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Scaling My Business for Small

by Abby Kerr

in Your Brand, In Business

About this column

Business basics for brand creators. Because keeping up with the details shouldn’t derail your big dreams.

scaling my business for small

“My mother loves small things,” the customer said to me.

She was describing what she saw as a particular quirk of her mother’s, but the truth was that many people love small things — for very particular reasons. When I owned my retail shop, this seemingly idiosyncratic detail was one my shopgirls and I heard often.

On this day, I’d been working the sales floor, chatting with regulars, greeting first-time customers, and giving some of them a quick tour of new finds we’d just unpacked and displayed. This particular customer (we’ll call her Marta — she was a regular) was shopping for a Mother’s Day gift. She picked up a set of tiny, glazed ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of bluebirds, painted in a soft wash of robin’s egg blue (natch).

“She’ll love these,” she said, walking them up to the counter where I ran her credit card, wrapped the bluebird shakers in our signature kraft-and-chocolate polka dotted tissue paper, and tucked them into a logo gift bag. Then she was on her way, to return again another day seeking a new find, hoping for an experience that felt very much like the one she’d had on this particular day. Particular. Personal. Curated.

People love small things — for very particular reasons.  

Most of the business owners we’re lucky to work with at The Voice Bureau have very small businesses. While their revenues might range anywhere from $20,000/year (in ‘just launched’ mode) to multiple six figures, they insist on designing and running a business that feels small. Particular. Personal. Curated.

Usually, their “team” is just them, or them and a VA. Or them, a VA, and a few other collaborators or team members.

It’s fun for my team and me to work with these types of values-based microbusinesses because that’s the type of business The Voice Bureau is. We get why small and particular appeals to you.

In these online entrepreneurial realms, we hear so much about the importance of scaling a business so that more parts of it can be ‘hands-off,’ leaving the business owner with more time and energy for a life outside her business. While I totally agree with the second half of that equation, I don’t think that scaling for volume is the only way to go about having a business that feels good and is profitable. I think it’s time we talked about scaling for a tiny little jewel box of a brand.

Scaling for small

In my own business, I am scaling to be a tiny little jewel box of a brand. That’s how I think of The Voice Bureau.

Right now, and for the past couple years, I’ve been working at scaling my business for four things:

  • IMPACT — which, to me, means seeing my message and my work reach as many Right People as far as it can go
  • GROWTH IN REVENUES — which, to me, means having operating leverage, being able to bring in as much income as possible while being as modest and sustainable as possible in growth efforts
  • PLEASURE — which, to me, means getting to do mostly the stuff I truly love doing that’s within my zone of genius, and building the business in a way that’s beautiful, and not doing the things that don’t actually bring me pleasure or an internalized sense of adding value (like hustling for speaking gifts, going after PR opportunities, etc.)
  • PARTICULARITY — which, to me, means serving the exact Right People in the exact right ways in the exact particular tone and style that works for them and for me

I want to be known for really specific ideas, concepts, and approaches. I want to feel particular, selective, curated, and well-appointed.

I want my business to be well-honed, lithe, and supple where it counts (which is always around the needs of The Voice Bureau‘s Right People). I want flexible architecture. And I want to give my clients an experience that feels small, regardless of the revenues I’m bringing in. Because ‘scaling for small’ does NOT have to equate small profits.

Think about it.

Maybe in your business, the dream is to work with three carefully vetted clients each quarter, and that’s it. You’ll make fully a quarter of your yearly income each quarter from your engagements with these clients. You’ll maintain the emotional and psychological bandwidth to deliver a truly great experience for them. And you’ll have a tiny, quiet team behind the scenes engaged in building the infrastructure to support the clients’ experience and your experience. To keep focused, you’ll lean on your high Love, Security, and Excellence Voice Values.

Maybe in your business, you plan on building a suite of courses around the topics you teach and model. Your goal is to eventually license your own material so that other practitioners can teach using your work as a guide. Someday you’ll create a high level private mentorship for people who really want to go deep. You’ll lean on your high Community, Depth, and Helpfulness Voice Values to get this done.

Or maybe you’re a visual artist who works on commission, always in a very particular style and medium. You have no desire to ‘scale’ in terms of client volume, but you are interested in opening an online boutique where people can peruse and purchase non-commission works. You plan to hire a terrific Virtual Assistant (VA) to help you carry this out. You’ll lean on your high Intimacy, Accuracy, and Enthusiasm Voice Values to make this work for you.

