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The 4 stages of the business lifecycle and how to recognize what you need next

Many companies tend to follow similar patterns as they adapt and change over time. The trajectory is known as the business lifecycle, and we’ve identified four particular stages that companies typically move through from beginning to maturity. Knowing where a company lies along the lifecycle is critical for truly understanding its current and future finance needs.

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Like humans, businesses have a growth track they follow as well as a constant pull to reevaluate who they are and where they’re going. As companies grow from the small-business stage and expand and evolve into fully fledged ongoing enterprises, they have to adjust to increasing demands and the rapid pace of change around them. And they need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay competitive.

With all these points in mind, we constructed our view of the stages of the typical business lifecycle and the different finance challenges that occur at each stage. Is there a pressing need for a huge ramp-up? Could an IPO give the company the boost it needs, or will it remain private indefinitely? Companies go through existential crises all the time, from startups cobbling together basic funds and a tight team, to large public companies facing pressures at a global level. The lifecycle is a useful map for the potential future journey of a company, and can help evaluate whether the finance team’s resources can keep up with all the changes and demands.

Here is our take on the four stages of the business lifecycle:

Start: The first stage of growth involves balancing the fight for survival with getting the small business up and running. It’s just a few employees forming a solid team, gathering funds together and developing a sellable product at warp speed. Many startup companies haven’t gotten around to setting up their financial infrastructure yet. They may need to lean on outside sources before they bring on full-timers.

Grow: This is the time of building the business rapidly to scale. It’s all about managing high growth on this rollercoaster, and potentially chaotic financial messes. Many companies need to rapidly set into place new organized processes and systems to get their financial house in shape and ready for the prying eyes of investors, auditors and potential acquirers.

Expand: Here is when companies move on to a whole new strategy for growth and it usually involves a big transaction. They may buy another company, merge or go for an IPO. What’s missing at this stage at times is a plan for traveling through it and getting through the aftermath. Most companies underestimate the work and amount of change involved.

Evolve: At the fourth stage, the mark of maturity, ongoing businesses hit a barrage of change at every turn, from high pressure by competitors, investors and customers to unpredictable business crises. They frequently need to reinvent themselves to stay a winner.

What keeps companies in motion? It won’t surprise you to hear that I believe the success of any company rides a lot on the strength of its finance team. With a solid financial infrastructure in place and access to just the right talent at the right time, the company can keep humming and stay on top of all the requirements. By having a strong financial backbone, with efficient systems and processes, companies can focus on strategic changes that will push the business forward. Those are the ones best poised for success.

At RoseRyan, we reflect upon each client and where they are in the business lifecycle, to best anticipate what services they might need most. Companies appreciate our experience—having helped hundreds of companies through each stage—and trust us to get them through it quickly.

For more about how RoseRyan helps across the lifecycle, go here.

Kathy Ryan is the CEO and CFO of RoseRyan. Since co-founding the firm in 1993, she has served as interim CFO at more than 50 companies.

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