Something really successful people often do, when telling their stories of rags to riches or hardship to success, is they sort of gloss over the decade or so in between difficult struggle and amazing achievements. But it’s in that between time where the work is really done. And I think we need to hear how to actually navigate that decade or so when our business goes from brand new to an established organization. That’s what I’m talking about today. About the growth years of business. About the stages that are necessary for every business to move through.

I like to think of these phases as similar to human development. We start in the infant stage, move through to childhood, then to teenage years, and finally to young adulthood. Our businesses are not that different. They start in infancy, take steps in childhood growth, become independent teens, and finally are fully grown, young adults. When we think about our businesses in this manner, it’s easy to define the stages that we need to take our business through. But how do we realize success in each stage? What are the right things to do when?

Do we start right off with strong marketing and an omnipresent social media presence when we’re just in the infant phase? Or is that the time for market research and developing our customer service? When should we hire? When should our focus simply be on client experience? When should we expand our offerings? What feedback do we allow to shape our business? These are the things I talk about in today’s episode: the strategies we need to employ in each phase of business. Some things can be left until the teen phase. Some things can’t wait and need to be taken care of in infancy. Knowing when to do which thing in business, and how, is half of the journey to success. Let’s start looking at how businesses flourish like little children with the right parenting.

Key Moments

05:00 First step: infant phase
14:24 Second step: child phase

23:33 Third step: teen phase

  • How do we know if we’re taking on the wrong feedback and expanding too fast?
  • Has the ideal client for our business been identified? Who do we serve?
  • Do we want to constantly be attracting new clients or focus on repeat business?

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Contact Kari Lotzien | Be the Anchor: 

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Transcript:

Kari Lotzien: [00:00:01] Welcome to Be the Anchor the Podcast. I’m your host, business and leadership coach Kari Lotzien. When the seas of life get stormy, and they always will, it is not up to us to captain anyone else’s ship or to try to calm the waters of the ocean. It’s up to us to set our own destination for what we really want, and to learn how to navigate those waves of life together while finding that place of security and stability with others. I call this being an anchor. If you are a dreamer, a visionary, an entrepreneur, whether you have an idea, big or small, that you think might just make the world a little bit better, kinder, gentler place, you are in the right spot my friend. We are going to talk about everything from big ideas to mindset and strategy, and sometimes just how to get through the day. I don’t want you to miss an episode, so be sure to follow and subscribe to the podcast so that we can stay connected and keep doing this journey of life together. Thanks so much! 

