Are you seeking growth in your business, but feeling the pressure and stress that comes with that next big push?
In this episode, my guest, Paul Jarvis, offers his unique perspective on why you might want to rethink your desire for growth.
Paul is a writer, designer, teaches online courses, and has worked with professional athletes like Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal and corporate giants like Microsoft and Mercedes, and a whole lot more.
Paul is also the best-selling author of a brand new book called Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business, and he is sharing his fascinating perspective on why maybe growth isn’t a one size fits all for every business or entrepreneur.
Don’t miss this engaging conversation!
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why grow? Why go out there and build this massive company? Dan, I’ve heard you talk about Peter Diamandis and this idea of having a massive transformational purpose. I’ve heard of you talk about Verne Harnish and this idea of having a BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Conquer the world, go out and dominate your industry, all these sorts of things. If you want to build a billion-dollar company, help ten billion people. Dan, don’t you understand that’s not necessarily what I want?” In this episode, we have a fascinating expert who goes against the grain. He’s a writer. He’s a designer. He’s had his own company for two decades. He’s worked with professional athletes like Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal and corporate giants like Microsoft and Mercedes. He’s worked with Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo and a whole lot more. He teaches popular online courses. He hosts his own podcast. He developed small but big software solutions. He’s been featured in Huff Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur, European CEO and a whole lot more. His name is Paul Jarvis. He’s the bestselling author of a book called Company of One.
Paul, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m pretty good, Dan. Thanks for having me on.
Our show is about growth and about creating growth to freedom. There are a lot of angles that we cover. You have this idea about being a company of one. Tell us why are you on this mission that you are where it seems that growth could be the worst thing for your business?
There are definitely a lot of research and studies that show that rapid growth or growth at all costs can be detrimental. With the title, Company of One, it’s more of a mindset. I don’t have a one-person company. It’s hard to run a one-person company. It’s more the idea that we should challenge growth, that growth isn’t the only byproduct of business success. The byproduct of business success should be the freedom to decide, “This growth makes sense to me. This growth doesn’t make sense to me. This isn’t the life that I want to live. Maybe I don’t want to be the next Elon Musk or Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.”
I think about my own journey and of all the people I’m around and all these Big Hairy Audacious Goals that are talked about. I want to make this about you and not about me, but there is a selfish purpose to this question and navigating between those voices in our head, “I’ve got to compete with these guys. I want to fit in. I want to please that,” versus pleasing ourselves and getting clarity on what we want. How does somebody get started to identify what is the right approach for them, whether it’s small, big or in between?
It’s personal. There’s more than one way to run a business. There’s more than one way to be successful. There’s more than one way to be happy with what we ultimately make and put out into the world. In my twenties, I wanted to make at least $1 million a year and that was a goal that I pulled out of the air. There was no meaning or value behind that so it didn’t last long. I ended up making less than that and still being happy with my life and still being comfortable. Sometimes if we grow for the sake of growth, we can end up in a place that we might not necessarily want. We could end up chasing other people’s goals, which at best we’ll achieve them and we have to hope we like them. At worst, we fail at them but we failed at something we didn’t want in the first place. It seems like a lose-lose for that.Growth isn't the only byproduct of business success. The byproduct of business success should be the freedom to decide. - Paul Jarvis Click To Tweet
What’s the backstory? What motivated you? Why are you doing what you’re doing on this quest?
It’s a few things. The first is I don’t like managing other people. I have managed other people. I’m not good at it and I don’t like it. I like doing the work. All the businesses that I’ve run have been successful enough where I could have hired more people, but I’ve never wanted to promote myself out of the job that I like. I like designing. I like writing. I like making things. I don’t want to be in charge of other people making things. I like to do the work. For me personally, I don’t want to be a C-level executive or a manager because it doesn’t make sense. The other side of it is in business, we have responsibilities but as we grow, we have more responsibilities.
I like having as little responsibility in life as possible because that to me feels freeing. If I want to leave work for a little bit, I can. If I want to take three months off on vacation, I can. If I want to choose the type of work I want to do because it’s just me, I can. For those reasons, I’ve been thinking along these lines where growth is good and growth is required. When we start a business, we need to grow 100%. We need to go from zero to something. Where we can run into trouble is if we never consider this growth is enough or what I have is enough and it’s something that’s sustainable and durable for the business that I want and the life that I want to have from that business.
