“Do you even know where you’re going,” my cousin’s kid, Alejandro, asked me from his car seat in the back.

“More or less,” I told him.

We came to a stop sign and I searched the flat swathes of farmland beneath the dark clouds of spring storms. In the distance, I spotted a cluster of indigo grain silos. “That’s it,” I pointed. “That’s your mom’s cousin’s business.”

As we approached, I could see that my cousin Andy had expanded beyond when I had last seen it. Along with the grain silos, there was a large shop, and several metal conveyor belts and towers. The periphery was filled with a variety of steel shipping containers.

I was out in Idaho to meet up with Alejandro’s family as they visited my folks and the rest of the southern Idaho family. My cousin Andy, his wife, his sister, and parents are all Mennonite farmers that live near Twin Falls.

I didn’t see Andy on the trip because he was busy. Later, as we toured my aunt’s greenhouse, I told her, “He’s basically running two businesses: farming and selling seed. Has he hired someone yet?”

“No,” she said, “He’s been able to keep things going by designing and building new equipment. He keeps finding ways to make it more efficient and trim down the time between steps. He can run that entire operation by himself.”

As the demand for your business maxes out your operational throughput, you have three choices:

  1. Do nothing and backlog or lose customers.
  2. Hire people to account for parts of your operation.
  3. Invest in technology or systems.

Andy fears hiring employees because they won’t measure up to his standards. Because of this, he’s put as much as he can into building out the technology and systems. This has likely increased his profitability at a cost to his productivity (he’s tired.) But whenever he eventually decides to bring in help, that person’s effort is going to be highly leveraged due to the systems he’s built.

Employees are the largest expense in most small businesses. Leaning towards evolving your operational systems and technology before taking on those costs is often a safer and more profitable route to growth.

Featured image is my cousin and her husband visiting my aunt’s greenhouse.