If you’re reading this, you’re not just a dreamer or a talker, you’re a do-er. You don’t just have ideas, you act on them. To you, an unrealized idea is a waste of time, a waste of space, and a waste of your potential. You want to venture forth. You want to start a company, or make sure the world hears your thoughts on your blog or through your newsletter, or you want promote your cause with a nonprofit, or you have an idea for a side-hustle.
We get it. You want to make stuff happen.
That said, maybe your idea is a new thing, or at least something that is new to you. Maybe you’re a couple of steps down the path, and you’re trying to figure out what tools and ideas you need to get to the next level. Or maybe you started strong and have gotten to a place where things are a little chaotic, and you’re trying to figure out how to focus your scarce time and resources. If any of these things are true, you’re in luck, and this framework and guide are for you.
In 1983, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled The Five Stages of Small Business Growth. This is a good general-purpose framework. However, it was published a decade before the rise of the general-purpose internet and doesn’t take into account the tools that the modern do-er has available to her, nor does it take into account the rapid changes that are required for modern ventures to identify and go after new opportunities.
This guide is a map that will help you navigate that journey. Let’s take the first step.
The Do-er Journey
There are five stages in the Do-er Journey.
Stage 1: Idea
Has an idea for business, venture or passion project. Might talk about the idea with family, friends or trusted colleagues. Might do some research on viability of idea.
Stage 2: Experimental
Starts the venture. Tries one or more aspects of the creation, marketing, sales, or delivery of the product, service or project. Can be involved in the effort full time, part time or “after hours” from other family or work commitments.
Stage 3: Process
Begins to implement regular and repeatable processes and increases investment in technology to increase stability and predictability. Begins to plan for scale with processes, automation and perhaps delegation. Moves beyond “ad hoc” support of the venture.
Stage 4: Scale
Scales processes and increases sophistication of technology, and invests in staff, skills and partnerships to grow revenue, profits or both. If goal is to scale revenue, expands marketing, customer acquisition and production capabilities. Explores and might invest in product or geographic expansion.
Stage 5: Mature
The venture runs consistently and predictably and in the manner desired by its founder(s). A entity can stay in the “Mature” phase for an extended period of time. Movement out of the Mature phase occurs when a decision is made to scale the venture into a much larger entity, when business conditions change, or when a decision is made to exit the venture.
Do you see yourself in the Do-er Journey? If so, here are the things you can do at each stage that help you progress to the next stage.
Things you can do when you’re in the Idea stage
There are a number of actions you can take in the Idea stage of the Do-er Journey to move forward, including:
- Secure the domain names that can be the cornerstone of your internet presence.
- If you’re not sure what a domain name is, learn the key domain name basics here.
- Set up a one-page website with a coming soon page.
- Test your idea out with other entrepreneurs.
- Research which social networks are most relevant to promote and engage around your idea.
- Secure the social media handles on social networks, even as placeholders, before someone else takes them.
- Download this free eBook to learn the basics of social media marketing.
- Find relevant groups on Facebook or Quora to do some early Q&A market testing.
- Send out a survey using SurveyMonkey or Google Surveys to get feedback.
- Do some basic SEO research (using a tool like Google Trends) to see the volume of individuals who are searching online for looking for the solutions or information you are thinking about offering.
- Start a basic WordPress blog to share your brainstorms and get feedback.
- Start following related boards on Pinterest.
- Sketch out prototypes.
- Do basic research on market sizing.
- Define your customer or audience.
- Learn more about creating customer personas.
- Start or join a mastermind group to connect with others who can act as advisors and keep you accountable.
- Begin thinking about how your might fund your venture, if funding is potentially required.
- Start sketching out the potential business model canvas that your venture will employ.
- Start building your email list.
- Think about potential business structures, if your venture requires one.
While it’s necessary to come up with the idea to bring it to reality, it’s important to move through the idea stage and into the Experimental phase as quickly as possible if you intend to see the results of your idea impact the world.
Moving from the Idea stage to the Experimental stage is very easy: just do something.
Things you can do when you’re in the Experimental stage
For what you’re doing, there’s probably not a guidebook that contains every exact step you should take. There’s certainly no simple recipe. Maybe there are a few guideposts, but you’re going to need to figure out what works for you and what works for your venture.
In order to get the answers and move forward through the Journey, you’re going to need to try things. You’re going to need to experiment. Some things will work, some won’t, and that’s OK. Everything you try will teach you something and give you data that can be used to inform your future direction.
Here are a number of things you can do while in the Experimental stage of the Do-er Journey:
- Set up a three-page website to start to share your message.
- Begin sending regular email newsletters.
- Build your Facebook page.
- Build out your Pinterest presence.
- Check out some simple ways to build a Pinterest following for your business.
- Get your free business listing on Google.
- Begin managing your Yelp presence.
Pro tip: Use a tool like GoDaddy’s Get Found to manage all your online business listings from one convenient dashboard.
- Start blogging regularly — it’s a great way to build relationships and establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
- Test Google ads.
- Create an eBook. Hint: Use related blog posts as the foundation for an eBook.
- Encourage subscriptions to your mailing list.
- Get customer testimonials and share them on your website.
- Encourage customers to leave reviews on third-party review sites.
- Ensure connections to your website are secure with an SSL certificate.
- Here’s why you need an SSL certificate — even if you don’t sell anything on your website.
- Start tracking the progress of your website with Google Analytics.
- Use the Google Analytics experiments framework to try different approaches on your website.
