The 5 Primary Stages of Business Every Entrepreneur Goes Through
As an entrepreneur, coach, and mentor I work with a lot of people in all different stages of their businesses. Over the past few years I’ve started to document a pattern: entrepreneurs go through phases. Shonda Rhimes, television producer and writer known for her hit series "Grey’s Anatomy" confirmed my belief in an interview about running her own business. She talked about how in the beginning we are always trying to get somewhere, then we reach that place but we worry we will lose it. Things seem almost to good to be true.
I experienced this in my own business when my last book, "Adventures for Your Soul", came out. It was my third book, so from the outside one might assume I’d be sitting pretty comfortable with the aspects of releasing a book. But I found myself falling back into the beginning stages, which brought up all these new emotions. Every project of our business represents a new phase, which requires we show up in new ways.
Every next level of your business will demand a new, different you. So assuming you won’t have challenges after you’ve reached a certain level of success is assuming you won’t be growing. As you grow and learn new life lessons, so will your business.
I’ve identified the five stages of all entrepreneur-based businesses. It's a good idea to know the stages so you can navigate them with more grace and ease. But recognize there are many facets to your business. You might have products, clients, income streams, etc., so each part of your business may be in a different phase. It’s not a cookie cutter approach, but it can definitely save you some sweat and tears when you respect the phases of your business.
Here are the five phases every business owner will go through:
Phase 1: I'm trying to get “there.”
The first one to three years of business are usually dedicated to trying to get there. You want more followers, more clients, more sales, more recognition—the hustle is very real and most often fueled by an optimistic desperation. What I learned in my own journey and what I tell my young entrepreneurs is to add more love into the hustle. It’s great to work hard, but make sure you are having fun along the way. If you are resenting your work because it isn’t bringing in the results you want, your business can’t flourish. Instead of trying to get there, recognize you’ve already arrived. You are already your own boss, and it takes time to build trust and get momentum. Don’t give up—just keep plugging away with joy and more love.
Phase 2: I got “there,” and I am worried it will go away.
The next phase we all experience is that fleeting sense of euphoric “OMG, I made it!” Whether you landed the sweet contract, the giant book deal, or the national TV segment, you think, “I did it. I’ve arrived! I got where I have been trying for so long to get to.” Then almost immediately fear sets in and we worry “Will it go away?” Things seem to good to be true. You wonder if people will take you seriously, or will it all go away? This is a fear-based reaction to living life at a new level. You aren't use to the success, so naturally it could feel a little uncomfortable at first. The best thing to do is prepare yourself for this stage by owning your worth and valuing yourself sooner. When you believe in your work and what you have to offer, this stage is minimal.
Phase 3: I got “there,” but it's not what I expected.
You get to that elusive place. You may surpass your mentors or coaches with sales, followers, or even industry recognition. Industry leaders may seek you out for advice now. You’re no longer stressed about how to get there because you are there. You no longer worry about income because it flows in steadily. This is what you've worked so hard for, but you can't help but wonder why living your dreams feels so different than what you expected. The key word is expected. Our expectations are what doom us in business. Expectations rob us from feeling good in the moment. It's good to have goals, but having expectations looks like phase one or two thinking: “When I have 'X' amount of clients I will be happy,” or “When I am on national TV I will be making tons of money,” or “When I release my book, I will be an instant best seller,” etc. When these expectations don’t happen we feel let down. Even when and if they do happen, it usually feels different than what we hoped for. Instead, focus on all of the good things that have happened and release your expectations.
Phase 4: I am proud of how far I've come.
The next phase is a glorious time when you recognize how far you have come. You’ve worked really hard and have made a great difference for your clients, customers, or team members. You may take a vacation and decide not to work the entire time; you might celebrate by scheduling more playtimes with family and friends. This is a happy time in your life and something you’ve worked very hard for. But you don’t have to wait until your business is self-sufficient and you are “successful” to be proud of yourself. No matter what phase you are in, be proud of yourself each day you show up and do the best you can. That in itself is enough.
Phase 5: Relax and enjoy
The fifth stage all entrepreneurs work toward is the “I did it” phase. This is the time you can relax and truly enjoy what you’ve created. But this phase doesn’t last long, because as entrepreneurs we are always thinking about our next launch, idea, or best practice to stay relevant to our core customers. So take some time to relax, enjoy your beautiful business, but roll up your sleeves and get back to work. After all, the journey is the reward.