Business is a process of developing outward from strong ties to weak ties to no ties.
When I was studying urban and regional planning, the predominant foundation explaining how cities tend to grow was the Burgess Concentric Ring theory – where the core activities concentrate at the central business district in the center then move outward to the commuter zone at the periphery.
It is helpful to think of growing from Start-up or side-gig to Small Business as following the same patterns.
Our Central Business District is all of our strong ties (the friends, colleagues, families, and communities), we have built throughout our working and social lives.
They are generally our first and most forgiving customers.
When we do a good job for them, they refer us out to their friends, colleagues, and communities. That is the second zone of growth.
In the Burgess model, the third zone, and the area with the most growth turmoil, was called the zone of transition.
It is where one set of uses has reached their lifetime value and begin to be converted to other uses (think repurposing a mall into apartments, or a former hospital into a multi-use space).
In this analogy, this zone is also where the developing business owner begins their greatest turmoil.
We begin to see ebbs in revenue as the concentrations of customers begin to thin out.
We develop anxiety over our futures. We struggle to understand what is going wrong.
Chances are that nothing is actually going wrong. It is part of the process.
When we reach our own zone of transition, it’s simply time to repurpose and convert our original services, products, or messages to reach further and wider to capture new customers who have no ties to us at all (yet).
When you've reached your first customer desert and begin to wonder if you’ve made the right decision, just remember that you’ve finally reached the zone of transition.
It’s a really big step, worthy of much celebration.
It’s also the time to put your head down again, take stock of what has been valuable in your offerings and what has not.
Most importantly, it is the time to be confident that when you successfully push through this zone, that you will truly have created a business.