Hurried expansion may be prescription for business failure

Hurried expansion may be prescription for business failure, writes Emirati fashion designer Manar Al Hinai.

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I was pretty amazed recently when I read in the newspaper about a restaurant in Abu Dhabi that had opened its third branch within a year.

The article hit home with me because my friends and I often have conversations about the growth potential of my small business.

My clothing line has received a lot of attention for its mix of traditional Khaleeji fashion and modern wear.

While the regional economy has been affected by the global downturn and some clothing retailers complain of low returns, my sales have been growing, and all my items are sold out within the first month of the launch of a new collection - always good news for a designer.

However, every time I meet my friends, they encourage me to resign from my regular job and put all my energy towards my line and expanding the business, to include menswear and children's wear, and possibly open my own boutique in a shopping mall.

They argue that my selling all of my collection so fast is a signal that I should expand.

I have to admit, it is tempting to open a boutique instead of selling only through retailers and my online store.

Rents in Abu Dhabi have dropped, and this is the perfect time to book commercial space. I would also have control over my own working hours and definitely reach a wider audience.

Some financial advisers even tried to convince me that now is the right time to grow, and that I should not wait till the economy booms again.

But I have resisted, because I have a different understanding of what growth is.

When I started my business, I was determined to grow as fast as I could, to be a well-known brand.

And I did. Within the first four months, my line was being carried by four different boutiques in three countries. It was exhausting as well, given that I have a full-time job and write on the side.

The words "growing" and "business" are often spoken together like "coffee" and "dates".

You do not want one without the other, do you? Whether it is with the aim of becoming wealthy or giving something back to the community, growing seems the natural thing to do.

With the bad economy, expanding might even be a patriotic duty for every business owner to undertake, since a growing business creates jobs.

That all makes sense, until it comes to your own business.

I believe it all narrows down to your priorities. Are you willing to take more risks, hire employees, travel more and handle additional stress?

I have discovered over time that pushing for growth is complicated and could backfire if you have not laid out the best plan.

Many owners of small businesses in the UAE just keep expanding without considering the consequences. It is hard to stop once you start. I know exactly how it feels. I am among those people who just want more and more.

But I have slowed down, and I think things through thoroughly before making decisions.

I have also recognised that business is not just about expansion. It is also about making a profit, which many small-business owners seem to overlook as they grow themselves out of business.

I still consider making a profit to be my top priority. I make an excellent profit, have more demand than supply, which is always good for a business owner, and I sell through retailers, which saves me the drama of paying rents and municipality fees, and dealing with other financial issues.

Running a business is also about being realistic and responsible, and understanding that there can be unexpected drama: recession, new competitors, rising rents.

Choosing growth over preparing for such dilemmas can put the whole business in jeopardy.

And, frankly, I do not think I am fully prepared to undertake a huge responsibility and handle unforeseen events.

Sometimes, especially during times of economic stress such as these, slowing down the growth process is the safest choice. It could be less exciting, but I ask myself one of the most important questions a business owner can ask: why do I want to expand?

Am I doing it for money? Always a motive, but I could lose everything I have worked for. These are tough times, and even governments and established companies are laying off workers and cutting back.

Would I be expanding the business for my ego? I would not want to be successful at the expense of my other career, my health and precious family time.

I am all for expanding businesses and encouraging young Emiratis to pursue their dreams, but they should think things through and prepare themselves.

Now that I look at it, this is not only about recognising your priorities, but also about figuring out your limitations.

Will I expand my business? Most probably, but not until I have enough money and the right team to help me with the additional responsibilities.

My whole experience with entrepreneurship and growth comes down to this: just because you can does not mean you should. Sometimes the right thing to do is slow down and say no.

Manar Al Hinai is a fashion designer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter @manar_alhinai