The Afro Coach Operations Agency

5 Phases to Growing Your Online Business Successfully

(8-Minute Read)

We live in a world where we can build a multi-six-figure business from our laptop. But the milestones it takes to reach that level of growth can be daunting, especially when the online space is so noisy!

Why do you feel a need to rush to scale, when the support we need to get there we may not be ready for?

Why Does It Matter What Phase of Business You’re In?
The 5 Phases to Growing Your Online Business
Bonus Resources to Support You in ANY Phase of Business Growth

Why Does it matter what Phase of Business You’re In?

When it comes to growth, the last thing you want to do is follow corporate tactics to reach your small business’s potential!. For one— the problems of a lean startup is vastly different than an established, 20+ person business. You are going to need different things, and require a different level of support (and overhead) to help you sustain your business.

The way we can diagnose where to start building in support and what you should focus on strategically, is through identifying what phase of business you’re in. 

This keeps you from trying to build operationally for something you don’t need yet, and guide you on where you can prioritize support so you can grow sustainably. 

This model was something developed by Neil C. Churchill and Virginia L. Lewis in 1983, and published by the Harvard Business Review. I’m referencing it to speak directly to the operational support for those in the coaching and service provider industry.

 

The 5 Phases to Growing Your Online Business

1. Existence

This is the beginning-beginning. You are focused on gaining and delivering results for clients, and testing to see how viable the business is. This stage can look like a lot of cold calling, asking friends and family for referrals, and casting your net wide to get the 

A lot of service providers will lean on social media or word of mouth to get their services out there. 

The name of the game for growth here is leveraging your own CREATIVITY. You are experimenting with what sticks, what isn’t resonating, and taking in a LOT of data to formulate processes to build into formal systems down the track. 

Right now, the goal is to keep up enough cash flow to keep the business alive and gather enough data to solidify whether or not this business is worth pursuing. 

While this phase is the most energy-intensive of all the phases, you can prioritize the organization of your client files, and information you find yourself sending over and over again (via social media or to clients) to begin formulating templates and keep backend files clear

Bonus — you can organize these things in Google Drive with one folder for clients, one folder for marketing, and one folder for Ops to get into the habit of creating a space for all the work you’re doing.

2. Survival

Businesses that stay in business move into Survival. Now that viability has been proven, it’s about generating enough revenue to finance growth for the next stage (and beyond), and profit to begin seeing a return (however small) in your business.

Here, growth is focused on direction. While you are still pretty close to your business, now you can start seeing the patterns of what IS working to keep clients happy, and tweaking your marketing efforts to begin attracting clients consistently. 

While your systems development won’t be the most sophisticated thing here, you CAN rely on the organization built in Phase 1 and turning what was once an experiment into more defined processes that you can create templates for and even better, documentation for. 

As you start to flesh out more processes, the more sophisticated your operations can get. 

Great support to think about here is utilizing your current resources to build credibility without adding too much to your plate. 

An example: Think schedule-sending testimonial requests to your clients on the day you know you’ve finished work for them, and create a referral program to incentivize happy clients to put your name out to potential clients in exchange for a monetary finder’s fee. 

Bonus — Invest in a CRM that can help you manage and track leads for a better conversion rate. I personally use Dubsado, but also have been really digging Streak for Gmail, as it 1. Integrates straight into your Gmail account and 2. Has a really robust free version 🙂 

3. Success

Alright SUCCESS. You move into this phase when you’ve started to see a consistently profitable return from your business. 

You have a solid process for how you find, attract, and close clients, the result you can provide, and who specifically you can do it for. 

So operationally, you can take all that you’ve done to set yourself up for this support, into having the business capacity be able to manage the main areas of your business without your specific input.

Think: client onboarding, client validation, lead + client scheduling, and lead generation systems. 

Because you have proven processes that have been battle-tested through your survival phase and the cash flow to afford it, you can begin building more robust operations, like hiring team members, building out your client delivery and marketing systems, and investing in apps and software. 

Your role now is to shepherd the business direction, ensure the business can stay profitable, and manage the delegated tasks (either through automation or people). This can look like creating SOPs from your documentation to ensure your team follows them to a T, and tracking KPIs to spot any inefficiencies.

