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FlowSense finds its footing. Refocused strategy yields bigger staff, more sales
May 2007. Ann Nasseff, staff writer. The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal

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Photo Credit : NANCY KUEHN MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL BUSINESS JOURNAL

Paul Smallwood has seen revenue soar in the past year. Now he faces new challenges, like convincing clients that his firms is ready for bigger jobs.

Paul Smallwood is finally getting the help he believes he deserves. After starting up his own company more than seven years ago, he has seen an increase in sales from $177,000 to more than $1.8 million in just 10 months. Smallwood has boosted hiring to keep pace; he now was five full-time employees and is looking to add two more soon.

Smallwood credits the growth of FlowSense, a mechanical and general-contracting company, in large part to his participation last year in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal's Workshop feature, where entrepreneurs get coached by a board of consultants assembled by the newspaper. "One of the biggest pieces of advice I received there was to scale back. I was too diversified."

He also was acting as a one-man team, struggling to manage his business while drawing in clients. Smallwood now focuses on environmentally friendly engineering and technical contracting projects. But with a growing company comes a new set of challenges.

"Now it's a matter of convincing companies, larger companies especially, that we are smart enough to handle big jobs," Smallwood said.

His company is certified as both a minority-owned small business and a disabled veteran-owned small business, receiving much of its business from government organizations. "It's great that Paul's company is a local firm that fits that criteria ... and does professional, impressive work," said Robert Jacobson, contracting officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Smallwood is looking to add several long-term positions to the company, and although he is not actively looking, he is interested in bringing in an investor in the future.

Although FlowSense does outsource select projects, Smallwood estimates that 75 percent of his company's work is now done in-house at its 500,000-square-foot Maple Grove facility.

A native of Hanoi, Smallwood spends a great deal of time traveling internationally for education purposes. "The best way to improve my business is to see how other companies around the world run theirs," he said. Smallwood also will be taking part in his first trade show this June.

FlowSense has flourished under the mentorship of Doody Mechanical Inc., a 200-employee company based in St. Paul. "We've really enjoyed helping him get off the ground, and he has brought us some really interesting ideas as well," said Michael Stillman, president and CEO of Doody.

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