There are many different ways to scale for small, and not all of them require you to be “hands off,” to enroll huge numbers of buyers or clients, or to hike your prices sky high so that only the heavily invested can work with you.

Toward a tiny little jewel box brand

I’m kind of in love with this ‘tiny little jewel box’ of a brand idea. It’s what I’m going for these days, and it’s what we help our clients move toward and into in their own work.


Only what fits.

Only what’s precious.

A few heritage pieces.

A few current favorites.

Lots of eminently wearable standbys.

And lots and LOTS of value.

If you’re intent on building your own business brand as a tiny little jewel box, I invite you to join me.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What does ‘scaling for small’ look like in your business? What would you LIKE it to look like?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Simms April 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Oh my, I think I’m in love with this idea, too. Such a thoughtful, grounded approach when so much of the internet is yelling at us to scale, play big, and maximize–but only to their definition, which is not in line with the values of everyone who wants to work for herself.


Abby Kerr April 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Yes! This whole past year or so, I’ve become ever more intentional about eliminating all of that noise from my ‘incoming.’ There’s precious little time in life to do what we love — let’s do it the way we want to!

And I say this with no criticism of the ‘play a bigger game’ people — it’s all about what YOU, the individual, want.


Annie B April 22, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Hi Abby :) I think you just summed up my future. Thank you.


Barbara Troeller April 22, 2014 at 5:38 pm


I loved reading this post. My niche is very small and I love it that way. As a oddball who uses little to no social media (no I am not on Facebook, no Twitter, no Yahoo, etc…can you believe it?), I am often tempted to jump into it all. But I love my jewel box of a business, it has been successful, and my customers seem find me regardless of my lack of social marketing or online presence. For now, it suits me fine. Everyone looks at me as if I am crazy when i say I do not have my business on Facebook. I know all about the benefits, I just like it this way…really really small and almost hidden! I never thought of it as a jewel box of a thing, (a term my dear mother used) but I see that is exactly what it is! Soon I will probably be forced to expand into the big marketing platforms and sources, but for now, no. Your words helped me feel that I am not alone in wanting to keep it small. I don’t feel so out of place after reading your words, I just feel more in “my place”. Thank you!


Lynndee April 22, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I’d been wondering if I would ever find someone who understood what I want for my business. Tiny, special, jewel box. Yes, that fits!


Esme April 22, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Abby, I love this so much. It speaks to me as a person with high Excellence, Depth, and Intimacy Voice Values (& values in general). It speaks to me as a person who really doesn’t want breadth so much as depth. And it speaks to me as a person who owns very little jewelry… BECAUSE I want every piece of jewelry I own, and wear, to be exquisite. Thank you.


Sarah Louise April 23, 2014 at 12:42 am

This is such a wonderful concept! I think the reason why many small online businesses succeed—especially ones focused around an interactive and engaged community—is because they feel curated and personal, and therefore approachable. People will want to keep coming back for that feeling of personal connection. I also think that an online platform really allows for the scaling of revenue, whilst retaining the ‘small’, personal nature of such a business in a way that may not have been possible offline. Thank you for this article!


Lizzie Larock April 23, 2014 at 5:56 am

Oh I love this. I always refer to my business as “boutique” for exactly the same reasons you just described. I have never been a fan of the cookie cutter, paint by numbers, one-size fits all approach – not in the bricks and mortar world or the online one. I love hand made, curated, unique instead. And it’s nice to see it articulated that the feeling of an online business can remain small and intimate while the revenue certainly doesn’t have to be. Thank you for this!


Marjorie Steele April 23, 2014 at 10:19 am

I’ll echo everyone else here, Abby – thank you for the on-point and much needed encouragement to scale flexible, small and personalized. I myself have bounced back and forth between consulting and in-house positions, trying to find the right “fit” for my skillset without having to build and manage my own Agency (with a capital A). Most advice and pressure in the business world leans towards either going corporate or scaling large – that’s what entrepreneurs are supposed to do, right? But for the creative, this can be deeply problematic, as Managing a Business is really not where my passion lies, but rather in the work itself. Taking the opposite approach of a highly specialized (i.e. $$$) consultant can be equally problematic, as you can price yourself out of a lot of viable work you might love doing.

