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I was reminded the other day of some work undertaken at Harvard in the 80’s which still applies today.

What stage of growth is your business?

The researchers examined many businesses at different stages of business growth for trends, and surprisingly, there are.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you are Richard Branson or a first-time business owner just starting out, each business goes through the same five stages. It’s just that when Richard launches a new business idea, his staff probably go through each step faster because they know what to do and they have been given the money to do the work quicker ☺.

So, what are the stages and what is the work that needs to be done in each stage to grow a business?

Stage 1 – Existence 

This is where we start up a new business and usually, this means we do everything. At this point, our goals are to prove there is a market for our product and to survive to the next point. 

Building our brand and finding out which avenues of marketing work are the business elements we need to understand at this point because it is marketing that will enable us to expand to the next stage. 

Stage 2 – Survival 

Once we have proven our product and have the first steps in marketing under our belt, the goal is to start to make money. We need to know how to make and manage money, so we have enough to cover costs and finance growth.  Don’t get me wrong, marketing is still important – you must continue to bring in the leads – but getting to understand money management in business is a major task at this stage.

Stage 3 – Success

By the time we reach Success, we will have some staff on board, some tasks will be automated and the business will be economically healthy and making a profit. But usually, we are still working in the business, focused on sales and delivering the product to our customers. Making sure the marketing is still firing is still key.

But at this point, every business owner has a decision to make. 

Stay where we are, running a profitable and enjoyable business.

Or go for growth.  

Stage 4 – Takeoff 

If growth is the decision, then there are three final pieces of the puzzle to fully understand to get there.

First, it is crucial we have a full understanding of how the business is doing each month against specified strategic and operational planning goals. 

And, as business owners, we need to be able to focus on this high-end management of the business rather than the day to day.

So, second, getting great usable systems and operations in place so we can delegate responsibly with confidence is key. 

Once you can delegate effectively, you can leverage out of the business and leave the money-making growth tasks to other people. 

Associated with this growth will be finessed financial control of the business which, along with the planning noted above is your job from now on. 

And of course, marketing is still important as it needs to be on the ball to bring in the extra leads required.

Stage 5 – Maturity 

Once you feel you are there, don’t fall into the hubris trap and take your eye off the main game. 

We see it all the time with large corporate and franchised organisations which suddenly look jaded and no longer function the way they once did. It seems to happen too when franchises are sold to corporations more interested in making money than looking after their franchisees who are managing the money-making sales and delivery arm.

Take care not to fall into senescence. Keep your eye on the marketing.

The essence is that every one of the five stages is associated with learning the details of managing one of the key business elements and the lesson is that you can’t go beyond that stage without having the appropriate skill under your belt.

So, what are the five key business elements?

  • Understanding the marketing (especially your brand) to bring in buyers
  • Financial management (especially spending) to make sure you make a profit and have the funds to cover the expenses of growth
  • Effective systems so you can implement responsible delegation 
  • Strategic business and operational planning to ensure you know where you are and where you want to go so you don’t lose sight of the important things in business
  • Actually, delegating responsibly so you can leverage yourself out of the day-to-day and work on growing the business successfully

Somehow it always sounds easier when listed quickly like this.

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