Why did you go into business for yourself in the first place? Perhaps you had a great idea for a new product or service that you wanted to develop. Maybe you longed for the freedom to be your own boss. You may have been unfortunate enough to be made redundant. Or perhaps you were in a badly run business, and knew that you could do much better? Whatever the reason, your journey on from that starting point will be the same as the thousands of other people who have also taken the brave decision to become business owners.

There are 4 distinct stages a business owner must go through before they complete the journey to the end game of having a real business. We define a business as a commercial, profitable enterprise that works without you. The challenge is that each of these stages demands a completely new level of knowledge and skills from the business owner. Each stage also has hidden pitfalls that will trip up the unwary, and prevent them from making it to the next level.

These stages, and the skills and attributes that you will need to master each of them, are set out below:

Stage 1: Self employed

The main challenge at this level is the fact that there are so many jobs to do, and so little time to do them all. Initially, it is all about learning effective sales and marketing techniques to bring in the business. Once the work is in, then you have to actually do it. Alongside that, you have to deal with the finances and manage the cash flow. The biggest issue soon becomes that the more successful you are, the more out of control your business becomes. You are constantly pulled from pillar to post by the demands of keeping everything going.

The first and most important skill to enable a business owner to navigate stage 1 successfully is self-motivation. Without bags of drive and energy, nothing is going to get done. The good thing is that in the early days, everything is new and exciting. That’s because it is so much better to be in charge of your own destiny than working for somebody else!  But after a while, this enthusiasm can dwindle, so the ability to understand what motivates you to keep going is paramount.

The next skill is self discipline. Now you’re a business owner, there is nobody else there to make sure you turn up on time, organise your tasks, or do all the mundane work for you. The ability to prioritise your many tasks and focus your time on dealing with the important things is key, if you are going to continue growing your business and move on to stage 2.

Stage 2: Owner manager

As your business grows, you will need to take on staff to help you run the business. This will free you up to focus on the things you are best at, and allow you to delegate the things that are not the best use of your time. However, employing staff brings a new set of challenges.

Firstly, you need to make sure that you recruit the right people. That means people with the right attitude and skills,. You then need to ensure that they buy into your vision and values. Next you have to ensure your team do the right things by setting out the “rules of the game.”  That includes defining their roles and responsibilities, and putting in systems and processes for them to follow. With these structures in place, you then need to become a trainer in order to pass on your skills to the team. Then you need to ensure that they are working consistently to your standards.

As you take on more people, you will have to manage team relationships, ensure effective communication, and start delegating responsibility. There will also come a time when you have to bring certain team members to account and discipline them. Get these things wrong, and you will have a dysfunctional team that hinders the growth of the company. Master them, and the team will help you to drive the business forward and free you up from the day to day activities. Once you have your team performing well, you are ready to move to stage 3.

Stage 3: Owner leader

At this stage you will need to learn to let go of the reins, step back from day-to-day operations altogether. Your will focus most of your time working ON not IN the business.  Failure to do this will result in micro-management, and a business that lacks direction.

The other skill that you will need to develop at this stage is talent spotting. The future growth and success of the business no longer rests with you, but with the people you employ. In order to grow a truly great business, you need to bring in people who are better than you. You then need to develop skills as a leader to keep the vision of the future alive, maintain the culture, ensure that the business stays true to its core purpose ,and keep the team focused and motivated.

As you improve these skills, the time you need to spend in the business will reduce. Eventually you will be ready to step out of the business completely, and move on to stage 4.

Stage 4: Entrepreneur/investor

Having successfully built your first business, you can now use the profits and skills you have gathered in other ways. There’s the option to diversify, buy or build more businesses, or even consider franchising your business. You are now in the business of making money, and the vehicle to achieve that end does not matter. You may decided to keep at least one business going, or you may be interested in learning how to invest in other assets, such as property and stocks/shares.

The ultimate aim at this level is to build up sufficient income generating assets, so that you no longer have to work.  If you chose to continue working, you do so because you love the challenge. Of course, if you are successful enough to make more money than you need for yourself, then you get the chance to give back to others. This could be by working with charities, being a non-executive director, trustee or business mentor. The other option you have is to sell up what you have built and start the journey again. The the thing to remember is that business is a game, and if you play it right it will be fun!

Now you know the skills you need to move through the stages of business, and if you need help developing these skills and fast-tracking your journey, talk to us!