Recent developments both in the online and the offline world have changed the way we do business these days. Developments such as the jobs and financial crises many countries are going through but also the relative ease with which people can start a business these days have urged (or forced) people to start a business of their own.

A large fraction of these people turn to the online world for a means to sustain (and grow!) themselves and a business as it offers low or non-capital intensive approaches, is fun and admittedly the prospects of white collar work are overall more appealing than blue collar work.

But setting up a business online and especially growing it to become something that is stable and can sustain a person or a family is not an easy task. Actually allowing itself to be called a serious business is a milestone quite a few entrepreneurs fail to reach for their venture.

In fact, most online businesses go through the 5 following stages:

The “I’m an E-Commerce Entrepreneur” Stage

The vast majority of those about to start a business stay at this stage. They are those who probably have a day job and are exploring their options about how to turn a page and start something of their own.

They spend their free time writing a business plan, asking around for their product prices, looking into which platform to use, how to handle the bureaucracy, researching the market etc – everything but taking the plunge and starting. They think they are entrepreneurs but in essence they aren’t.

The “I’m Winging it” Stage

Those which do start and take the plunge. Regardless of any preparatory work they may have done, soon they are not entirely sure what they will be selling, who they will be targeting, let alone how.

They have a number of products in mind, set up multiple e-shops on Etsy for example or somewhere else similar and start spreading the word hoping things pick up.

There’s nothing wrong with playing it be ear but there’s a good chance that the game will end very fast if the insights aren’t right.

The “I have a Vision” Stage

And then there are those people or teams of people who are putting in a more serious effort. They probably have had more experience before starting, were smart enough to ask the right people for advice or they simply learn faster on the job.

They are more focused on product range or target audience, they have their own e-shop. They still enjoy limited business success but prospects are realistically optimistic.

The “I have a Plan” Stage

Graduating from the following group are the more experienced and tech-savvy. They have a solid business plan in place (usually a result of significant trial and error, a well refined targeted audience with established customer base, a specific product range, their own eshop infrastructure with some sort of ERP behind it (for inventory management, invoicing, reporting, CRM for marketing and other purposes, etc).

Things may still go south but it’s unlikely these people will be wiped off the map anytime soon.

The “I am Established” Stage

And then there are the strong and established businesses. They have managed to create a good business with multiple revenue streams in their e-commerce. They may have a multi-funnel e-shop and ERP solution.

They have complicated problems to tackle and business information to process but have also attracted the necessary talent and expertise to manage it all. They have lots of ‘real-world’ problems now despite being or having started online. Warehouses to handle, maybe physical selling points, a brand to protect and grow, reputation management and other such. In short, they’ve made it – but that’s just the start.

How far and how fast online entrepreneurs work their way through the above steps makes all the difference between having a business, earning your living from one and being successful in a business.

Which of the 5 stages are you in? Tell us below or tweet us!