Is a one-person business scalable?

Answer: Very difficult might capture a typical response.

For example, if you live in a relatively small community, most everyone uses “Joe Plumber,” who owns and operates by himself Joe’s Plumbing. Joe is reliable, has reasonable rates, does good work, and home owners are comfortable in having Joe in their home. Joe started with a bigger plumbing business in a larger town as an Apprentice plumber, then became a Journeyman plumber and finally became a Master plumber. Joe moved to his current smaller-town location, works hard, has made a good living over many years and is now ready to sell and retire.

The responses typically heard from buyers for a business like Joe’s are:

  • How do I know that customers will continue to do business with me?
  • My family does not want to move to that smaller community.
  • I do not have my Master Plumber’s license.
  • I could start a business for significantly less than Joe wants for his business.
  • I do not want to work that hard.
  • I do not want to do the accounting, marketing, scheduling, inventorying…I just want to do plumbing.

Can it be sold? Yes.

Will it be difficult? Yes.

There is an alternative that business owners in this situation might want to consider. Five to ten years from retirement and/or selling, have the business large enough so that an assistant can be hired. This assistant should be someone that over time could own and operate the business and has aspirations for ownership. Over time, work to give this assistant more responsibility, ultimately ending up where this assistant can run the business. Then, complete the transition to the new owner. This is known as strategic succession planning and it is invaluable as you plan to transition out of the business. There are many advantages to this plan, but the most important being a smooth succession plan.

Mike Schoville

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