I hear you going from zero to something, then I hear the idea of a financial picture of a goal. This is where a lot of people can go wrong. We set a goal based on others, then we get there and we don’t even want it and we’re not happy. We find that less makes us happy. What are some steps somebody could take to get that clarity around, “What do I want?” What do our audience want? How would you recommend somebody get started?
I would start with three questions: How much is enough? How will I know when I’ve reached it? What will change if I do? Those are the guiding questions that I talk about a lot in the book, Company of One. Those are the questions that have used in my own life and my own business for a while to see, “Do I need to grow? Does this suit what I want? Do I have enough?” If I have enough, working more is going to be diminishing returns. Increasing customers could be diminishing returns. If I have to focus so much on the acquisition and I don’t have time to focus on retention, I’m not keeping the people who’ve already bought from me who hopefully are already happy with me, as happy as they could be and keep them customers long-term. It’s cheaper to keep customers than to get new customers. If I can keep the ones that I have and it grows slowly to offset churn and inflation, then I’m in a good place.
The first question is how much is enough? What’s the second and third?
How will I know when I’ve reached it? What will change when I do? That last question is important because let’s say I’m making $200,000 a year or something like that. If I don’t have a good answer for how will my life change for the good if I make $300,000 to $400,000, then why would I push myself harder? I’m all for comfort. I’m not the type of minimalist where I live in a tiny little 30-square-foot house with one backpack. I definitely like my creature comforts but I also know that if I have excess, it doesn’t do much for me. There’s this nice middle ground of organic growth where we can grow to a point where things are good and comfortable for us and for our business and we’re profitable, but then half that we could grow but we don’t need to.
The idea of needing to write, where do you see the biggest problems and the mistakes that people make of buying into what they think they need to do?
To be honest, it sometimes comes down to the ego. It would sound better if you asked me like, “What’s your business look like?” I was like, “Dan, I have 1,000 employees and eighteen offices across seven countries,” whereas my business now is me sitting in my home office. I have five freelancers that I work with on a regular basis and that’s it. Am I running my business for you or am I running my business for me? If we take into account, we need ego to start because we think that what we have to offer the market is better than anything existing. Ego, in that case, of starting a business is great. That’s why people start businesses. It’s a good idea. If our ego then shifts to like, “How is this going to make me look to my peers? How is this going to make me look in the industry?” then it can be detrimental. A lot of times especially in the media, we’re shown one way. We’re shown that this is what business looks like. This is what a “businessperson” looks like. This is how they live their life. This is how they run their business. Here’s your template. One, it’s not that easy and two, that’s not right for everybody. We’d be doing a great disservice to future entrepreneurs if we’re like, “Here’s the one way. If you don’t like this way, then don’t be an entrepreneur.”
The idea of the template or this blueprint, what if it was inaccurate? We’ve covered some of the mistakes. I think of myself and my own journey. It’s been many years. I’ve gone on different things and I ended up in a hospital a couple of weeks after my son was born and it got me to completely reevaluate. It took that wakeup call that got me to check in and starts to hone in on what was valuable and important for me. One of the most valuable quotes or questions to ask is, “Are you running this business for you or are you running it for someone else?” I realized that I had been running it for others for most of my life and that got me to check in. What would you say to somebody to be able to get them to work on them, to get clear, to get outside of people-pleasing, to get outside of what others want or this portrayal of what theoretical business success could be, to tune in on what they want overall? What would some of those strategies be?If we just grow for the sake of growth, we can end up in a place that we might not necessarily want. - Paul Jarvis Click To Tweet
It’s a great question because it’s hard work. Introspection is difficult. There was a study done by one of the universities in the States where they put people in a room and they said, “Here’s an electric shock button. If you press it, you’ll get a shock, but you don’t have to press the button.” There was no other stimulus in the room and then they left. They let the people sit there. People would press the button because they would rather have an electric shock than sit alone with their own thoughts. More men than women pressed the button, which I’m like, “That makes sense.” It’s hard work to be introspective. For me, I was lucky that I moved away from a big city to the middle of nowhere into the woods. I was forced to be introspective by nature of where I moved to. For me, the easiest way to do it is to think about how you want to spend your day. It’s easy for us to think like, “What do I want to do with my day?”
For me, I know that I love to be by myself. I’m introverted. I like to be by myself and write and design and make things. If I said yes to every speaking opportunity to do keynotes or to travel and do events, that wouldn’t be the daily life that I would want. If I said, “My businesses are doing well. Maybe I hire six or seven people. We open up an office,” but then if I think about what my day would be, “I would have to go into an office, I would have to deal with people and manage people,” that wouldn’t be how I want to spend my day. When I’m making decisions in my business, what’s always in the back of my head is like, “Does this move me more in the right track to how I want to spend my day working or does this move me further away from how I want to spend my day working?”
