To build a successful business, you need more than a good—or even great—idea. You have to be well organized, flexible, and creative, and develop a knack for paying close attention to the details while never losing sight of the big picture. You should also be prepared to make some personal sacrifices. Whatever type of business you have in mind, these nine basic tips, with links to additional advice, can help you get it started and keep it growing.
1. Get Organized
To achieve success as a business owner you first have to be well organized. That will help you complete tasks efficiently and stay on top of the many things that need to be done. A simple way to get and stay organized is to create a to-do list each day. As you complete each item, check it off your list. Remember, too, that some tasks are more important than others. Aim to tackle the high-priority ones first.
Many online resources are available to help. They include tools like Slack, Asana, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. That being said, a simple Excel spreadsheet will meet many of a small business’s organizational requirements, especially in the early days.
2. Keep Detailed Records
No matter how busy they are, successful businesses take the time to keep careful accounting records. By doing so, they know where their business stands financially and can often get a better (and earlier) grasp of any potential challenges they might be facing. Investopedia periodically rates the best accounting software for small businesses.
Many businesses today keep two sets of records: one physical and another in the cloud. That way, a business owner no longer has to worry about losing crucial data if something unfortunate happens, like a fire, computer virus, or other calamity.
3. Analyze Your Competition
To be successful, you can’t afford to ignore your competitors. Instead, take the time to study and learn from them. Larger companies devote significant resources to obtaining this sort of competitive intelligence.
If you’re in a field with more limited access to your competitors’ inner workings, such as manufacturing, try to keep up with the news in relevant trade publications, speak with any customers you share in common, and obtain and scrutinize whatever financial information a competitor makes publicly available.
4. Understand the Risks and Rewards
Another key to being successful is taking calculated risks to help your business grow. Besides contemplating the potential rewards if you succeed, a good question to ask is: “What’s the downside if this doesn’t work out?” If you can answer that question, you’ll know what the worst-case scenario is. If you could live with that scenario and are prepared to take the necessary steps to manage the risk as much as possible, you might want to give it a go. Otherwise, this could be a good time to consider other opportunities.
Understanding risks and rewards includes being smart about the timing of starting a business or launching a new product. For example, the severe economic dislocation during the COVID pandemic provided some businesses with new opportunities (say, manufacturing and selling protective gear) and others with difficult-to-overcome obstacles (such as running a restaurant with constraints on indoor dining).
5. Be Creative
Always be looking for ways to improve your business and make it stand out from the competition. Recognize that you don’t know everything and be open to new ideas and different approaches.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to expand your current business or develop related enterprises that will lead to additional revenues and provide the benefit of diversification. The history of Amazon provides a good example. The company started as an online bookseller and grew into an e-commerce giant, selling just about everything. Today it has a growing brick-and-mortar presence, as well. Among its many subsidiaries are Amazon Pharmacy, Amazon MGM Studios, Whole Foods Market, and Zappos.123
6. Stay Focused on Your Goals
The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” applies to building a business as well. Just because you open a business doesn’t mean you’re going to start making money immediately. It takes time to let people know who you are and what you have to offer, so stay focused on achieving your goals.
Even many small business owners who ultimately achieve success won’t see a profit for a few years and will have to rely on borrowed money (if they can get it) or their savings to support the business until it can become profitable. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to finance a business.
That being said, if the business is not turning a profit after a reasonable period, it’s worth looking into why that is and whether the business needs to go in another direction.
7. Provide Great Customer Service
Too many businesses forget the importance of providing great customer service. If you deliver better service for your customers, they’ll be more inclined to come to you the next time they need something instead of going to your competition. High-quality service is one key to obtaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In fact, in today’s hyper-competitive business environment, service is often the major differentiating factor between successful and unsuccessful businesses. This is where the saying “undersell and overdeliver” comes in, and savvy business owners are wise to follow it.
8. Be Consistent
Consistency is a key component to success in business. You have to keep doing what is necessary to be successful, day in and day out. This will create long-term positive habits that will help you make money in the long run and create satisfied customers from day one. Customers value consistency, too.
9. Prepare to Make Some Sacrifices
Having your own business often requires putting in more time than if you were working for someone else. That can mean spending less time with family and friends than you wish you could. The adage that there are no weekends and no vacations for business owners can ring true for anyone who’s committed to making their business work.
Owning a business isn’t for everyone. If, after an honest self-evaluation, you decide you aren’t cut out for it, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief, and probably a lot of money, by pursuing another career path.
What Is the Fastest Way for a Business to Grow?
Businesses will grow at their rates, and many times this is out of the control of the business owner or workers. However, some aspects of running lean may help a business grow quickly, such as focusing on a small product line, scaling up at a manageable pace, and providing some sort of obvious edge over your competitors.
How Do You Increase Sales?
Increasing sales can come from a few different places. You can raise ad expenditures where advertising has already proven effective, proactively solicit referrals from existing clients, build a direct-to-consumer email list, and others. You can also expand your product portfolio, but if the new additions underperform, that will negatively affect your bottom line.
What Makes a Startup Successful?
Business success is a difficult concept to quantify, but if it means generating returns for stakeholders, startups can be an excellent way to deliver returns. The best startups have a good product or service that is scalable. A well-run startup will understand the overall market and its particular place in it, be able to pivot quickly and be ready to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
The Bottom Line
Growing a successful business is hard work, and not everyone succeeds at it. According to 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of new businesses fail during their first year, 50% fail during the first five years, and 65% fail during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or beyond.
If you want to be among that 25%, paying attention to these nine tips is a good start, but certainly not exhaustive. To own and run a successful business you’ll want to be in a state of constant learning and adapting.