Business Growing Pains – What’s on the other side?

Business Growing Pains – What’s on the other side?

Whilst growing my business from sole trader, to employer, to SME, to company, to multi-site operation, to large company with a peak workforce of over 300 – it was filled with time when i wondered what the hell I was doing….. growing pains come in all shapes and sizes, they also have a weird tendency to make things harder then they really needed to be.

There were countless times, especially in the beginning of my business journey, when I felt like giving up. I honestly thought that ‘the pain’ versus ‘the gain’ was line ball, or at least not worth pursuing.

I would have a sleep on what I was considering, it may take a few days or a few weeks… but ultimately I would make my decision.

To reflect, what drove me to do what I did was simple – “would I ever regret not doing it?”

For me, if I answered “Yes”, then the answer was simple….. I had to do it!

Growing Pains for Startups

As a startup, generally it is a big effort to contemplate even taking the next step.

What is business going to be like? will it be easy or hard? what is the world like outside my comfort zone? what if this turns out to be a failure?

My growing pains began the moment I took the bold move of ‘quitting my job’ to set out on a ‘self employed’ business journey:

  • I had $2k in the bank,
  • I had the tools I needed to do my job as a plumber and a car,
  • I had about 2 months work ahead of me for customers,

The issues:

  • I had no real plan,
  • I underestimated how much work my region (target market) had,
  • I didn’t consider what I would need to do if work wasn’t available,

I was able to push through the work reasonably quickly, making slim profits in the hope that word would spread and I would build a program of work that would see me get busier and grow my business.

I thought that would work….. but it didn’t.

After about 3-4 months I had little or no work. I was left searching for ideas and solutions but I didn’t really know what to do. All i did know is that the business idea was a lot harder then I had anticipated.

I didn’t want to fail; and, there was no way I ever wanted to ask for my old job back.

The startup growing pains ended when I began traveling to other regions, this was simply to gain enough work for the business to survive. But ended in me building a larger network for the business to grow.

Within the first year I employed my first person.

Growing Pains for Employers

I had no idea what I was in for when I employed my first person. I just thought it was going to be easy. Wrong!

When you employ a person, it brings with it a supercharged level of responsibility. It is no longer about you, employment is about guaranteeing a person (the employee) enough work to support their needs whilst providing opportunities for them to grow with the business.

If you want to keep employees; they need to be:

  • respected,
  • trusted,
  • listened to,
  • given praise,
  • asked and appreciated,
  • provided with a future of where they can learn and become successful to themselves….
  • they need to be paid, on time and with no surprises.

From a self employed startup, there are also new reporting obligation that employing people brings to the business. This is another effort which is required to be managed in addition to the previous requirements:

  • finding work
  • bidding work
  • tax reporting
  • journal entries
  • cashflow management
  • ordering materials
  • chasing up customers for payment, start dates, changes etc.
  • making work changes and altering schedules
  • sending bills
  • paying creditors

and now employment….

  • introduce scheduled work rosters, start times, work days etc.
  • building employment protocols; what works and what doesn’t work,
  • employment obligations
    • Tax reporting & withholding
    • Superannuation
    • Employment benefits
    • Remuneration
  • tracking efficiency in order to measure success

Employing people is where business transforms from an idea into something real, something almost irreversible…. it is a burden that first time employers will fight through in order to survive.

Once the system for employing 1 person is resolved, well there is only one way to go. Employ more people….

Within 2 years I employed 2 people; 1 apprentice and 1 labourer.

Growing Pains for Diversification

Whilst my business was growing, I had identified that there was great potential if my business diversified. I though that the best approach was to provide multi trade disciplines. This was an obvious growth area and one that would compliment the business for growth and future sustainability (remember the employer promise).

Our employees can see the business direction, they want to see the company grow, they want to be included in its success.

Let’s do it…..

The part about diversification that every outsider doesn’t see is just how hard this can be. For me as a plumber, when i wanted to diversify into electrical contracting. This just wasn’t done. How can a plumber become an electrical contractor? I was hackled, warned, threatened and then reported on multiple occasions to the licensing authority.

Every ounce of pain that I received just made me more passionate about achieving the next milestone…. to become a multi-disiplined trade contracting business:

  • licensing obligations
  • statutory requirements
  • training and means testing
  • business certification
  • company registration parameters
  • record of company shares
  • ownership structures
  • minimum operational requirements
  • business management systems

Although these were not all new issues by this stage (as a trade contracting plumber), there were new obligations under the Electrical Safety Act.

But to get this all started, I had to work with an electrician to get the ball rolling. I employed an electrician and paid for their training. They had to become a ‘qualified technical person’ in order for the business to commence trade contracting for electrical.

This process took quite a while, probably 3-4 months. We really had no options but to see the process through and then submit our application…. once approved, we began electrical contracting.

Of all the growing pains; whenever you diversify a business, it will bring the steepest challenges for the business to overcome.

The diversification and growing pains for our business were huge:

  • Industry Changes: from initially Building & Construction to include Industries such as Energy, Transport and Logistics, Road Transport, Hospitality, Petrochemical, Utility Infrastructure,
  • Regulatory Changes: State Government, Regulatory Licensing Body, Local/State & Federal Legislation, Corporations Act etc.
  • Business Processes: Employment, Certification, Licensing, Company, Business Processes to Adopt Change & Integrate Controlled Disciplined Management, Internation Certification

This is a glimpse of my journey and how I overcame growing pains whilst remaining in business.

Business is not easy, it takes a certain type of person to make things happen in business. Growing pains; how they are managed and controlled makes business easier when you can see “what is on the other side” can be worth the pain of actually doing what is needed.


Written by Geoff Pike, Entrepreneur, Speaker & Business Mentor


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Geoff founded a sole trader plumbing business in a remotely located and vastly underpopulated location in outback Australia. Starting business with only enough money to pay 4 weeks wages, Geoff persisted by growing the business into a multi-disciplined trade services company. Over a period of 12 years, the company Geoff established grew to employ a workforce of over 300 personnel covering an area almost half the size of Europe, receiving international award recognition with an annual revenue of over $30mil. Geoff knows what it takes to overcome adversity.


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