Businesses Have a Life Cycle, Too

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I have had the opportunity to be involved, one way or another, with a lot of businesses throughout my career. While they were all different, there are still some big-picture similarities between all of them. One set of similarities resides in the stages of each business’ life cycle.

They all, at some point, start out in the entrepreneurial phase. It’s in this phase that each business vies for Viability. The owner(s) pour their heart and soul into the business trying to make it reach and surpass the break-even sales level. The owners work IN the business almost exclusively.

Once profitable, the business goal becomes to emerge from the rest of the pack and get noticed as a provider-of-choice. Credibility is the goal of this stage. Necessarily, the owners begin to work ON the business more and more.

The third stage of a business’ life cycle is when the business becomes an established member of its community or industry. Here, Stability is watchword. Owners may be working almost exclusively ON the business at this point. Often times, this is that stage where the owners gain from some introspection and reach out to valued mentors and coaches to seek help on the next steps. Nothing wrong with that. None of us knows everything.

The fourth stage often happens when the owners get ready to sell the business or are simply tired and go into auto-pilot mode. This is the erosion phase where the growth stops and the business often shrinks. This is know for its Vulnerability.

Now, just because a business has become vulnerable does not necessarily mean the end is in site. It’s actually a “fork in the road.” The owners (either original or new owners post exit) have two choices: 1. Keep riding the current path and ride it to the end, or 2. They can look for new opportunities to re-grow the business. This might be new products/services, an acquisition by which to add volume or diversify. Perhaps an infusion of new leadership is in order. The options are many and only a thorough analysis of the situation (along with a lot of prayer) will reveal the best path forward.

If you are in phases 1-3, enjoy the grind and keep your eyes on the horizon. If you have hit Vulnerability, don’t despair. You have options other than simply letting it die. Remember the grinding stage. Take a deep breath and dig back in. I’m in this stage right now. I choose to fight!