Small Business

Can a Risk-Averse Strategy Generate Growth?

Just because you bet big doesn't mean you'll win big. How one entrepreneur found success through cautious expansion

Written by Alexandra Bosanac

For Addie Greco-Sanchez debt was a dirty word. “I just grew up with that mentality,” she says, calling it a holdover from her Italian father’s upbringing.

She didn’t need it. The founder and president of AGS Rehab Solutions Inc. earned the #94 spot on the 2015 PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 Ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs. AGS pulled in close to $2 million in revenue last year and achieved a record 100% organic growth, after years of consistently boosting revenue 10–15% per year. Never once, she says, has she touched her line of credit. Greco-Sanchez bootstrapped AGS the entire way, shunning risk and taking a more methodical approach to scaling up. “The stats are pretty high for companies not lasting more than five years,” she notes.

What does it take to grow a business this way? Thrift, for starters. Greco-Sanchez started the company—which provides vocational rehabilitation services and assessments for injured workers preparing for their return to work—in 1999 out of the basement of her Mississauga, Ont. home. She took care of all the front-line work like invoicing, mailing out reports and making deposits, becoming “a jack of all trades.”

MORE JACKS OF ALL TRADES: When You Can Afford to Outsource »

The early years were extremely busy, but Greco-Sanchez made sure to prioritize her customers. That was the key to landing bigger and bigger accounts, she says—a “one file will lead to the next file” guiding philosophy. Greco-Sanchez also held off on hiring more employees and kept her staff small, running a skeleton crew of staff and sub-contractors to maximum efficiency and only hiring her first manager in 2011.

Finding the right people is crucial when you’re aiming for longevity, says Greco-Sanchez. She made a conscious effort to surround herself with employees who were aligned with her company’s mission: helping people heal. “I looked for people that are open-minded, who are caring and have an interest in humanity,” she explains. “We’re a helping organization.”

Finding staff who share your vision not only ensures an overall harmonious work environment, it’s a crucial component of methodically growing a business. The last person you want on your team is someone who wants to take lots of risks—“firecrackers,” Greco-Sanchez calls them.

MORE RISK-TAKERS: Forget Problem-Solvers, You Need Problem-Makers »

In the process of bootstrapping her company to its current size, Greco-Sanchez passed on new business opportunities, regardless of whether they complemented her business model. “It would’ve been very easy for me to say ‘Let’s get into employment services,’ ‘Let’s get into medical management,’ ‘Let’s have nurses,’” she says. “We didn’t do that. We’re in the business of providing disability management and assessments.” Defining your company’s business angle and knowing where your strengths lie are at the heart of sustainable growth. “It’s part of sticking to your vision,” she says.

It’s been 16 years since she started, and Greco-Sanchez now has 12 people on staff and provides services to Canada’s largest insurers including SunLife, Manulife and Empire Life. Sometimes she wonders if she should have taken more risks. She’s now mulling taking out her first bank loan to help fund a potential acquisition. But don’t expect Greco-Sanchez to ever abandon that bootstrapping mentality. Even today she takes on chores at her new office, including kitchen clean-up. “If I do it then other people won’t look down on it!” she says.


Do you agree? Is slow growth more sustainable? Share your thoughts using the comments section below.

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