This is an interesting phase, because many online businesses will stay here for the foreseeable future. While you have reached ‘success’, the question remains 1. How do you sustain this (and how long do you want to?) and 2. What is the end goal once you get here (and how do you prepare for it?)

If your goal is to keep growing: Prioritization is key, and making changes to not only move into a leadership role but building up your operations to accommodate the growth you are aiming to have. This is a more active role in your business in order to do so. 

If your goal is to sustain here: Time and energy become paramount and reviewing your business model to ensure you can remove yourself from the day-to-day work and allow you to sustain for a long period of time without adding any additional resources to increase your client roster. 

Note: I have worked with businesses in the 6-7 figure who quickly reach this phase and didn’t have time to organize and fortify their operations prior. And that’s where I come in! My Operation Health Check and consulting services were built to help businesses have an operation that supports THEM and helps progress towards the goal they have, whether it’s to scale or to sustain! You can check out an overview of those services here.

4. Take-off

This phase can also be known as scaling. If you choose to continue growing, your goal now is to grow your business rapidly and to finance that growth. That can look like hiring to improve the efficiency of the company. That could be a fractional senior role to bring more experience to your team, or bringing in consultants to help you design how to structure your business from here for the growth you’re seeking. 

This phase asks a lot from the owner strategically, as you become the mastermind for a group of people to shepherd the vision you have for your business. Prioritizing your time for strategic and operational planning means relying heavily on your systems, your team and low-energy intensive offers to keep cash in the business and progression on track. 

You are also building a culture around your business. It’s no longer just you. It’s a budding enterprise of people coming together to bring this business further, and you are now placed in the role

Systems and operations are now much more customized and extensive, calling for specific support in exactly the systems you need to keep the trajectory of your business on point. 

Bonus — having an organizational chart to manage the tasks each team member (or department) owns will help in determining where YOUR responsibilities lie, and what you are trusting your team to do. 

5. Resource Maturity

This is the destination of a successfully scaled, matured business. The inefficiencies of explosive growth have now been covered thanks to the strategic hires and complex, well-developed operations. 

Your role is no longer to manage all things in the business anymore like it was way back in Phase 2. It’s now working with your team to collectively manage this business, while continually allowing for sparks of creativity to trickle through your business processes to be implemented and keep your business relevant to your customer base. 

This also may be the area where you disengage from your business, focusing your creative energy on other ventures.

The brunt of the day-to-day AND managerial work rests on your co-coaches and your manager team. You have the finances now to be a force within your niche, and the biggest thing to stay on top of is your ability to innovate and continually be aware of the shifts in your business to avoid becoming obsolete (something that happens a lot with big businesses!) 

Bonus — a great way to keep a pulse on the industry is by creating a research and development team!

Having someone who can come in to help you:
1. Stimulate your creative spark and
2. Bring a fresh perspective to your business. 

WHEW! The many phases of business have so much nuance to them when it comes to support, but it’s so important to recognize the phase you’re in to ensure you are fortifying the support you need to reach your business goals.

A few factors that will help you determine support:

  • YOUR GOALS: the goals you have for your business

  • YOUR NEEDS: the external and internal needs that must be met for you to feel secure and safe

  • YOUR PRIORITIES: the external and internal priorities that you need space for 

As was evident throughout the blog, the importance of each level of support will change as you mature in your business, and where you want to end up.

 

BONUS RESOURCES TO SUPPORT YOU IN ANY PHASE OF BUSINESS

Want more great resources to help you with support?
Here are a few of my faves:

Also, a great place to start in seeing how aligned your current business actions are with your goals is doing an audit. Beyond looking at financial spreadsheets and profit margins, measuring your current operations against the core priorities, values, and goals you have is a must.

You can download a free guide on how to conduct one here:

I’m Elisabeth—
I live in Melbourne, Australia, but I’m from the States (Washingtonian through and through). I’m a cat-mom, wifey, and in love with a good workflow; it gives me that warm, fuzzy, Christmastime feeling. My goal is to help hard-working service providers stop having to choose between creativity and productivity to build a successful, sustainable business.