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Is The Ebb & Flow Model Right For Your Small Business?

Sep 21, 2016 | Business of Law

is-the-ebb-flow-model-right-for-your-small-business“There is ebb and flow. Leaving and coming. Flight and fall. Sing and silent. Reaching and reached.”

– Ally Condie

Work. The word has magnetic characteristics– some are attracted to it while others are repelled. Work itself can change and evolve, as can the way most businesses approach it. When it comes to small businesses, particularly those that don’t always need boots on the ground or in a storefront, I’m seeing a shift in the collective attitude toward work.

Small businesses are adapting to what I’m dubbing an “ebb-and-flow” model, meaning they bulk up during busy times and trim down during the slow ones. The concept is somewhat similar to seasonal businesses – like costume shops for Halloween – which know they have a limited time to move their products at premium prices. Only here, the point is to be in demand year-round, and being able to predict or react quickly to the busy times.

We’re working with some generalizations, here, and of course each business will face different scenarios. The same can be said for the demographics we’re discussing.

Exploit Their Priorities

I’m not saying millennials don’t want to work. I’m saying their desire for a more flexible lifestyle may give you opportunities to rethink the way you compensate them. They might not have families to support, and may not be looking for company-provided health benefits. Some millennials might prefer telecommuting over a 401k contribution. You as an owner can use their “need to be flexible” to your advantage.

Consider this example: You’ve just landed a huge project or you’re anticipating a major order. How are you going to deal with the extra work if your business mostly consists of just you? You can bring in seasoned workers, consultants, and millennials to handle the equivalent of entry-level responsibilities. If they’re just shuffling emails, and they’ve earned your trust after short period, let them do the work from home or a coffee shop.

Their higher rates may be justifiable because these workers are not receiving benefits. Depending on how you’ve structured your business, you may or may not issue 1099s.

If the workers did a good job, mention the potential of future collaborations. And once the project’s over or the order complete, pay them, say your thanks and goodbyes, and go land the next big deal.

One Disadvantage

If you use this model, a downside is that you’re not passing on any real knowledge or creating a legacy that can be passed on. These consultants and freelancers will learn something, sure, but then they’re on their way to the next thing. It’s completely different than the way things had been for decades, where succession planning was an expected part of doing business. Nowadays it can be something of an anomaly. You have to make peace with the idea that your business could be a castle made of sand, as Jimi Hendrix would say, and “fall into the sea…eventually.”

This isn’t (entirely) meant to be a “you damn kids”-type lecture, because we small business owners need to adapt to each new generation of consumers and – sigh – as workers, too. I’m coming to terms with the notion that it’s better to be lean, mean and profitable than dealing with employees who always want to leave at 5 p.m.

This is a topic we’ll likely continue to discuss. Contact Brinen & Associates to explore which business model will work best for your new venture.


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I formerly worked as a satellite employee from my home state of New Jersey. I ended my employment with my former employer in 2016. In 2018, I was sued by my former employer for $1.1 million in Illinois State Court. I was referred to Brinen & Associates, LLC by a friend who is a client of the firm. Brinen & Associates, LLC came highly recommended. I contacted Joshua Brinen and then had a consultation at his office with his colleague Mark White. Together, Messrs. Brinen and White explained my options...

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