For Darlene Pinkowski, all the business world's a stage. When she's mulling over strategies for Actoras Consulting Group Inc., the 20-person Schaumburg, Illinois, management consulting firm she co-founded, a key question is: What stage of growth is this business in?
At the start-up stage in 1993, Actoras consisted of two employees and an idea. At that point, Pinkowski's goal was to give the company a reason for existence. "The first important stage was picking our strategy," she says, "who we are, where we want to be, how we are going to get there."
The next two years, the goal was to fine-tune marketing and generate sales. After that, with revenues growing consistently, the company was ready to move into a new phase aimed at increasing capacity.
"In 1996, we spent money internally, bringing in more skilled people and setting up practice areas so we could provide services across industries," says Pinkowski. "Now in 1997, we're back to marketing and sales and, more specifically, recruiting."
Experts in small-business growth say Pinkowski is on the right track in trying to relate her management decisions to her business's position in the cycle of growth. The idea is that it takes different tools to succeed when you're starting out than it does after you've become more established. Fitting the cycle of a business's life into sequential stages of growth can help entrepreneurs be alert to problems they're likely to encounter, prepare with the proper skills and resources for each stage, and realize when old ways of doing things are no longer appropriate.