Many successful businesses generate enough profits to enable owners—possibly shareholders or investors, depending on the type of business—to grow their businesses and live with a sense of financial security. However, while small business owners value profits, some are willing to sacrifice a portion to have a healthier work-life balance, create a product that’s eco-friendly, or provide a service with a social mission. Each entrepreneur has a slightly different definition of what it means to achieve business success.
Business success can look very different from company to company. For some, it’s sales metrics, while for others, it’s social impact. In this article, we’ll talk about the 10 keys to business success.
What is a successful business?
A successful business generates a profit through the sale of goods or services, but every owner defines success for themselves based on personal values or goals. Some small business owners consider themselves successful if they’ve grown their business without taking on debt. Others have taken on debt but still feel successful because they are scaling up to become a global brand. Beyond profits and growth, key performance indicators (KPIs) measure metrics such as customer loyalty and website traffic to assess how effectively you’re reaching different benchmarks on the journey toward business success.
For example, a business selling certified organic coffee beans might have a target number of farms using regenerative farming practices to source from each year; someone selling mass-produced coffee pods at reduced prices might have a monthly goal for the number of pods sold. Typically, the universal goals for a business revolve around units sold, dollars earned, company growth, repeat sales, and brand recognition (think global brands like Nike and Adidas), but there are myriad other ways a business owner might measure success.
10 tips for growing a successful business
As a small business owner, you may face numerous challenges running and growing your business, from marketing to finding qualified employees. Here are 10 tips to help you scale and grow a successful business:
- Identify your mission
- Create goals
- Build a strong team
- Ensure customer satisfaction
- Make the best product/service possible
- Implement marketing strategies
- Embrace change
- Get organized
- Prioritize self-care
- Give back to the community
1. Identify your mission
Is your mission to provide a unique service? A low-cost item? Or to be environmentally friendly? Successful businesses have a mission, even if it’s simply to provide customers with the best value possible. Writing your intent in a mission statement defines your business’s mission and acts as a blueprint for a successful business. Periodically, revisit your original business plan and mission statement to ensure you are on the right path.
2. Create goals
Create both short- and long-term goals and understand the reasoning behind each to help guide your success. As part of an effective strategic plan, business goals should be SMART, meaning they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. They can be financial, operational, or even growth-related. Maybe a goal for one business owner is to sell a specific number of units per month over a year to drive up sales, while for another it’s to ramp up marketing efforts and gain a target number of social media followers.
Goals can be reassessed, so there’s flexibility to create and adjust your business roadmap. Successful entrepreneurs monitor progress and look at the numbers behind their business to analyze the data and check if progress is being made toward their goals. You can also break your goals into steps to make them more attainable. If you get stuck at this step, consider hiring a business coach to help create long-term positive habits.
3. Build a strong team
A strong team is inclusive, collaborative, and reliable, and is essential to building a successful business. Research from a 2020 McKinsey & Co. report, Diversity Wins, shows that assembling a team diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity, among other factors, increases productivity. The most effective teams encourage feedback and welcome a diversity of opinions, which can spur creativity and help with problem-solving.
If you’re an entrepreneur who typically follows the school of thought, “If you want it done right, do it yourself,” remember: Your team is there for support, and each member offers unique skills that can help in your business’s growth.
4. Ensure customer satisfaction
Happy customers often become repeat buyers, spreading the word about their favorite stores, designers, apps, platforms, or services. Besides the value proposition of a particular product or service that makes the business loved, it’s often great customer service and knowing how to improve it that keeps customers returning. Ensure customer satisfaction in the following ways:
- Create an easy return policy. Explicitly stated policies reduce confusion and unsatisfactory customer experiences.
- Be honest with customers. Honesty goes a long way in building trust and customer loyalty. When a business makes a mistake, it’s best to accept responsibility and be honest about what you can do to fix the problem in a timely manner.
- Stay solution-oriented. When customer conflicts arise, remain polite, patient, and use positive language to help de-escalate the situation so it’s easier to find a resolution.
