Navigate the Stages of Business Growth like a CEO in the Making

Updated: Mar 8

Absolutely no one can dispute it: building a business is an absolutely wild ride. But what a lot of people don’t realize—entrepreneurs included—is that this wild ride can be predictable to an extent. In fact, it’s a ride that typically unfolds in distinct stages. And if you’re aware of these stages, and what ground rules apply to each one, you stand a much better chance of finishing this ride as a bona fide CEO.

This is how the journey from business inspiration to boss status goes:

1. Start-Up

You are in the early stages of building your business. Maybe you just have an idea, and maybe you haven’t made a single penny yet, but you’re working at it.

2. Ramp Up

You are doing it (i.e., earning money from your business). It’s working, it’s really working! But at this stage, it’s imperative to turn it up a notch and start feeling pro.

3. Scale Up

Revenue is flowing and your model is proven. It’s time to scale so you can re-balance life and get the freedom you started running this business for.

4. CEO Up

At this point, you know what it takes to run a business. Yours is fully up and running. It’s time to lead this business to realizing its full potential.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each one:

Start-Up: Simply Survive

Let’s face it, many businesses never leave the start-up stage. At this point, a business is more concept than anything else. It remains to be seen whether that concept actually connects with the right consumers, giving the business a sustainable life.

The questions to ask:

1. Do we know who our customers actually are, and can we connect with enough of them?

2. Do we have enough cash to survive long enough to answer the first question?

The actions to take:

1. Get off your computer

Don’t spend too much time researching or, worse yet, comparing yourself to other businesses. Knowing when enough research is…enough research is essential.

2. Test, test, test

Get your concept into the market ASAP in order to collect feedback and refine your offering. Do whatever it takes to connect what you have with real people. Door to door sales? Cold calls? Be bold and get the input you need.

Ramp Up: Begin Refining

In stage two, you’ve proven your business has legs. People want what you have on offer! You’re generating revenue…but now you need to see how revenue is balancing with expenses—and workloads.

The questions to ask:

1. Can we break even in the short-term?

2. Can we generate enough money to cover our costs, grow the business, and earn a profit in the long-term?

3. Can we create systems and processes that help us to do the above?

The actions to take:

1. Focus on sales and marketing

Now that you know who wants your product, you need to connect those dots—as many as you can! A robust sales and marketing process hones in on the right message, the right packages, and the right people to generate revenue and get the business operating in its zone of genius. For more information on the right packages for service-based businesses, my next post is all about signature services.

2. Begin to create efficiency-boosting systems and processes

Get yourself and any staff or contractors you work with on the right track to generating profits with great workflows, and systems that keep pumping out value. In fact, I have a toolkit that could help you get started with this.

Scale Up: Regain Balance

What does it mean to scale up a business? Well, if it’s done right, it means increasing the impact (i.e., market penetration) of a business while decreasing its demands on a founder. If you are effectively scaling, you grow while actually reducing unnecessary stressors. And that means one thing: systems, systems, systems.

The questions to ask:

1. What’s the most effective use of my time?

2. How can my team best work together to deliver more to customers while wasting fewer resources?

The actions to take:

1. Leverage your time

Figure out exactly what you, as a leader, should be—and what you absolutely should not be—doing with your precious time. Once again, I have a toolkit for doing exactly this.

2. Develop your people

This is the time to figure out who your leaders are, and how they need to be supported in order to scale your business. It’s a time to build a desirable culture that values, empowers, and respects people, and makes amazing use of their talents.

CEO Up: Protect Your Reign

At this final stage, you’ve done what few other entrepreneurs ever do: achieve market leader status. You’ve built a dynamic business that scales up in a sustainable way. Now, it’s just a matter of protecting what you have by continuing to leverage your entrepreneurial creativity.

The questions to ask:

1. How can our brand remain strong and vital?

2. How can we avoid becoming stagnant as a team?

The actions to take:

1. Make smart acquisitions

Are there developments in the marketplace that your company should incorporate into itself? What’s at the cutting edge of value generation in your industry? Can you acquire these upstarts and make them part of your brand?

2. Perfect your team

Hiring and management never cease to be an essential focus, even at the market leader stage. Your people define you. Keep bringing in the right talent and refining your systems and processes to leverage their talent and build an exceptional culture.

So, there’s your Cliff’s Notes version of conceptualizing, building, scaling, and leading a market-leading business. Though precious few make it to the final stage, you can see there are best practices for increasing your odds of becoming one of them. But honestly, there’s so much more to talk about when it comes to navigating business growth like a CEO—and if you want to talk about it sometime, I’m always game. Never stop growing!