Entrepreneur Journey Maria Cielo Mandaro

Navigating the four stages of the entrepreneur journey

9 min read
Christopher Carfi

Independent people from all walks of life — everyday entrepreneurs — strive to make an impact on their world. This impact can be commercial, civic or creative, or all three. If you’re reading this, you’re a part of this community of like-minded individuals. You are sharing the path — a recognizable entrepreneur journey — with others around the corner and around the world.

We have identified four distinct stages of this entrepreneur journey that are similar worldwide, across industries, and bridging all types of ventures:

  1. Dream It.
  2. Create It.
  3. Grow It.
  4. Manage It.

There are also three activities that span across and support each stage of the entrepreneur journey. No matter where you are in the journey, these three things form the bedrock on which the stages rest:

  1. Connecting.
  2. Energizing and Empowering.
  3. Thriving.

Now, maybe your dream is a new thing, or at least something that is new to you. Maybe you’re a couple of steps along in your journey, and you’re trying to figure out what help and tools and inspiration and ideas you need to grow to the next level. Or maybe you started strong and have reached 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. This framework and guide are for you.

Entrepreneur Journey Julia Knight
“I’m a serial entrepreneur,” says Julia Knight, founder of Julia Knight Collection. “This is the fourth company that I have started and run. And they all involved my passion for food and entertaining.”

Re-envisioning the entrepreneur journey

Entrepreneurship is a global phenomenon.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, “70% of working-age adults see good opportunities around them for starting businesses” in the United States. The same report noted that countries as diverse as Brazil, Canada, China, Germany and many others also show growth in entrepreneurial activity.

Related: Resources for starting a business

In 1983, the Harvard Business Review published an article called ”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 everyday entrepreneurs have available to them today. Likewise, it doesn’t take into account the rapid changes that are required for modern ventures to identify and go after new opportunities.

The guide you are reading is all-new, based on our experience with tens of millions of customers, and is a map that will help you navigate your entrepreneur journey.

GoDaddy Entrepreneur Journey Four Stages Graphic

Four stages of the entrepreneur journey

“But the truth is, that poem has everything to do with every event in my life — from understanding my mom’s own struggle, to creating a career and a dream from poetry.” ~ Jordan Chaney, Poet Jordan

You can use the entrepreneur journey outlined below in three ways:

  1. To assess and orient yourself to where you are as an entrepreneur.
  2. To benchmark yourself against your competition.
  3. As a guide to the next steps that you need to take.

Let’s take a look.

1. Dream It

An entrepreneur in the Dream It stage has an idea for commercial, civic or creative project.

They might talk about the idea with family, friends or trusted colleagues. They might do some research on the viability of their idea, and some business or financial planning.

Entrepreneurs in the Dream It stage may be employed in a current position unrelated to their dream. The transition from “dream” to beginning to build their venture may include managing the fear of making the jump from a steady job to going all-in on the dream.

When you name an idea, you breathe life into it.

In our conversations with entrepreneurs, the act of naming their idea is THE moment when things get real.

Entrepreneur Journey Spacesuit Junkies
Musicians and marketing gurus Stevie "Zenith" Johnson and Stephen "Plex" Blackburn put great thought into naming their group, The Spacesuit Junkies. “We wanted something that would catch your eye, and that no one would forget,” Stevie says.

Related: Exploring new opportunities — from side jobs to full-time ventures

2. Create It

The entrepreneur starts the project and creates brand assets, presence, and a first iteration of the product or service.

When an entrepreneur secures the domain name for their idea, gets their business cards, creates a logo, or secures their social media handles, the dream starts to move to becoming a reality.

In the Create It stage, the entrepreneur begins to build and integrate one or more facets of their online presence — including a website, social media accounts, professional email and other points of presence.

They also try one or more aspects of the marketing, sales or delivery of the product, service or initiative.

At this stage, an entrepreneur can be involved in the effort full time, part time or “after hours” from other family or work commitments.

Entrepreneur Journey Josh Meyer
Bringing a new product to life "takes a lot to get there, physical time and energy with two steps forward and two steps back," says perfumer Josh Meyer, who founded Imaginary Authors with Ashod Simonian. "And I know the second it’s done, which is like a fall on your knees and give praise moment.”

Related: How to start a website from A to Z

3. Grow It

In the Grow It stage, the entrepreneur begins to implement regular and repeatable processes, begins marketing the offering, and increases investment in technology to increase stability and predictability.