Does what the actions, the behaviors you’re taking move you towards or is it moving you away from what you deserve or what you want internally? In your book, you talk about the idea that small is beautiful. Speak to that idea a little bit more.
To have something large requires a lot of resources. It requires a lot of expenses. It requires a lot of time and a lot of stress. For example, I don’t like sitting by myself and writing and designing every day. It’s because my business is just me, I can change on a dime. All of a sudden, I’m doing something else with my day. If I had built up a business and it was quite large, to pivot is difficult to change directions with the big company. Imagine if Google was like, “We’re getting into pastries.” How would that even work? It’s such a massive business. If Facebook decided that they didn’t want to sell everybody’s data, there’s no getting away from that at this point because they’re so far down that road because they’re so big. With staying smaller, being smaller and staying at the size that’s right for your business, you can make decisions to be more autonomous, to be more resilient and to move at a faster speed. I don’t need to have a meeting with all the key stakeholders of any project to make decisions about my business. I’m like, “Is this what I want to do? Yes, it is. Here we go.”
There’s a freedom in that and a peace. Having been on both sides of that journey, I remember after I went through this health crisis several years ago, I had a coach. The introspection thing you talk about, for me it was grueling. Literally, I remember one question that she had asked. We sat down and I stared at her for the whole session and then she said, “Go work on it and then come back to me the next few days.” I blew her off for weeks because getting introspective was tough. Tuning in to what I wanted versus others, I had often described it, I felt the company got to be this big aircraft carrier instead of a speedboat. I want to get it back to being a speed boat where I can drive it the way I want to drive it and not have to worry about the other 42 aircraft on the thing. What can happen is we can get caught up or the tail wags the dog. With all the work you’ve done, the research you’ve done, the experiments you’ve done and the experts you’ve worked with, what would you say in the last six months have been some of the great breakthrough insights either you’ve implemented that would help our audience that they could use and take action on or you’ve installed working with some of your clients?
The biggest thing for me is always to figure out scale without growth. Scale can be useful. It seems it’s much more efficient and more practical financially from a time management side of things. My favorite example of that is email marketing. That’s an example of something that can scale without growth. It takes me just as long to write an article and send it to you, Dan, as it would for me to write an article and send it to 30,000 people on my mailing list. The technology exists to be able to do that. In looking at those things, it would be difficult for me to reach every single person in my audience one to one. That would be a lot of work and would be inefficient since they all want similar information because they’re all similar people. It’s a part of my audience.
Looking at things like that, I’m always trying to figure out, “What can I do to scale without growing?” Maybe it’s email automation funnels for the products that I have, and then segmenting those funnels so I can see like, “If this is the type of person, maybe I ask them a question.” That question pushes it back into the funnel that says like, “If you answered A, then this is the sequence you get.” This is almost like choose your own adventure. I can create something that feels and is deeply personalized to each individual person without me having to sit and write six or seven emails to each person. Even with support, I always try to figure out like as soon as I notice a pattern in supporting any of the products that I have, this is information that exists before somebody contacts me. Maybe it’s a video that I make, explaining it because I’ve been asked it several times. Maybe it’s a knowledge-based document.
I’m always trying to figure out how to scale that thing. If I can keep all of my support questions to a small amount because I’ve created additional teaching, I don’t need to hire another support person. If I can drive revenue for my mailing list by reaching many people with one email, then I don’t have to hire a sales and marketing team. I’m always trying to figure out those things. The caveat to that and tie-in to that is always there still needs to be a human aspect to it. My mailing list, if somebody gets my email and they hit reply, it goes to me. It doesn’t go to the void of the internet or an assistant or anything like that. The same with the email funnels or the sales sequences, if they have a question it goes to me and I’m a human. It will be a question that I haven’t answered adequately that I could add in the future to that sequence. I’ve had such interesting conversations with customers and potential customers that I wouldn’t have been able to answer. I give them something from a sequence, but because they email me and because that volume is low, I can easily deal with that.
Paul, you talked about the idea that small is the new big. We’ve alluded to that a little bit through the course of our conversation so far, but speak to that angle of things if you will.
