Bloginar Weekly Lesson Five: Stages of Growth Existence & Survival

In this week’s lesson, I am going to summarize the first two stages of business growth so you can better understand the drivers of success and how they impact your company. However, I recommend you read the timeless article, The Five Stages of Small Business Growth by Neil Churchill and Virginia Lewis, and carefully consider what stage your business is at, and most importantly, what the implications are for growth.

During the First Stage, referred to as Existence or known as the Startup Phase, it is common that the owner/founder does it all. If there are no other members of the team, then it is critical that the founder be able to manage every function of the business from sales to operations and product development. Cash is tight at this stage and there’s a tight alignment of business and personal goals. The key challenges the business faces include:

    • Identifying and obtaining customers
    • Delivering your product or service
    • Ensuring cash flow
    • Determining if you can even expand from this initial launch stage

Managing a team, doing heavy strategic planning or implementing sophisticated systems are usually not critical, as you are in true launch mode.

The Second Stage
is referred to as Survival. In many ways this stage isn’t that much different than the first stage since you are still heavily reliant upon the owner and perhaps now a small team to do all of the work. There continues to be a delicate balance between revenues and expenses with cash flow challenges impacting your growth. The owner and the business are still tightly integrated and you likely don’t have too many sophisticated systems in place to manage the business. This begins to change at the next stage.

The skills required to lead through each of the different stages of business are really quite different. At every stage, being able to recognize opportunities (getting “lucky breaks”) is critical, and what you might consider to be a lucky opportunity at one stage will seem different in another, since the ability to seize the opportunity will vary at each of these stages. That’s why it’s critical to recognize the different strengths and capabilities needed such as:

    • Developing a superior product/service offering
    • Selling the product
    • Juggling and controlling multiple tasks

Weekly Lesson Five (Try this…)
If you’re in the early stages of growth, you need to make important decisions about the future of your company and your skills, interest and expertise. Consider the challenges below and if you are facing one of these, write down one action that you can take in the next two weeks to improve your situation.

As the owner, I struggle to delegate activities and responsibilities.
Action to Improve Situation:

Our business is constantly struggling with cash flow challenges.
Action to Improve Situation:

My business and personal goals are intertwined.
Action to Improve Situation:


Bloginar Weekly Lesson Four: The Entrepreneurial Moat

Growth is challenging for all businesses, and of course the challenges you face tend to be quite different depending upon the stage your company is at. If you’re a new, emerging company, then you might be struggling on a day-to-day basis with concerns about driving enough cash into the business and paying your vendors (and employees) on time. You’re probably hoping that you get a lucky break that helps take you to the next stage. You’re wearing a multitude of hats and working non-stop to keep all the balls in the air.

However, as you grow and the business becomes more stable (and you get better at recognizing these lucky opportunities), your concerns will likely begin to take another form. You will always be thinking about driving revenue (that never goes away), but you should also be concerned now about how to control and manage the growth that you’re experiencing. Sounds like a “good problem,” right? Sure, it’s better than the alternative, yet significant growth can be just as big a problem as not growing quickly enough or getting off the ground. Why? Because if you don’t or cannot manage your growth, you can face serious cash flow challenges, unhappy customers or a loss of control over your company’s destiny. It is possible to grow too fast and not be able to sustain or manage what you have created, which can lead to serious consequences.

There’s a classic article written about this very topic, published in the Harvard Business Review back in 1983 entitled: The Five Stages of Small Business Growth by Neil Churchill and Virginia Lewis. This is required reading for many of my entrepreneurs because the article, while almost 30 years old, contains lessons that haven’t changed, even as the nature of many companies, the marketplace and various industry sectors have all evolved tremendously in the same time period (e.g., the Internet, social and mobile

The Entrepreneurial Moat
I’ve often referred to these five stages as the Entrepreneurial Moat because there’s an enormous LEAP that has to be made going from the early stages of a business to the later stages of success and take-off. Business owners must become leaders of their organization or step aside to allow the organization to develop its own personality. A disconnect between personal goals and business goals can be a challenge for many entrepreneurs, and many have to choose either to learn the skills of running a very different organization than the one they started, or leave the organization because they simply love the early, startup phase that has fewer people, systems and processes and they can keep their hands in all aspects of the business.

Weekly Lesson Four (Try this…)
Here’s an important self-evaluation to determine the critical challenges that impact you at various stages of growth that you are in.

Rank your agreement with the following statements: 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree

Business Stage Challenge Your Score____________
1. The owner delegates most activities 1 2 3 4 5
2. Cash flow is not a constant issue 1 2 3 4 5
3. Aligning business and personal goals is not a challenge 1 2 3 4 5
4. The quality and diversity of the team are critical to success 1 2 3 4 5
5. We have a strategic plan in place and use it regularly 1 2 3 4 5
6. We have systems and controls to measure and manage performance 1 2 3 4 5

Your total maximum score is a 30. If your score is below 15 you are likely at the early stage of your business either in existence or survival. If you score is over 15 then you have likely reached a stage of success where business is taking off. However, if you score low and your business is advanced then you are likely experiencing growth challenges. Below note any concerns you have. The next two lessons focus on important drivers of success at different stages.



