The Owner’s Journey

Business owners work through many stages during the time they run a business. For the most successful owners, they’ll take a business from ideation all the way through maturation and potentially an exit. It’s common to look at a business through the lens of the business itself and the various stages of a business can be broadly defined as: ideation, marketing, execution, growth, stability, maturity and liquidation or exit.

However, it’s less common to look at a business through the lens of the owner’s journey and that’s what we’re going to focus on today because while similar, it is different from the stages of a business. The owner’s journey stages are as follows :

  • Stage 1 – Idea and Inspiration
  • Stage 2 – Planning and Learning
  • Stage 3 – Foundation and Funding
  • Stage 4 – Marketing and Sales
  • Stage 5 – Launch and Daily Management
  • Stage 6 – Growth and Scaling
  • Stage 7 – Sustainability and Adaptation
  • Stage 8 – Exit and Transition

Let's take a closer look at each of these stages



Idea and Inspiration

Great businesses begin with great ideas and we often hear owners share a story about their personal discovery of a problem they had to navigate through. Successful navigation of these problems can create viable businesses and is a stimulating time for many owners. Ultimately, one of the greatest challenges during this stage of an owner’s journey is balancing optimism with pragmatism. The clearest sign that you’re ready to move on from this stage? When we commit to turning the vision into a reality.



Planning and Learning

You may be able to start a business without planning. However, your odds of success are going to be dramatically lower than if you had planned. We’re confident, that while you may be able to ignore planning (to each their own), you’ll always be learning once you commit to turning your idea into reality. This stage of ownership is often where we’ll build confidence and overcome our doubts and fears about the viability of our ideas. Keep an eye on overwhelm in this stage, as people are very free with advice as you’re still getting up and running.



Foundation and Funding

Business fundamentals such as setting up our legal entity, assessing our funding options and implementing the formal arrangement of the business all happen in this stage. Be aware of heightened stress levels as finances are one of the top causes of friction in relationships. This stage also happens to introduce increased work load and potential challenges with managing the business with the rest of our lives.



Marketing and Sales

Just because something sounds like an amazing idea and solved a problem we have identified doesn’t mean the market is going to adopt it or feel strongly about it. Businesses thrive when products, services and solutions all address pain points people feel strongly about. Without that emotional response, a business can be dead in the water before the idea really ever gets off the ground. Frustration can go hand in hand with marketing and sales and dealing with rejection is a key challenge for many owners, especially if they don’t already have a strong comfort with sales and messaging.



Launch and Daily Management

When you officially launch a product or service, it’s an absolute thrill to see it take off from the ground and to find your early adopters. That thrill can quickly dwindle when we are faced with the grind of the actual day-to-day operations of the business and also have to address consumer feedback. Responding well to tedious activity and to criticism is essential for owners in this stage.



Growth and Scaling

One of the greatest bottlenecks and challenges owners of small businesses have is delegating with effectiveness and developing a team to help manage to growth and development of the business. It’s why so many owners never shift out of owner operator into greater roles. During this time, owners are faced with changing the control they exert over the business and allowing for others to begin to take responsibility and accountability for activity that may have originally been yours. Times of transitions like these lead to identity challenges and require great personal growth for owners to learn new skills such as leadership and management.



Sustainability and Adaptation

Once our businesses have grown to a certain point, our attention will quite naturally shift to business sustainability and, hopefully, continuity. Additionally, we’ll be tasked with adapting the business to changing markets, environments and consumer wants. In a key inflection point for owners, this is a great time to re-evaluate our personal goals and a natural point for us to consider what the next stages of our own lives and involvement with our business is. If we find that our goals for our lives are not in alignment with what the business demands as owners, it can cause anxiety and uncertainty for many owners.



Exit and Transition

Although 80% of businesses are unsellable, our goal is to help every business owner have the opportunity to successfully exit their business. Ultimately, an exit will always happen. It’s simply a question of whether the exit is done with intention or not. Unfortunately, when we allow transitions to occur without planning for them, it can lead to serious repercussions and, as we often see, a business that will be shutting its doors. The exit stage is one of the most difficult in the business owner journey. Exits and transitions require us to process a tremendous amount of emotion around identity, value and face our own expectations of success and failure.

Why Does the Owner's Journey Matter?

Chances are the owner’s journey isn’t as carefully analyzed as the stages a business will go through and yet not only are they fundamentally intertwined, the human element to owning a business has a tremendous influence not just on our own well-being but on a business’s health as well. We’d like to argue that the owners’ journey is more important to focus on than the business stages themselves and if we can better manage to the owner stages we’ll have more successful and more fulfilling lives, businesses and even legacies. 

Let’s look at this realistically. Most owners will pour their heart and soul into their businesses and will work through blood, sweat, tears, failure, uncertainty and any other number of serious challenges. Owners deal with isolation, overwork and decision fatigue regularly and are often on an island when it comes to running a business. 

Our decision-making is influenced by all of these factors and will directly impact the business itself and how we navigate through different business stages. It goes beyond even that, how we lead and the culture we develop in the business is directly attributed to the skill set and experience of you, the owner!

It is critical to understand that owning a business is an emotional journey and every day there are implications in our business in how we regulate and self-manage the emotions we work through at various stages of the business. Understanding how we as owners will influence our businesses is essential to fully grasping the evolution of a business and correctly preparing it for life outside of our involvement. The human element of owning a business is the foundation and fundamental to the business itself.

How to Navigate the Owner's Journey

Navigating the owner’s journey will happen either by choice and with awareness or without, but it will happen nonetheless. Whether your goals are to have the healthiest and strongest business, be more closely aligned in your life and your values with your business, or simply want to leave a certain legacy, it is crucial to intentionally navigate the owner’s journey.

Our greatest recommendation is to address the most impactful bottlenecks that owners deal with by adopting a community of peers as early as possible. Developing greater self awareness by sharing intimate details of your business and your journey with others will create perspective and access to exponential development vs trying to go it alone. 

The second consideration to implement is the development of relationships with coaches, mentors and/or consultants. While each of these resources provides different benefits, they all address a need for personal growth and self-management that every owner should be keeping a close eye on.

Through the development of these relationships, you’ll be better able to work through the challenges of each stage of the owner’s journey, and you’ll find your experience with both the highs and lows to be greater and more meaningful. By focusing on your own journey instead of only considering the business stages you’ll position yourself for true satisfaction in life and business.

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