The 4 Stages of business growth, and why it matters

At ALIGN we are interested in the various phases of a company’s growth and evolution. The reason is that at each stage, the goals and needs are different, and we want to meet our clients where they are so that we can help them get where they want to go.

To do this, we look at where our client is in their lifecycle as a business. Are they starting up? Are they scaling up? The goals will be quite different, depending.

Here is a helpful chart we use to reference where our clients are (from "Scaling Up" by Verne Harnish).

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Do you recognize yourself somewhere on here? Are you smack in the middle of one of these phases, or are you transitioning from one to the other? Are you aware of where you are, and do you talk about it frequently?

There are some common themes among companies that grow from one phase to the next:

  1. They are aware of where they are on the growth cycle, and they are aware of where they want to go.

  2. They realize they won’t get there without changing what they are doing as a company. “What got you here won’t get you there.”

  3. They realize they won’t get there on accident. Unless it is purposeful and intentional, unless the entire organization is on board, it simply won’t happen. It's just too difficult of an undertaking to happen on accident.

  4. They realize they won’t get there alone. They welcome help. Growth oriented leaders have high performing coaches, mentors, are constantly reading and picking up ideas and ways of growing their capacity and growing their organization.

  5. They take responsibility as leaders to make the jump. They don’t outsource the strategy, they own it. If it’s failing, they take responsibility. As John Maxwell explains in his “law of the lid”, growth oriented leaders realize that they are the cap on their organizations growth. You’ll never grow an organization past your own capacity, so growth leaders focus on growing themselves as leaders first, knowing that's the only way to grow their company.

For ALIGN, and for the work we do, it’s important that we recognize along side you where you are in the growth cycle. That’s why, when we begin a relationship, we’re going to talk about where you are in the growth cycle. And in case you’re curious, we’re currently in the startup stage ourselves. The good news is, we’ve either worked through each stage ourselves in the past, or helped clients work through each of them, so we’re familiar with many of the trappings and opportunities of each.

"No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” - Warren Buffett

We typically are best able to help companies who have moved past “Startup” and are in the “Grow Up” or “Scale Up” phases. That’s typically where a strategic growth partner like ALIGN makes the most sense. These companies and leaders are humble and hungry, and they realize they won’t get there without excellent partners. They realize that having a marketing partner at the strategy table will make them more competitive, and grow stronger and faster in the long run.

For further reading and study

  • There are different ways to look at the growth stages, and various ways to slice them. For a more nuanced view, and a different perspective, here is an excellent article from Harvard Business Review: Link to HBR Growth Stages

  • The book “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish is a practical guide to breaking through these various stages: Link to Scaling Up Book