5. Make the best product/service possible
A delicious edible item, gorgeous wearable piece of art, or delightful service will likely organically attract a target audience of consumers that become repeat customers. Making and offering an excellent product or service with a high value proposition helps give you a competitive advantage. By reading business books, studying your respective industry and competitors, and listening to entrepreneur podcasts by industry experts and successful entrepreneurs, you can gain valuable insights into bettering your offerings and finding business success.
6. Implement marketing strategies
Marketing is key for mapping your business journey, including tracking goals through KPIs to measure your success. Implementing multiple marketing strategies—from paid advertising to robust social media advertising—strengthens brand awareness, which is a core driver of sales. A small-business owner might act as a de facto marketing director early in the business, thinking they are saving money. However, hiring a marketing consultant can be helpful to devise a more concrete plan.
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Marketing strategy involves short- and long-term plans for a business and takes many forms: collaborations with like-minded businesses, pop-ups for specific projects or events, and social media campaigns (leveraging platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok). All expose your business to a new target market. Fostering connections through joining professional associations or attending conventions are additional ways to market your business and expand your potential customer base. If you lack the skills or time to implement a social media marketing strategy, you can hire social media directors, consultants, or coaches on a contract basis to help.
7. Embrace change
Businesses constantly face challenges—from waning market demand and competitive new businesses to difficult clients and point-of-sale (POS) system problems. However, being nimble, adaptive, and willing to pivot can lead to success. Some challenges like lackluster sales might require doubling down with tenacity and perseverance, while others like a consistently unreliable supplier might call for embracing change and working with someone new.
Weigh the pros and cons of embracing new technologies, whether it's a new payroll platform or more elaborate systems overhaul. Having your own business means doing your due diligence, because new doesn’t always mean better or faster.
8. Get organized
When financial records, business licenses or permits, tax forms, or other documents (whether virtual or paper-based) are difficult to locate or go missing, it can be frustrating and distract from time spent on your business. It can also cost you billable hours.
Hiring an office organization consultant is an option for business owners lacking the organizational skills or time to take on the task themselves. While you may do your own bookkeeping, you could also hire a part-time bookkeeper to help run a successful business operation.
Intro to bookkeeping
Bookkeeping is an essential part of running any small business. And, when you take care of it the right way, bookkeeping lets you track your money, cash in on tax deductions, and plan how your business is going to grow.
9. Prioritize self-care
Resting, sleeping, exercising, eating well, relaxing, and spending time with friends and family are all forms of self-care essential for mental health—including for entrepreneurs. For many business owners, it’s easy to slip into the 24/7 work cycle. However, you can achieve more when well-rested, according to a recent US Chambers of Commerce article on the importance of a good night’s sleep for entrepreneurs.
10. Give back to the community
Business success isn’t always defined by profitability. Even with minimal cash flow, there are ways to give back and lift others within the community. Volunteering at a business-related event, donating a product or service for a raffle, speaking at a school, or mentoring are ways to give back. Entrepreneurs can also give back by making a commitment to only use ethically sourced materials in their products.
Increasingly, impact is at the core of mission-driven startups. Social ventures are for-profit businesses that are also socially responsible companies that give to certain groups or causes. For example, Sweet Beginnings is a Chicago-based social enterprise that offers training programs and employment for formerly incarcerated individuals to become beekeepers and harvest honey for their products.
Business success FAQ
How can I measure the success of my business?
Start by defining what success means to you and what takes priority: Is it sales, growth, customer satisfaction, or brand recognition? Besides running a profitable business, do you value a collaborative and engaged workforce? Once assessed, you can measure your success through data collected via A/B testing, customer reviews, and email open rates, among other metrics.
How long does it take to achieve business success?
There is no set timeline achieving business success. However, you can start by creating a business strategy to reach your goals. By mapping out the incremental steps to reach certain benchmarks—from units sold to new hires—you can develop a general timeline to achieve success based on your experience and industry standards. Keep in mind, your timetable could change or take longer than estimated due to the ever-changing commerce landscape.
Is there one formula to achieve success?
No, there’s no single formula for success or every business would succeed. While owners of small businesses have different goals and priorities, there are some key markers that make a business successful. These include having an excellent business idea, vision, and passion, and being a hard worker. If you are a leader with empathy and willing to delegate responsibilities to your team, you embody some of the traits required to achieve success.