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From Idea to Maturity, the Five Stages of Business Growth

Whether attempting to increase market share, improve profitability or add staff, every company is trying to grow. Doing so means navigating complex challenges and finding inventive routes forward during that business growth process.

Following are the five stages of the business lifecycle and the steps you can take to increase your chance of success along the way.

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Development Stage

Whether you’re pursuing a lifelong dream, or you’ve identified an unmet need in a specific market, taking the initial steps to start your own business can be an exciting time. But with so many factors to consider, the process can also be confusing and challenging. If you’ve made the decision to take the entrepreneurial leap, doing so with a clear plan in place—a roadmap of sorts—will help guide you along the way and prepare you for the inevitable twists and turns that come with starting, and growing, a new business.

So, where do you start? Your best bet is to develop a detailed business plan. Whether you’re in need of funding, a set of goals (and timelines to meet them), a detailed customer profile, or all the above, statistics show that new business owners who start off with a plan are twice as likely to succeed as those that don’t.

With countless resources online to choose from, settling on a specific business plan template can feel a bit overwhelming. But remember, there are no right or wrong answers. The best first step is simply to take one. To help you get started, take a look at this comprehensive, step-by-step business plan resource from Inc. Magazine.

Remember, every business is unique, and your business plan will be as well. One thing that every plan should include, however, is a realistic reflection of your company’s aspirations. It’s also important to understand that most successful business plans regularly evolve over time as reviews are performed, milestones are reached, marketing plans are modified, and new targets and objectives are identified.

While business plans can go a long way in helping you build a business that’s more attractive to outside investors, during these early stages of a business, it’s important to continue creating a foundation that sets you up for success, regardless of outside interests.

That foundation will look different depending on your business’ focus and your ultimate goals, but here are a few items to consider when setting yourself up to take your first big steps into the market:

  • Identify how your concept/product/idea fills a need in the market
  • Gauge how well accepted it will be in the market
  • Determine your ideal outcome – from profits to adoption-rate to overall effectiveness
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Start-up Stage

Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to put it into action—kicking off the next stage of business growth: the start-up stage. During this time, you will test the viability of your big ideas—as well as the effectiveness of your capabilities—and this stage can represent a series of make-or-break moments for many small business owners.

But we’re not talking pass/fail tests here. If things aren’t progressing the way you want or need them to be, it’s okay to reassess and pivot as you go. This flexibility will allow you to figure out what changes need to be made to build a healthier, more resilient business. And a large part of building a stronger business comes with attracting (and holding on to) a team that shares your vision and mission—one that can help you do the work necessary to carry out your collective plan.

At this important stage of development, the people you hire can have a lasting, positive impact on the culture, values, and performance that defines your business. That’s why it’s important to build a team that doesn’t just share your goals, but also has the skillset and diversity of ideas necessary to help you achieve them. It’s a tall task, to be sure, but it is possible. And if you’re struggling to find (or attract) the employees you need to make it all happen, there are experienced, outside resources, like G&A, who can help you navigate the recruiting process and build a pipeline of experienced talent.

Another key to creating and maintaining positive momentum, is having the necessary capital on hand to make it all happen. Whether raising money, finding investors, or managing cash flow, knowing your options, and maximizing their potential, can go a long way toward giving you the stability you need to help get your business off the ground.

Read about five different funding options to consider from Forbes.

Ultimately, the start-up stage is when you start to put all the pieces together. As you continue to establish the core elements of your business, a few key areas to focus on include:

  • Establishing a customer base and market presence
  • Managing accounts in a way that best suits your operation
  • Navigating the way your funds are sourced and allocated

Growth Stage

Once you’ve hit a comfortable groove, you’ll be ready to look ahead to the next phase—growing your small business.

The potential for growth is an exciting prospect but knowing how (and when) to make it happen can be a bit of a strategic balancing act. Matching the pace of your increased cash flow and client base without losing sight of the core tenets of your business, for instance, is a struggle that many successful companies have had to navigate.

So, before you fully lean into a growth spurt, take time to review and recalibrate your existing business plan to match your new reality. Doing so can help you more easily determine what is necessary from both a financial and interpersonal perspective. This practice can also provide you with a better understanding of what you’ve achieved, while helping you identify unforeseen opportunities or specific areas for improvement in your business model before plotting your growth strategy.

These strategies from Small Business Development Center experts across the country can help get the ball rolling.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when planning your next steps, but here are a few simple questions that can help guide your way:

  • What’s your small business best at right now?
  • What’s driving profits?
  • What does the current competitive landscape look like?
  • What are current market conditions?

As a growing business, your goal is to identify your market differentiators and what’s driving your profits, then come up with strategies to efficiently expand both.

Expansion Stage

Characterized by a new season of rapid growth and increasing distribution channels, your expansion stage is when you test the boundaries of what is possible for your small business.

At this point in the life of your business, finding ways to increase your market share or revenue streams requires a very detailed understanding of your company’s strengths and what they’re worth on the open market. With that understanding in place, you can begin your evaluation of potential expansion routes and chart a course into new markets to reach new customers. To see how that expansion might look for your business, check out these recommendations from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Regardless of the shape your expansion takes, the key to doing so successfully is to understand the limits of your business while aiming to maximize its potential. One expansion solution, for example, might involve merging with or acquiring another business. Here, the SBA explains the difference between the two and their functions; but these are just two of the many options at your disposal. Expanding with success means finding the solution that best fits your unique business.

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Maturity Stage

When your company reaches the maturity stage, it’s the result of a lot of hard work and perseverance, along with a business idea that has proven its worth. Through strategic planning and maneuvering, you and your team created the perfect climate for success—helping you to evolve from start-up to industry standard bearer. It’s now, for mature businesses, that the importance of growth merges with the need for retention and other business interests.

Although maturity is considered a final stage for business growth, it is not a finish line, or a time to sit back, put the evolving strategies and planning aside and coast along for years to come. Businesses are living, breathing entities. Long-term success requires inspiration, continued commitment, and an ability to meet the needs of an ever-changing world and customer base with new products and ideas. Stagnation, at this point, invites greater competition and makes reacting to market trends more cumbersome.

There are any number of ways to keep your offerings fresh and navigate a potential decline stage. Here are a few creative suggestions from the small business section of the Houston Chronicle.

Another way to help ensure continued momentum, is to revisit your business plan once again, and determine whether pivoting to a new expansion stage or considering an exit strategy is the way forward. Evolution, expansion, and reinvention are the hallmarks of any business with a long history of success. If you take into consideration what’s right for you, your team, and your business, the sky's the limit.

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