practical, than plunging face-first into that which you (think you) desire.

Written by Lori Karmel, the president of We Take the Cake, an authentic artisan cake boutique located in South Florida. She is also a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. 

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is the premier global network for founders, entrepreneurs and pioneers. Learn more about what it means to be an EO member. 


Categories: Entrepreneurial Journey FINANCES general Inspirational Lessons Learned Sales WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS


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