Even during the best of times, starting a small business is tough. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it became a quest for survival. While roughly one-third of small businesses were closed amid the lockdowns, many have reopened their doors or launched anew as consumer demand roars back.
Each of the 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. has its own unique flavor, challenges and path to success. Some never expand beyond a single founder; others could scale to become the next unicorn. Along the way, many founders will face common sets of challenges as they reach new levels of success.
For that reason, we’ve decided to bring you some real-life examples that illustrate the five stages of small business growth: existence, survival, success, take-off and resource maturity.
We didn’t invent this model—it was developed by researchers Neil C. Churchill and Virginia L. Lewis in 1983. Our goal is to bring each stage to life and start a conversation around the opportunities and experiences that business leaders encounter.
Every day this week, we’ll bring you insights from our contributors on each stage of growth. Today, we start at the beginning: the initial stage of launching a business and figuring out everything from product fit to customer acquisition.
Stage 1: Existence
Idea validation and commercialization of research
Product market fit
Stage 2: Survival
Customer service and building customer loyalty
Profitability and growth
Stage 3: Success
The founders dilemma
Incentivizing word of mouth
Securing funding for expansion
Stage 4: Take-off
Hiring and growth
Resilience, business continuity and contingency planning
Stage 5: Resource Maturity
Maintaining customer service while scaling
Lean marketing for businesses
Unicorn entrepreneurs and financing