- Set up an online store with initial products.
- Try different copy on your website to see what performs the best.
- Try different imagery to see what resonates with visitors.
- Define key performance indicators, take a baseline of their current values, and measure how your experiments affect those indicators over time.
- Begin engaging in online communities where your customers and community members gather.
- Continue engaging in mastermind groups and other conversations.
- Experiment with drip email campaigns.
- Send a regular monthly or weekly newsletter.
- Download our free email marketing eBook to get some ideas of things you can do.
- Experiment with downloadable lead magnets.
- Ensure that your message is strong and looks correct wherever you are trying to reach people — on their computers, on their phones, via email or through other channels.
It may be that your your interactions with the internet are a hobby or a pastime. If so, there are lots of things to experiment with.
On the other hand, perhaps what you’ve started is more than just a simple hobby to you. If so, the Experimental stage is a fantastic place to be in the Do-er Journey.
If you have a startup, the Experimental stage is where you should be if you’re just getting going.
(In fact, multi-time entrepreneur Steve Blank has defined a startup as “a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”) If your goal is to progress your venture along the Do-er Journey, you must be doing constant experimentation in order to discover your sustainable model.
Things you can do when you’re in the Process stage
OK, you’ve been experimenting for a while. You have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. While the Experimental stage is marked by trying many different things in order to learn at a broad level what works and what doesn’t, the Process stage is about moving into predictability.
Here are some things you can do while you create and tune your processes:
- Create an editorial calendar for new blog posts.
- Automate payments for predictable expenses so you don’t need to think about them every month.
- Ensure your automatic renewals are set up for domains, websites and other services.
- Set up a “checklist of doom” to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
- Automate email drip campaigns to prospects.
- Set up seasonal refreshes of your products, if you are selling online.
- Document your website strategy.
- Begin to engage in regular user experience testing to get ongoing feedback about your website.
- If you’ve got a WordPress website, there are some handy plugins for split testing.
- Automate shipping processes, if you are an eCommerce seller.
- Automate your bookkeeping processes.
- Schedule social media re-posts using automated tools.
- Set up processes for customer relationship building, such as birthday card mailings.
- Set up annual (or more frequent) check-ins with your customers to learn what else you could be doing for them.
- Set up FAQs or other support mechanisms for your customers that handle the majority of common questions or situations your website visitors may encounter.
- Set up automated website speed tests and uptime monitors to ensure that your online presence is performing as planned.
- Do an SEO audit and develop a process to create new content against the results of that audit or to improve the performance of existing content based on your learnings.
- Set up weekly automated reporting for key performance indicators for your business.
- Set up an “at a glance” dashboard to understand the health of your business at any moment.
- Put in place a repeatable process for testing and continuous improvement of your processes and site performance.
- Formalize your process for interacting with communities or mastermind groups of other like-minded individuals.
- If you’re running a business, use your learnings from the Experimental stage to model and make predictions about future cash flow, customer counts and expenses, and continue to refine those models based on current learnings.
- Automate the process to solicit and publish customer reviews.
- Develop a process to grow your email list. Remember: your website can be a list-building machine.
Things you can do in the Scale stage
The scale stage is about growth. You’ve got the processes working well, and you have identified opportunities to go bigger. Where the earliest stages in the Journey rewarded your scrappiness and the Process stage rewarded your ability to execute predictably, the Scale stage is about investment and delegation. While you can do everything, you shouldn’t always have to, Here are some things you can do as you start moving into the Scale stage.
- Hire additional staff.
- What does hiring have in common with Game of Thrones? This.
- Create new strategic partnerships.
Tip: Mitigate risk with partnership and contractor agreements.
- Expand hours of operation.
- Increase investment into awareness activities like advertising. Have a plan first.
- Develop new offerings.
- Approach previously unserved customer segments with your existing products.
- Expand your geographic footprint.
- Get tips for taking your business global.
- Increase production.
- Find new physical distribution channels.
- Upgrade website services to handle additional visitor volume, international languages, or other features needed to scale your venture.
- Upgrade email marketing services to support larger subscriber lists, or segment your email marketing to address multiple customer personas.
- Double-check branding and secure additional domains if needed to protect your brand.
- Add additional online sales channels (if you’ve been selling online, explore opening a physical storefront; if you’ve only sold through your website, explore adding distribution channels through online marketplaces; if you’ve only sold through local distributors, call a national chain and persuade them to take some of your product on consignment, etc).
Things you can do in the Mature stage
Ventures that are in the Mature stage of the Do-er Journey are typically running at a “steady state” and are executing predictably. A repeatable model has been found for execution and, if the venture is one that requires revenue in order to continue, revenues consistently match or exceed expenses. In this stage, you can:
- Continue at the steady stage of execution.
- Manage exceptions to typical patterns of revenues, expenses or other key performance indicators in order to return your venture to its steady state.
- Wind down venture, either retiring from the business outright, or selling it to someone to own and manage it after you exit the operation.
- Change the business model of venture to address new goals or radical growth opportunities — this will return the venture into one of the earlier stages of the Journey, most likely the Experimental stage.
No matter where you are in the Do-er Journey, there is something for you to do. You might rocket through one of the stages in 24 hours. (It’s been done before.) Or you might spend months, or even years, experimenting and scaling and finding the formula that works for you. Both are OK.
The important thing is that you now have a roadmap. And you can do this. It’s time to get started. And we’re here to help when you need us.
Ready? Let’s go do something.
Also published on Medium.