Small Business Growth: 5 Lessons from Azalea Pruning

Small business growth is a bit like gardening. Sometimes you have to prune to stay healthy and flourish.

Do you ever feel like work isn’t fun anymore?

The aftermath of the pruning

When I first started freelancing, I felt the need to say yes to every opportunity. Refusing potential work felt risky and unwise, and I accepted some less-than-thrilling projects. One crappy client convinced me that I had to be more selective about the work I accepted.

I thought back to that time today while pruning our azaleas. We’ve had them for many years, and they had become overgrown, leggy, and unhealthy, and the blooms were sparse this spring. I’m about halfway through pruning them and here are some lessons learned.

  1. Pruning looks severe at first, but is ultimately good for the plant. Several years ago my husband accused me of killing the plants after one pruning job. The next spring he was convinced when the blooms came back, brighter, more plentiful and much healthier. Lesson: cut back to build up. You may find that your business grows when you eliminate the extraneous.
  • Cutting away the old, out-of-shape branches allows new growth to flourish. From the top, the azaleas looked great, but underneath there was old, dead wood that blocked sunlight and air from the new leaves. Lesson: is there anything that you do just because you’ve never thought of doing anything else? Maybe your technology is outdated and you’ve resisted change.
  • The longer you put off pruning, the harder it is. I’m anticipating that it will be a miracle if I can move tomorrow. Sore muscles, an aching back, and tired feet are the price of the pruning I haven’t done through the years. Had I maintained the azaleas through the years, the work would have been far less exhausting. Lesson: make the time to keep up with important aspects of your business as you go along rather than letting them get out of hand.
  • Sometimes you just have to know when to give up. There were a couple of bushes that didn’t have enough life to be worth keeping. More wood than leaves. My husband took them down with his chain saw and the roots will eventually rot in the ground. As hard as it was to let go, another plant can flourish in its place. Lesson: be objective. Don’t get sentimental about a piece of your business you think you can’t part with. Consider whether something else can take its place.
  • Pruning is hard work, and it takes time and patience to see the results. Your plant won’t grow back thicker and healthier overnight. You may have to wait months, or, in the case of our azaleas, a year to see the  fruit of your labor. Lesson: while it may seem simpler to take the easy way out, persistence brings rewards over time. Sometimes success means you make the hard choices now, do the work, and think long term.
  • Maybe you’re not a gardener, so I’ll define pruning: trimming a plant by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth. You may find it ironic that cutting back increases growth and flowering, and improves the overall health of the plant. I did when I first started gardening.

    Grow your business wisely and well. Like a garden, neglect may save some work in the short term, but costs you in the long run. Keep up with technology, pay attention to marketing and branding and manage the day-to-day necessities.

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    1. finnious

      Love lesson one. I have been eliminating to make room for the One Thing. And it works!!!

    2. Jennifer Dunham (@living5x5)

      I love this comparison! It is so important to remember that are businesses are constantly evolving and changing and we have to keep up with that!

    3. beth g sanders

      Thanks so much, Jennifer! Keeping up isn’t easy, but we have to!


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