Kari Lotzien: [00:01:13] Hello my friends. Thanks so much for being here. I love a good rags to riches story as much as the next person. I really can get so enthralled with a great novel or book or biography or podcast where someone is showcased who has gone from hardship, whether that is coming from absolutely nothing, and then building this empire of, you know, multiple 7 or 8 figures and have gone on to leave a legacy or to change their communities or give back. I can get completely enticed by a story of someone who is living on their sister’s couch or battling the throes of addiction, who has then gone on to develop their own small business and then grown it to multiple seven figures and have really created a life that is sustainable and also does great things for the world. But I’m noticing that so many of these really successful people, and I say that in quotations because we’re all human, and I think when we listen to the intricacies of those podcasts, you’ll start to see that people are more similar, even if they have multiple 7 or 8 figures. Their fears are the same, their challenges are similar. They just come with a different package. But I think that piece that I feel is missing in a lot of these interviews, I think they give it lip service, they’ll talk about, you know, I didn’t get to this level of success in the last year or two. It’s taken me a decade or longer. But I feel like they fast forward through what happens in those ten years to help get that traction, to build over time. And I think that there’s this image out there that if we just have the right marketing, if we have the right hashtag, if we have a beautiful website, that that is the key that unlocks success, that that’s how people, customers, will find us, give us their money and then the rest is history. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:03:23] And I feel that this pattern is hurting a lot of small business owners, because I think that what’s happening is we do all these things, we market, but then we don’t see the results that we want to see, and it feels like something is wrong. And we feel like if we try harder, if we put in more hours, that we should be getting ahead. I want to talk today about strategies for small business during those ten years, and I like to compare it to human development. Thinking of your business at an infant stage, a child stage, a teen phase, and then a young adult phase where your business needs different things from you at different times. And I want to share with you the common mistakes that I see, some of the myths that are out there, and give you some ideas on defining first what stage your business is at, and then giving you some tips and tricks on where do you focus your attention? Where do you give your energy? Because no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what supplements you are taking to develop your neurotropic health or look after your protein or your sleep, you are still human and you need to look after and really nurture your own energy. That’s how you’re going to be in this game long term. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:04:52] So let’s start off by just talking about the phase of business that you’re at and kind of see where it goes from there. The first stage is that infant phase. I think of these businesses at a start up phase where the owner or the founder has an idea, they have found a product or a service that they feel the world needs. And they often have incredible passion and excitement behind it. We’ve all seen these startups. Maybe you were one. I know I was one back in the day where I was so excited about what I was going to offer. And I just felt like I needed to let people know about it. And that’s all it would take to open the doors to fame and fortune. At the infant stage, like a very small child, your business will keep you up at night. It demands so much of your energy, your attention, your time, your focus, your bank account. Right? This is the stage where you put it all out on the floor and you go all in. Now, if you’ve started as a side hustle, that’s fine too. It’s not that much different. But you know that even as a side hustle, that might mean that you’re doing your 9 to 5 job and paying your bills through that. But your business at a startup phase or an infant stage is taking up your evenings and your nights and your weekends as you try to make it viable, as you see it, is this thing going to survive? And it takes so much of us at that point. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:06:29] Now, for a lot of us at this early stage, it doesn’t feel awful because we do have that passion. We have the belief, we have the goal, we have the drive, we have the energy. It feels amazing to think and dream ahead of what this business might be. And I compare it to being the parent of an infant, where all of a sudden you start to imagine who is this little person going to be as they grow up and you feel so responsible for feeding them and making sure that they look cute and they’re clean and they’re looked after, it’s that similar type of engagement where you’re just all in. You’re so attached to the outcome because you feel like for this business to survive, it needs you. It needs so much of you. And many of the time we’re willing to give it because of that passion and that excitement. The mistake that I think I see a lot of business owners make at that startup or early phase, is that we invest our time and energy in the wrong things. We have a product or a service, an idea, and we focus our our time and our energy on marketing. We spend too much money on a fancy website, or you focus on getting your Facebook page up and running and doing marketing campaigns and having all kinds of fancy things to build a clientele. And the mistake that I think we make here is that when you focus on marketing or the fancy website too soon and you don’t have clientele that are drawn to the idea of what you’re actually selling, the product or the service itself, I think we fall short and it’s putting the cart before the horse.

Kari Lotzien: [00:08:23] My advice to anyone at this stage of development when you’re in the startup phase, I think our primary attention and energy needs to be on market research. I think you have an initial idea of who your client is going to be and what they’re going to want, and that they will pay for it. And too often I think that we don’t always address does your client want what you’re selling? Do they see a need for it in their own life? Too often with startups, and I say this with love and compassion because I can tell you, this is the hardest part for me as a business and leadership coach when I see someone and they have such an amazing idea, and then I think, okay, but if you’re having to sell the idea that someone needs what you’re offering and they don’t see the need for it, you’re almost creating a mountain for them to climb before you sell the product or service. It just makes it that much harder. So making sure that the client that you’re identifying or that you think will need your product is actually interested. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:09:33] Number two, will they pay for it? They might think you have a really great idea, but they don’t want to pay for it. Or there might be something out there that’s already available to them for free or for really low low cost. It is hard to build a business off of something that people can get elsewhere for free. Now, you might tell me that your product is better, or that your service is that much greater that people will pay for it. If that is your theory, test it. Make sure that the customers that you’ve identified feel the same way and they’re willing to invest in it. And then you want to ask flat out how much are they willing to pay? Because you might have this incredible idea that you think people are going to pay a lot of money for, and then you find out very quickly into it after you’ve spent all the money on the fancy website and the great marketing, and you’ve got all of the social media out there, and then you recognize that actually people do think it’s a great idea, but they’re not willing to pay for it. Or they’re not willing to pay what you need it to be worth for your time and energy. So I think you do need to have a way to let people know what you’re doing. But a very basic business page on social media and a very basic website can do that. It holds a space for you without investing a lot of time and energy in showcasing all of your fancy products or services, because I feel like the more complex something is from the outset, the more attached we get to it. So when you create something simple that just merely lets people know what you’re doing, and then you focus your energy and attention on developing your ideal client, developing your product or service. So if people are interested, have them test it out for you. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:11:25] I’m a huge fan of beta testing at this stage. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Offer a discount for people to try out your product or service in exchange for getting their feedback. You want their honest input. Now with all, again, love and respect, we want to make sure that we’re getting feedback from the people who we perceive are going to be your customers, or from mentors who have gone before you. If your partner, who adores you and loves you, thinks this is a great idea, that’s wonderful. That is not market research. If your mom or your very best friend thinks this is a great idea and that people are going to pay you so much for it, again, wonderful to have that support and that nest where you can feel supported, but that is not market research. Market research is the hard truth from people who you think are going to be your customers. Have them evaluate your product or service. How is this experience for you? What is one thing that I could do to make it even better? Or what is one thing that you would suggest we change to make this more attractive to you? This is the place where you want to hold loosely. Don’t get so stuck on your idea. You want to get feedback so that you can hone in on what your product or service is. I think at that infant stage where you really want to be focusing in is make sure you’ve got something that is viable, make sure that you have a product or service that people are willing to pay for, and it’s good. And have someone look at that through beta testing or something like that. So the number one, keep it simple. At this stage, you are really focusing 100% of your energy on building your reputation. If you’re selling a product, you want to make sure it’s a good product and that the value is there. It doesn’t matter what the price point is, if it has a really high price point, then it needs to have really significant value. If it is a low price point, you still want it to reflect the value that people are paying. Keep it simple. 