They begin to plan for scale with processes, automation and perhaps delegation.

More than just dabbling in a hobby, an entrepreneur in the Grow It stage moves beyond “ad hoc” support of the venture and begins creating something that can flourish.

This is the time we often see increased sophistication of technology, and investment in staff, skills and partnerships to grow reach, revenue, profits, impact, or some combination of all of the above.

If the goal at this stage is to scale revenue, the entrepreneur expands marketing, customer acquisition and production capabilities. They also may explore and might invest in product or geographic expansion.

Entrepreneur Journey Karina Garcia
YouTube sensation Karina Garcia uses an omni-channel marketing approach to grow her Craft City Brand. She's especially partial to social media marketing. “I want Craft City to become the next big crafting brand," Karina says, "and my goal is to make it the fastest growing crafting brand in America.”

Related: 10 email automation tools for online business success

4. Manage It

In the Manage It stage, the venture runs consistently and predictably and in the manner desired by its founder or founders.

This is the time when we see entrepreneurs moving away from manual, ad-hoc processes to improve the efficiency of doing business on a day-to-day basis. They strive to increase productivity with more automation and better tools.

An entity can stay in the Manage It stage for an extended period of time.

Movement out of the Manage stage 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.

Entrepreneur Journey Goldfinch Cyclery
Goldfinch Cyclery uses a robust digital toolbox — including a WordPress website, Office 365 email, online business listings and Lightspeed for POS, inventory and service management — to keep the business running smoothly. "These tools have allowed us to maintain a professional, easily searchable web presence and a consistent means of connecting with our customers," says co-owner Logan Orcutt.

Related: What is Office 365 and how can it help small businesses grow?

The bedrock of the entrepreneur journey

In addition to the four stages of the entrepreneur journey, there are three activities that span the stages. These three activities form the base upon which all the stages rely.

Whether an individual is just starting to forge the path to their dream, or if they’ve been diligently walking down the path for a number of years, participation in the three activities of Connecting, Energizing/Empowering, and Thriving are woven into the life of the entrepreneur.

Without them, progress against the journey will be difficult, or impossible, to achieve.

1. Connecting

Successfully progressing through the entrepreneur journey requires connecting with others in the community of everyday entrepreneurs.

Connecting with a community to share stories, learn from others’ experiences, and bond with fellow travelers for mutual support is a critical part of the formula for successful entrepreneurs. And successful humans in general.

Entrepreneur Journey Rachel Cho
As an entrepreneur, "You always feel like you’re alone, but you’re never alone," says Rachel Cho, founder and creative director of Rachel Cho Floral Design. "There is an entire community of sole proprietors, entrepreneurs and movers and shakers everywhere. ... You would be shocked to know that a lot of coffee shops and trendy cafes are home to single business owners and entrepreneurs who are itching for connections and networking opportunities."

Related: Building community — Types of communities for support, guidance and growth

2. Energizing/Empowering

Successful entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. One needs to share energy, encouragement and experience, and empower others to do the same as one moves through the stages.

A key part of this is giving back and sharing learnings with others.

Entrepreneur Journey Ayesha Curry
Homemade founder Ayesha Curry shares this piece of advice: "For everyone out there with a dream, who hasn’t pursued it, I would say you don’t know until you try. You’re always going to be fearful. That fear is actually a good thing. It keeps you going. It keeps you motivated."

Related: How to set up an accountability mastermind group

3. Thriving

One needs to continually address, listen to, and respect their physical and mental health in order to successfully navigate the entrepreneur journey.

It’s difficult to succeed if you’re not feeling it.

Entrepreneur Journey Viktoria Schenk
Social media manager Viktoria Schenk chose the lifestyle of a digital nomad "to be independent, to not be trapped in an office, to discover new cultures, new ideas." She currently lives and works in Indonesia. "I start working at 3 p.m. and can finish around 10 p.m. sometimes. During the day I go surfing or to the beach. I try to make the most of my day."

Related: " target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">7 strategies to stay sane through startup stress

Stronger together

While not always easy, navigating the entrepreneur journey is something you can do!

This installment has introduced the framework. In future installments, we’ll work through and show examples of tactical things you can do in the Dream It, Create It, Grow It and Manage It stages, as well as guides for the three ever-present activities of Connecting, Energizing/Empowering and Thriving.

As always, we are all stronger when we work together.

Read the next article in this series, "Dream It — 33 tips to help you move from idea to action."