Most new businesses start much the same way. First there's an idea for a product or service that customers will pay for. Next is a plan-- written or not--to buy or build the products, or develop the service; locate the facilities, hire the people , develop the systems and raise the money to create, market, deliver and service the products.

After the doors open, however, the similarities end--businesses tend to go in all sorts of different directions. But long-lasting growth enterprises do share a consistent set of future challenges. As they move along the course of business life, entrepreneurs must face and overcome obstacles relating to hiring, planning, refining, systemizing, evolving and, finally, exiting the business.

The key to knowing which challenges are next is to look at your business's timeline. Depending on whether you're a startup, in the growing years from two to five, refining your approach from five to 10, maturing from 10 years on or in the final exit stage, you'll face predictable barriers. The good news is, many entrepreneurs have been there before you, and most of those impediments have solutions that are proven and repeatable.

A Guide to Business Timelines