[00:13:38] One of the best things I did last year was launch the Anchored Leadership Academy Group Coaching program. We had our first group go through in the fall of this year, and let me tell you, it was incredible. We gathered a group of established entrepreneurs who really want to move forward in their leadership. So developing their teams, being able to give great feedback, delegating well to move to that next stage of business. The next cohort is going to start in February and doors are open now for applications. All you need to do is click on the link in the show notes, have a read, see if it feels like a good fit for you, and then book an inquiry call. That’s it. Hope to see you there. All right, back to the show. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:14:24] The next step is that child phase. So this stage of business is when you know that your product or service is something that people are interested in. It’s something that they’re willing to pay for. And it starts to now have some leverage where you’ve got money coming in, you’ve got revenue, clients are paying. At this stage, we can really start to stretch. At the child phase I always say this is when we need to be cautious of your business becoming a monster, where it overtakes your time and your energy. Because when we’re at an infant stage and we’re trying so hard to just develop this business and develop this idea and put it out into the world, we get so excited when people actually get on board and they pay us for that. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:15:17] But very quickly it can morph. And now your clients or your customers, whoever is buying, can decide now well, you should also offer this. Or what about this other product or service or oh, here’s a really cool idea. And I see a lot of business owners at this phase start to follow shiny things. And we try, especially if you have a background as people pleaser, which many of us do, we’ll start to stretch farther and farther and farther by offering too many products or services. We have too many offerings, we have too much inventory, and we’re trying to do too many things or sell too many products to a single customer. What happens at this phase is that you can start to feel too stretched, stretched way too thin. When I was at a child phase in my business, and I’ve had it happen now more than once, where I would create an exceptional service that people really did want. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:16:54] So I focused on the right thing at the infant stage. But then when I moved to the child phase, people were attracted to it. This is a good sign. If you’ve got something great, people will want it. But when they share with you but I can’t afford it, you might start to feel like, oh, then you need to lower your price. This is when you need to really get real with yourself and decide who do you serve? Who is your ideal client? If your ideal client that you really want your product or service to reach, if that person can’t afford it or they don’t see the value in it, you absolutely need to either increase the value, change your product or service so that it meets a higher standard, or you need to lower your price. But if you have the value in your product, if you have the standard and people want it and are willing to pay for it, and then you have a different group of people who just can’t afford it and don’t see the value, you don’t want to lower your price to meet that. You might have a different offering or something, or you decide those are not your ideal clients and that can be difficult.