So, all that to say I find your metaphor extremely valuable. Looking forward to seeing what other gems you have for us soon. :)


shanna April 23, 2014 at 10:50 am

This is intentionalism in action, Abby!

I prefer my business to be one that is nimble, light, and responsive–for me and for my clients. I have a small team, and each person brings something to the table that allows me to do my best work. My biggest challenge is turning away business–I need a better filter to know when to do so whether based on my values, abilities, or joy-factor. It’s a learning process and I am getting better at it.

I love this post :)


Megan April 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Thank you! I’m practicing “dreaming big” as an experiment because I feel pressure that I should want to be big[ger]. But I’m not convinced I want to be. I know of people who only work by referral. I remember feeling I had to defend my school choice because I didn’t seek out the biggest and “best” – I chose where I wanted to go for other reasons and felt like I received a great education. The idea of scaling a business in specific ways and for specific reasons resonated with me.


Jennifer April 24, 2014 at 7:47 am

oh Abby, you said some of my thoughts perfectly in words…thank you!


kimberly kline April 24, 2014 at 7:52 am

Abby, I had to share this link on my blog today because it really hit home for me! Thank you so much for your words of inspiration for keeping it small. I’m in the midst of a new business which is “big” for me… BUT I want to “keep it small” – thanks again! – kimberly kline


Monica T Smith April 24, 2014 at 8:20 am

“Tiny little jewel box” – I want to curl up in those words! I continually see my business/ministry as a small, quiet gift that when opened release great power and wonder for personal transformation. Thanks for this visual. It really helps (and confirms) my vision of what God has called me to.


Suzi April 24, 2014 at 11:45 am

Abby – Thank you for this post reminding me of the value in thinking small when it comes to putting my business goals in perspective. To deliver quality service to a chosen few has more value than pressuring myself to deliver to the masses. As the saying goes “Good things come in small packages”


kimberly kline December 14, 2014 at 1:59 pm

This really hit home for me and I posted it on my blog – thank you so much for this thought provoking info. It came at the perfect time for me!


Hannah Pasquinzo April 28, 2016 at 5:46 am

I love what you said in the comments about eliminating the noise from your ‘incoming’. Yes! I’ve run a large dance studio for almost 15 years now, and the thought of less noise… it’s heavenly. I’m keeping that in mind as I build my coaching/consulting biz. Thanks!


Abby Kerr April 28, 2016 at 8:41 am

You are so welcome, Hannah. We can always open up to more incoming if we’re feeling an inspiration or guidance deficit. But once we’ve overloaded ourselves, it takes some undoing — not to mention the psychic toll!

BTW, I love that you’re in the dance world. I grew up studying classical ballet & it added such richness to my life — & does to this day. :)


Hannah Pasquinzo April 28, 2016 at 1:43 pm

:) Yes, dance education provides so much richness… so grateful to have grown up dancing!


Sérene April 28, 2016 at 10:08 pm

I’m not really sure what ‘scaling small’ looks like in my business. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on while still battling the ‘shoulds’ of getting speaking gigs, and creating a course at some point to bring in passive income, and…?

This post is like a breath of fresh air, thank you!


Sandra Pawula May 10, 2016 at 10:15 am

I so love this idea of scaling small and centering around my values and what’s enjoyable to me in addition to the other markers you’ve mentioned. It’s so rare to find this type of encouragement on the internet and so needed! I don’t know what this means for my business, which still in its infancy, but I have stopped writing on the blog “more” as I “should” and thus feel I’m offering more value at a pace that works for me and still providing regular pieces for my reader.


Caroline May 10, 2016 at 11:14 am

This is such a sigh of relief! I think scaling small means providing value while maintaining intimacy. I love the experience of connecting with my clients and having deep one-on-one conversations with them. I don’t want to lose this by trying to serve and connect with everyone in the world. Scaling small means talking to my beautiful little tribe and not worry about who else is listening. Thank you for speaking to this idea. It’s so needed in the conversation.


Gail Gaspar May 11, 2016 at 1:43 pm

My mother always said “good things come in small packages.” It drove me nuts since it was repeated often and seemed a made up rationale for my petite stature! And now, here I am, nodding with implicit understanding about the “tiny little jewel box” of a business. More, bigger, I should – all are external measures. My biz doesn’t look like anyone else’s and my coaching clients exquisite reinventions don’t either. Scaling for small feels just right. Thanks for the post, Abby.


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