Bloginar Weekly Lesson Three: SMART Goals

Does Having a Specific Plan Really Help A Business Owner Succeed?
There are very interesting research findings that show the importance of clearly articulating your goals, and how this relatively simple act impacts business success rates. PDMA (Product Development and Management Association) Research conducted a study to evaluate the impact between clarity of ideas and success, and found the following:

Low or poor clarity of goals/ideas resulted in 23% of businesses achieving success while a whopping 85% of businesses achieved success when they were very clear/articulate about their goals/ideas.

When you use words to express your ideas and vision, they have a significantly higher chance of becoming realized.

My Father Always Told Me Not to Mumble
Since articulating your goals is clearly a method of preparing your mind to achieve them, why is goal setting so difficult for entrepreneurs and business owners? I constantly find myself having to beg, plead and cajole the entrepreneurs in my seminars and workshops to write down their goals in a specific, measurable and actionable way. I recognize that this seemingly simple articulation is hard work, but why do so many people who are genuinely working hard at their businesses fail to do a very good job of actually completing this task? Can you relate? Why isn’t it obvious that the pure act of defining clear goals helps increase the chances of success? When you put your goals in writing and see what you want to achieve, clarity emerges that can make all the difference in the world. Yet many people seem to prefer to spend their time focused on the day-to-day activities of their business and do not define their big picture. I want to help you improve your chances of success and eliminate the process of simply hoping that you’ll get lucky.

Therefore, setting SMART Goals is a great place to start. This week’s lesson focuses on writing down your number 1 most important business goal for the next six months – right now, before you have the chance to get involved with some part of your business that is calling you. There’s always going to be another distraction for your attention, always. Remember, if you don’t articulate (and write down) your goals, then your chances of successfully achieving them are rather slim.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of SMART goals, here’s a brief primer:
S: Specific. While this seems obvious, it’s usually overlooked. Make sure your goal is very clear and concise so anybody reading it can not only understand it but not misinterpret what you hope to achieve
M: Measurable: If you can’t measure a goal, you can’t manage toward achieving it. Set a benchmark that you hope to achieve and improve over time
A: Actionable or Achievable: Is this a goal that you can actually achieve or is it so far ‘out there’ that your chances of success are slim? Remember, this isn’t a goal that looks good for somebody else but one that you can truly accomplish in a realistic period of time
R: Realistic: Realistic is similar to Achievable except the difference is that while you might be able to achieve this goal given all the resources needed, it may be totally unrealistic in terms of your overall business goals or the resources that you need (time, money, people) simply aren’t available.
T: Time-based: Time-based always seems to be the simplest aspect of goal-setting, yet one that people simply forget about. Set a framework with deadlines that make sense given your business model and resources.

Weekly Lesson Three (Try this…)

Let’s Jump Right In… Describe Your Top SMART Goal
This week’s lesson is an exercise to help you improve your SMART goal setting skills (trust me, this appears to be much easier to do than it really is).

Write down your number 1 most important business goal for the next six months

Now confirm that it satisfies the standards of SMART goal setting. If not, jot notes below to improve it:
• Specific

• Measurable

• Actionable/Achievable

• Realistic

• Time-Based

My Guest Appearance on MSNBC’s Your Business – April 15 at 7:30 am

It may be Friday the 13th, but it’s been a lucky week for me. With the growing interest in Lucky By Design, I was honored to be a guest expert on MSNBC’s TV Show “Your Business.”

Your Business provides advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs on topics related to sales, marketing, operations and growth.

I thought you’d enjoy the tips and advice shared on the show. My particular segment airs this Sunday at 7:30 am. If you’re up early on Sunday morning, please tune in or you can watch the show online at: MSNBC’s Your Business Website.

If you watch, let me know what you think!

Bloginar Weekly Lesson Two: The Research Shows

While gathering research for my book, “Lucky By Design,” I conducted an informal survey asking about the role luck plays in business, if any. Almost 200 business founders, owners and experienced entrepreneurs from 12 countries responded. The results were fascinating. Conclusion: Luck is about persevering through good and bad times, and seeking opportunities that will get your business to the next stage. It’s essential to have a clear direction, work hard at doing the right business activities (sweat equity on its own is not enough), make the right connections, believe in what you’re doing, and then seize the opportunities that align with your goals and avoid those that don’t.

The Survey Says
But what did survey respondents say? The No. 1 most important finding was this: People who consider themselves to be lucky and whose businesses are impacted by luck are significantly (2 to 3 times) more heavily involved in business growth activities (market research, sales expansion, etc.) than people who think luck has no impact on their business.

Almost 3/4 of the survey respondents (74%) consider themselves to be lucky. When asked to select which activities they were engaged in either during or before they experienced luck, the respondents talked about having a clear and well-articulated value proposition, expanding their sales effort, developing new products, networking and creating a plan

I also compared the activities that these folks were engaged in either during or before their lucky breaks, based on how much they actually believed that luck impacted their business success. In every one of these categories, these supposedly “lucky” individuals were more heavily involved in business growth activities than the average respondent and significantly more involved than the person who thought luck had no impact on their business. For example, 24% who believed that luck impacted their businesses had been involved in new product development – whereas only 7% who didn’t believe in luck had been involved.