Kari Lotzien: [00:18:07] At the child phase this is really where you need to decide solidly, who do I serve? Who is my ideal client? What are they willing to pay? And you narrow it because if you go the other way and you start to try to develop something for this price point, and then you develop something different for another price point, and then you develop a third thing for a different price point, or different people want different things from you, you start to dilute your offering and it loses its strength. And I see in a lot of businesses that do this, when they start to diversify or have too many products or services, the quality and the standard of the service or product they offer drops. And this is where your reputation can take a really big hit. I think this is the demise of a lot of small businesses who hit that phase of This was viable, people wanted it, but then they start to try and go too broad too quickly and it fails. So I think in this stage of business, the focus is really defining who is my customer, who is my client, and do they see the value in my product? And then you narrow again to developing excellence. Because no matter what phase of business you’re at, I am old school, I feel that still the number one best marketing strategy out there is word of mouth referrals. That when your customers and clients love what you’re doing and they rave about your product or service, they’re going to tell others, and those people will then grow exponentially to want to deal with you. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:19:43] This is where you want to stay focused in on your customer service and developing a reputation of excellence. I always think we need to be service forward. Instead of focusing on your website and your marketing and your copywriting and worrying about your social media, focus on your service. When customers come to you, do they rave about the experience? Do they love what you’re providing? And are they telling other people? If they’re not, if you are not getting a substantial number of your customers or clients coming to you from raving fans, then you need to go back and look at your service delivery model, and you need to come back to that infant phase to go back to doing beta testing, to get feedback from customers who you think are your ideal and say, let me have it. What could I be doing better? Where are my gaps? Where are my holes? Where do I need to change? Hold on to it loosely. Don’t go into defense mode. We’re not trying to sell something to people that they don’t need. Business gets really easy when we align what we do with what people want, and then you just rinse and repeat and you just keep adjusting to make it fit for what they’re looking for. This is also the place where now we want to really start looking at efficiencies. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:21:04] So I think one of the other mistakes that people make is they think that they don’t need to look at their systems and their procedures and their efficiencies until they’re at a certain size of business or a certain revenue amount. That is not true. Focus on your efficiencies once you’ve recognized you have a viable product that people are willing to pay for. Now look at how can I make this more efficient? Are there pieces of my business that I can automate? Are there places that I need to maybe delegate or outsource some of my tasks to, so that I can really focus on providing an exceptional experience for my customers and driving that referral relationship? Come back to that. And then the cherry on top at this phase is your marketing. This is now where you know you have a viable product or service. You know people are willing to pay for it. You know that they’re seeing the value. So hopefully you’ve got some social proof where you can be sharing testimonials in your marketing to attract new customers into your business, because now you know that once they come in that funnel, once they’ve purchased your product or service, you know you can deliver on the other side. There is nothing worse and nothing harder in a business when you’re constantly having to attract new customers but they don’t return and they don’t refer others. Then all of your energy has to come into drawing in new customers all the time. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:22:32] I think that’s a weak business model. If you notice that most of your customers are new and you should have a business that people are returning back to and purchasing again, you need to look at your back end. You need to look at your product or service and your delivery and your customer experience. Come right back to beta testing. By this time, you should start to be developing that flywheel where your customers are starting to refer back to you, where you’re starting to get some return business. And that is the place where we want to keep that operational and keep that experience for your customer top notch. And then your marketing merely becomes sharing that, sharing what your customers are already saying about you, sharing some of the results that they’re getting, and then letting people know, here’s what we do. It is so much easier at this place to now start to lean into the marketing. This is what you share on your website. This is where your social media goes. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:23:34] Okay and now we move into that teen phase of business. So at the teen phase, this is where your business has gotten to a point where maybe you’ve identified opportunities, or maybe there’s something looming on the horizon that’s a threat to your business, and you don’t have the skill set currently to overcome that or to move through it. This is where I think at the teen phase, we start to build in other people, other resources. I think one of the mistakes that we make at this phase is that people keep stretching. They just keep trying to do more and be more and reach more people without employing help. I think at this phase, I hear a lot of my clients tell me I just need to hire. I just need to get some help. I need to duplicate myself. But what happens at this phase is even if people hire, if you haven’t developed exceptional customer service when you were at the child phase of business, or you haven’t fully beta tested your current products or services. If you don’t have efficiency, adding more people will add to the overhead of your business, and it often amplifies your issues. So the time to really do the hard work, just like raising kids, the time where we really focus on developing great morals and values and teaching work ethic, it’s not when kids get their first job when they’re 16 years old. It’s way back at that infant and child phase. Now, the great thing about business is that we can go back. We can employ some of those strategies in the infant and child phase by just shifting our focus and going back to establishing that different routine. We don’t get that in parenthood. But at the teen phase, what we want is you already want to have really clean systems, you want to have great efficiency and you want to have a solid product or service. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:25:36] Having more people to help you deliver something that’s not already efficient will not get you the results that you’re looking for. So once you’ve done that work, once you’ve dialed in your efficiencies, you’ve got solid systems in place. You know your product or service is exceptional. Now your focus shifts. This is where I specialize with my clients. So I would say 90% of my clients or more are in this phase between the child and teen phase of business. I love taking businesses from that child to teen phase. And then eventually, if they choose to, to the adult phase where they sell, they retire, or they move to the next phase of their business in succession planning or legacy planning. Now when we shift to teen phase, the business starts to step ahead and it starts to speak for itself, and we train others to take more of that frontline role in the business if we choose to. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:27:23] Now, some businesses may not do that. In some businesses, you may continue to have a frontline role, but you’re getting more support. You’re developing a team for your business. So you might have an operations manager, you may have a CFO, you might have someone who really looks after a lot of that frontline in your business and even maybe some of your strategic planning. At the teen phase of business we really need to shift on developing people’s skills. And as passionate as you’ve been, as much as you have a phenomenal product or a great service, if you don’t spend time developing the skills of leadership, the skills of delegation, giving feedback, knowing how to teach or train or mentor someone, if you don’t develop those skills, you hold back the success of your business. And I think this is a myth in a lot of places. When we look at business growth, there tends to be an image out there that people are self-made and that they’ve done it all themselves. And by just being good people or kind people that others like, they develop success. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:28:34] And I know that it is so much more than that. I know it from experience. I know it from my clients. I know that it crosses all different industries, that if you don’t develop the skill of good leadership, your business will not do as well as it could. Now, I say it that way because I know that there’s a lot of business owners that maybe are not really great leaders. They’re not great at giving feedback, maybe they’re not very emotionally regulated. And we think, oh, but they’re earning multiple six figures. This must not be true. And in every one of those situations, I look and think, what could their business be doing? What are they leaving on the table when it comes to revenue by not developing their leadership skills and not spending time really being that CEO of their business, having clear planning, being able to develop mentorship programs. Even if you’re a very small business, even if you only have a few employees, developing the skills around leading people will absolutely take you to that next level. Because at a teen phase of business, you can no longer do it all yourself. And if you do, you will hold back the success of your business, I guarantee it. So at this phase, you’re focusing on leadership skills. You’re continuing to dial in those efficiencies and you’re really looking at empowering others. For me, I think this phase is as exciting as that startup and the people who do it well, I think there’s a shift that the passion that you had at that very beginning, where you took on this business and you wanted to start to develop something more than yourself and give back to your community, something happens. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:30:20] John Maxwell would refer to it almost like a calling where it feels bigger than you, where suddenly you realize that one day your business is going to not need you, where you might retire or move on to something else, or you’re going to sell it. When you recognize that we look ahead and we think, okay, what is this going to be when I’m no longer there? And you start to invest your energy and your time and all of the knowledge and the experience that you have in your business, and you start to share it with others, I believe this is how we grow that next generation and how things evolve over time to get better and better and better in business. Because as we keep feeding this forward, our business strengthens. And people bring in new ideas and new perspectives. And when we combine the experience that we’ve had and the knowledge that we had from the past with new ideas, this is how we move into new trajectories. This is where I can get really excited, because this is where I guide a lot of my clients in having those conversations, developing leadership skills because they’re really good at doing it all themselves. They know how to do that. They’re good at their business, they’ve had a certain level of success, but now they start to feel a bit like a newbie again, and they feel a bit like a fish out of water. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:31:57] I hope these strategies, and this concept of thinking of your business at different phases and putting the right things in the right order, what you’re focusing on right now, has been helpful for you because I have a real passion for small business. I think these are people who are just so genuine in wanting to make the world a better place. I want to see you succeed this year. I want you to have that dream where you feel like things don’t have to be hard or don’t have to be hard as often, but that you can start to find the fun and the passion in your business again. And I think helping to focus on the right things at the right time and the right phase of your business really does help make those things easier. Thank you so much for being here. If you have not already liked and subscribed to the podcast, please go ahead and share this episode. I’ll see you next week. 

Kari Lotzien: [00:32:50] Please know that this podcast is meant for entertainment purposes only. It is not a substitution for medical or professional mental health advice. If you’re requiring support, please do reach out. Thanks so much.