The way that I’ve been running my business is that small is the new big. When I started writing the book, I was like, “Maybe this only applies to digital, software and info products online.” I started to do research and I started to find other businesses that were making physical products that we’re running the same way. As I dug deeper, I found more and more businesses who were figuring out ways to stay small but have a bigger impact. Even with manufacturing, one good example is Need/Want. They make silicone cases for iPhones. They make eight figures in revenue a year. You would think that they probably have at least 50 to 100 people. Five people work in their business because they’ve found a partner to manufacture the product. They don’t own that factory. They get the factory to make the products when they need them. It’s like on-demand. It’s like if I self-publish a book, Amazon will print books as they sell them and I don’t need to have a stack of thousands of books behind me that I ship. I don’t even need to worry about shipping. This is the way that business has always worked. Before big businesses, commerce was always a series of small interconnected businesses that did one thing well and relied on the rest of the supply chain to pick up all of the pieces to make finished products. I feel that’s where we’re going to but as the 2.0 version where we can use things like technology, automation and software to kick things up a notch.Having something large requires a lot of resources and expenses. - Paul Jarvis Click To Tweet
One thing that jumps out at me is it allows the little guy to be true to themselves, to focus on the quality of life, as well as building a great business. You can have your cake and eat it too. What do you see for the future as it relates to leveraging technology? The little guy being able to truly build a business of their dreams, they own the business instead of it owning them.
Every business is a lifestyle business. Regardless of the type of work you do, you’re given life for that. If you work at a corporation, your butt has to be in a chair from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. If you work at a startup or you work for Elon Musk, you’re expected 80 hours a week and probably more. If you own your own business, then you should be able to decide these things. It has to be profitable. It needs to support at least one operator, like the owner-operator of the business. Past that, you have the freedom to make decisions.
I can outsource things that I don’t like doing that I don’t know how to do. It’s like everybody has an accountant. My accountant doesn’t just work for me, he has lots of clients. You can do that for almost every aspect of your business. I have a podcast producer and editor that live in France who works for me when I need him. I have an editor for all of my writing who works for me when I need him. If we approach our business like that, why don’t I do the things that I’m good at, that make me in demand? It’s the thing that people come to me for. If I do that job, then it’s good. Maybe it’s marketing and branding. If you manufacture products, then you’re the marketing and branding aspect of it and you outsource the manufacturing, the shipping and the fulfilling. If you do digital products, maybe you do the creative work that you like.
For everything else, you can find trusted partners who share similar values. I know a lot of people who do manufacturing look for factories that are ethical and that do things the right way. You can find these things and you can partner with people. Tremendous stress is lifted off of your shoulders if you’re like, “I’m not responsible for all the things. I just have to make sure that the end product has quality and that everybody is keeping up their end of the bargain along the whole supply chain.”
Teamwork makes the dream work. It allows you to stay in your genius zone and in your sweet spot or leverage into your superpower. To our audience, if something here with what Paul has shared has boosted your curiosity, where can people go to learn more about what you’re up to, get access to your resources, get your book, that stuff?
The book, Company of One, is in digital, physical and audiobook format. I narrate the audio version of it in North America. Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business should be available pretty much anywhere you get books. I write a newsletter called The Sunday Dispatches. I send out an email every Sunday. I’ve done so every Sunday for six years. I’ve never missed a date. That’s at PJRVS.com or if you Google Paul Jarvis, I’m in the first couple pages of results because I do internet things.
I encourage you, if some of what Paul has shared with you or if all of it has inspired you to build a business that allows you to stay in your sweet spot, to give you more freedom, to give you more clarity, to give you more certainty, then get his book, Company Of One. Go check out his newsletter at PJRVS.com. Paul, what are a couple of actions steps that you hope our audience takes from time together?
A lot of what we were talking about, especially if you work for yourself, you don’t have to work by yourself. You can lean on other people as I have. I don’t have a board of directors because my business isn’t big enough to have that, but I definitely have people that I lean on when I have questions. A lot of times we can get caught up in our own head that we may not be able to make the best decisions. Things like mastermind groups, things like getting together for coffee, whether it’s virtually over Skype or Zoom or where you live. I live in the woods on an island so there are not that many people to get coffee with. I can virtually get together with anybody in the world and talk about my business, talk about their business and see if there’s expertise that I have that I can share with them and vice versa. That’s always been one of the most important things in my business is because it’s small, I don’t want it to just be me. I would rather rely on the collective brain of the people that I know and it’s always steered me right.
What do you consider your greatest superpower?