In other words: The “lucky” entrepreneurs were certainly not sitting around waiting for luck to find them They appeared to be working constantly to better secure their success once those lucky opportunities “fell from the sky.”

What do all the entrepreneurs have in common? Perseverance alone. Good old sweat equity is the common denominator. A significant portion of the folks who didn’t believe luck had an impact on their business (46%) believed in persevering compared to 56% of the more positively impacted business believers. However, the entrepreneurs who believed luck had no impact were not doing the same things as the folks who considered themselves blessed by luck. See the chart to understand the difference. Clearly, it’s not enough to persevere. Being the last person standing doesn’t mean you win the game. You’ve got to be performing the right activities while you’re in the game to take advantage of lucky opportunities and be successful.

The Takeaway for You
What does this mean to you? Luck comes to those who are engaged in the right activities – to thrive, not just survive.

Weekly Lesson Two (Try this…)

Do you consider yourself to be a lucky person when it comes to business success? Do you perform activities that enhance your ability to recognize and/or seize lucky opportunities?

Which of the following activities are you consistently performing?
• Working on a clear and articulated value proposition
• Expanding your sales effort
• Developing new products/services
• Creating a plan
• Conducting market research
• Networking

Recognizing that these activities can increase your chances of business success, think about three actions you can take in the next 30 days that include these lucky actions.



Bloginar Weekly Lesson One: What is Luck and Does it Matter?

Attracting lucky opportunities and being smart are definitely connected. A significant number of successful small business owners say that thriving in business, including surviving the recent recession, has meant getting smart about making their own luck. It’s simply not enough to work hard, you have to work smart and perform key growth activities that impact your business’ success.

What do you think about the role of luck as it relates to the fate of YOUR business? In the process of writing this book, I asked many entrepreneurs, business owners and managers, students (past and current) and colleagues to share their perspectives on luck and what it means to their and their companies’ successes. My conclusion is: luck is not as much about the situation as your approach, attitude and reaction to the situation – basically your passion for what you’re doing, your planning, and most importantly, perseverance combined with a willingness to do anything (within reason) to realize your dreams. One of the respondents to the survey I launched on the role of lucky in business shared that, Luck is the rounding error that either goes your way, or not, after you’ve done your hard work and preparation.

If you look carefully at events that appear to be lucky, you will discover that almost all of them (when reverse-engineered) exist at the junction where good planning, passion and perseverance meet opportunities that warrant them. If you’re not prepared for events that favor your company and don’t have an opportunistic outlook, then the likelihood of your missing these breaks is pretty high.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Think about times when you’ve been planning and preparing for quite a while, and suddenly an opportunity seems to come out of nowhere. Is this luck? Or is it simply that your planning and perseverance finally encountered the right opportunity? Would you have recognized the opportunity if you hadn’t been doing all the hard work that lead to this event? Probably not!

Understanding the role of these lucky or unlucky opportunities in your business is critical because:
• Individuals who claim their success is due to luck are usually not giving themselves enough credit for the positive activities and plans they have undertaken that allowed them to seize the opportunity. If you don’t recognize how you’ve empowered your own luck, you are less likely to continue those very activities that are critical to your success.
• Folks who think they are simply unlucky and therefore will not be successful regardless of what they do, cede control over their situation. This is really dangerous because these business owners seal their fate by assuming they can’t take positive steps to prepare themselves for unforeseen events (both good and bad). By assuming they won’t get lucky breaks, they stop looking for those opportunities that can change their business.

So how do you prepare yourself for opportunities and maximize your chances of success? I have found – and show in the book and this Bloginar – that perseverance, commitment and confidence combined with having a solid roadmap are the main criteria for business success. Luck happens when you have positioned yourself to be on the watch for the right opportunities.

Weekly Lesson One (Try this…)

Are you translating your vision onto paper and then into reality? This gives you the greatest chance of driving profit and revenue into your business.

1. Write down the most important business goal for your company to achieve in the next 12 months.

Now, review the statements below and provide a score for each.

A “1” means that you strongly disagree and a “5” means that you strongly agree.

1. Strongly Disagree – 2. Disagree – 3. Neutral – 4. Agree – 5. Strongly Agree

How strongly do you agree with the statements below?

1. I have a clear vision for how I want my company to be positioned in the next 3-5 years
1 2 3 4 5

2. I regularly communicate my vision to my employees, so they all understand and share my vision
1 2 3 4 5

3. I have a written business plan that I share with my key employees
1 2 3 4 5

4. I use a dashboard regularly to track the performance of my business against my goals
1 2 3 4 5

5. I spend at least 20% of my work week working ON my business versus IN my business
1 2 3 4 5

6. The key employees in my company are empowered to make important operational and customer-driven decisions without me
1 2 3 4 5

Your total maximum score is a 30. How did you do? If you’re not happy with your score, below list 3 actions you can take to improve your business’ chances of achieving this critical goal.