What makes a Successful Business?

Nine Traits of a Great Small Business

What fabulous operations all have in common.

By Steven D. Strauss

What constitutes a great small business? We all know what a good small business looks like— it makes a tidy profit, is run efficiently, and grows slowly but surely, right? You might quibble around the edges of that definition, but that is the essence of it.

But a great small business, what is that? Well, great small businesses share many of the same traits. So I submit here nine traits that most great small businesses have in common. Can you claim any of these traits?

1. They are about more than money.
The first thing you may notice about this list is that it will have very little to do with money. Is money great? Of course. But the best small businesses view profit as an element of a bigger whole, a part of the sum. The best small businesses are in business for reasons other than profit alone. These businesses want to make a difference, add value. They serve their customers, employees and shareholders. There is an undercurrent, dare I say, of altruism in what they do.

2. They are fun. And so it is that being a great place to work is also critical to being considered a great business. Great small businesses foster a sense of teamwork. They value employees as individuals. There is a sense of fun, joy and creativity at play. People like working there. Are there bad days and tough times? You bet. But the good days and happy people trump them.

3. They are creative. We have all been to the rote business where by the book is de rigueur: “You pay for that, and I give you this. Don’t expect more because I won’t give more.” What a bore. What a waste. What a lost opportunity. Great businesses tap into the creativity of their staff. People are allowed to try out new ideas and be individuals. New programs, policies, ideas and campaigns are tried. Some work, some don’t. They adapt and move on.

4. They are led by a charismatic entrepreneur. Groups need leaders, and any time you see a successful small business, you can bet that there is a driven entrepreneur (or entrepreneurs) at the helm—someone who can enroll people behind a vision, who understands business, someone people like, the rising tide that lifts all boats.

5. They have a great team. That special entrepreneur typically has a knack for surrounding herself with great people. These folks are given the leeway to do what they do best, they buy into the vision, they are committed to the goal, and they are willing to work hard and work together to get there.

6. They experiment and innovate. Recently, my wife asked me to pick up some food for the family on the way home from work. So before I left the office, I went online and looked for the restaurant’s website so I could see their menu. They had no website. Are you kidding me? Aside from being business malpractice, the greater concern is that businesses that are not keeping up with the times are in fact falling behind because of the increased pace of technological change. Today, you simply must tweet, update, learn, grow, change and adapt. The best small businesses do what they do well, but they don’t stop looking for ways to do things better.

7. They risk failure. When I was a boy, I asked my carpet store–owning dad how to describe what he did for a living. He said that he was “an entrepreneur.” “What’s that?” I asked. “Someone willing to take a risk with money to make money.” Entrepreneurs are risk takers. Not crazy risk takers mind you, but prudent, smart risk takers. They are bold.

8. They work hard and play hard. The only way you get be the best at something is by working hard at it. By failing and learning. By putting in the hours. No, it is not easy, but as I tell my daughters, everything is hard before it is easy. Entrepreneurs usually push themselves hard, and push those around them hard, too. But they do so in search of that greater good, that bigger goal. And the staff that gets it and comes along for the ride is rewarded appropriately.

9. They strive to be the best. These businesses are, not surprisingly, not content to be good. As it is said, “good is the enemy of great.” The best small businesses strive to excel. Maybe they want to create the best strudel in town. Maybe they want to offer exceptional value. Whatever the case, greatness is the goal; mediocrity is not tolerated.

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. He is a senior USATODAY.com small business columnist and author of 15 books—his latest being the best-selling
Small Business Bible—as well as a lawyer and public speaker. He has been on CNN, CNBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and is a regular guest on MSNBC’s Your Business. You can visit him online at www.MrAllBiz.com or follow him at www.Twitter.com/SteveStrauss.

Reprinted from American Express OPEN Small Business Forum, www.openforum.com.

Leave a Comment