It’s being able to tell stories, whether it’s through design or writing or anything else. I take something technical and I turn it into something that’s meaningful or engaging to other people.Always figure out scale without growth. - Paul Jarvis Click To Tweet
What were you known for in high school?
Being a nerd. I made video games when I was in high school. My class was the first class that had computers in high school. I was also on the yearbook. I was designing things. I’ve always liked making things. That’s always been the thing that I’ve done the most.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m a fire commissioner. I don’t think most people know that about me because it has nothing to do with what I do for a living.
How did you get that gig?
My wife’s a firefighter and they were looking for another seat for the commission. They needed a communications person that could deal with website and server stuff. I was like, “I know how to do that. She’s already a firefighter. I understand how part of it works. I might as well give that a go.”
How long have you been married?
I’ve been married for almost fourteen years.
Your wife has seen this incredible journey you’ve been on. She’s been a better part of many years. If we asked her what the journey has been like for you guys, how would she describe it?
It’s probably the freedom. We picked up and moved a bunch of times and we’ve been able to because it doesn’t matter where I live. She also likes living in the woods. There’s old growth or second growth Cedar forest right outside our house. We have acres. We have a big garden. Doing the work that I do make it so we can live the way we want to live. We’re not tied to a city. We’re not tied to a physical location so we can pick up and go whenever we want, which is great.There's more than one way to be successful and more than one way to be happy with what we ultimately make and put out into the world. - Paul Jarvis Click To Tweet
If your wife were next to you right now and you’re going to turn to her and thank her for how she has shown up to support you to allow you as this innovator, visionary, creative writer telling stories, what would you thank her most for in how she has supported and shown up for you?
Probably trusting the journey. Things have changed over the years. I went from being a designer to a writer to a product person. She’s willing to let me experiment. I feel like a mad scientist in business sometimes and she’s always been supportive of that. I appreciate that a lot about her.
What are some of your best rituals that others can learn from?
Not putting too much on my plate every day has been the thing that has made me the most productive. I always try to have a to-do list of accomplishable tasks every day and it’s usually only two or three things. If I write a book on my to-do list, I don’t know how to sit down and write a book now. It’s not possible. If I put on my to-do list like, “Write an outline for chapter three,” I can sit down and do that in a couple of hours. We need more space than we give ourselves to do our best work and to do our deepest, most focused and creative work. In allowing myself to have the space to create, I’m able to do it. I haven’t had notifications on any of my devices for about six years. My business is still profitable. I haven’t missed anything important in the world. I don’t feel I need to be interrupted by anything during the day.
People always ask like, “How can you get so much done?” I’m like, “How can you not get so much done? There are many hours in the day.” There’s nothing ever binging or beeping or booping or showing up on my screen. If I’m working on writing, the only thing I have open is a writing program. If I’m emailing, the only thing open is Gmail. I feel I get so much done because I’m hyper-focused on the task at hand, the present thing that I’m doing, that I can blaze through the things that I need to get done every day.
To our audience, imagine the freedom and the peace you’d get by giving yourself a gift of being able to not be interrupted, to be in a place where you could stay focused, that you could stay present on the thing that you’re working on at that given moment and only that thing at that given moment. What would that do for you? If you’d like to go deeper with what Paul has shared with you, not only his rituals but also the concepts of how small is the new big, I encourage you to go check out what he’s doing. Get his book, Company of One. Go check out his resources, his newsletter is at PJRVS.com. He’s Paul Jarvis. Thanks for being with us.
Thanks, Dan. I appreciate it.
I want to encourage you to take action with what Paul’s shared. Apply the ritual. Turn off your notifications on your phone. Try it for three to seven days and report back. Tell us what an impact that it has for you, that one simple thing. Sit down and identify how much is enough for you? How will you know it’s enough for you? What will the change be when you do? Take some time to answer those questions, to get introspective, to reflect. You just might realize the business you’re running now is not the business you’re meant to be running. The business you’re running now may not have as big of an impact without you thinking through these three critical questions. He’s Paul Jarvis. Go check out his book. We look forward to working with you. Seize the day, make it a great week. We’ll see you next time on the show.
Paul Jarvis is a writer and designer who’s had his own company of one for the last two decades. He’s worked with professional athletes like Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal, corporate giants like Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz, and entrepreneurs with online empires like Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo.
Currently, he teaches popular online courses, hosts several podcasts and develops small but mighty software solutions. Paul’s ideas about growth have been featured in HuffPost, Forbes, Entrepreneur, European CEO, TNW, & FastCompany.