4 Reasons Why Small Businesses Succeed (or Fail)

The American system of business management is admired and emulated around the world. The American system is characteristic of two positive traits in the American psyche: (1) enthusiasm for making things better for the future and (2) openness and willingness to change in order to achieve that end.

No society in the world is more prolific at creating new businesses than the United States capitalistic system. Often, however, as small businesses owners and managers, we are so busy starting new ventures and fighting daily fires that we don’t take the time to learn basic, successful management principles. These principles have been tested and proven by our larger companies over years of trial and error. They are readily available as a resource to the small business owner.

Many entrepreneurs are technical experts in the product or service they offer. The entrepreneur, however, often starts a business without any formal training or experience in the best management practices and principles. By “management” here we mean the business of successfully managing the non-technical side of the business, the “back room” activities. It is the “business of running the business”. As a result of inadequate or inattentive management, many small businesses fail in the early years. They fail not because of a weakness in their product or service concept, but because the business was not properly organized or managed.

Once a small business has emerged from the start-up phase, or grown to a certain level, management techniques must change or the business will inevitably run into trouble. Although situations vary widely, for many small businesses management crises start in the range of $1-3 million in annual sales or 5-15 employees. When management issue becomes critical, the owner or manager of a small business must evolve or change from a manager of things to a manager of people and from a technical expert to a strategic thinker.

Change is never easy, particularly for talented entrepreneurs who have ingrained habits developed over time. But failure to grow as a manager is a major, perhaps the major reason why a business will falter, stagnate or even collapse under its own weight.

But what have successful business owners developed have is missing in troubled businesses?

First of all, owners of successful businesses have developed personal characteristics that they were not necessarily born with and that reflect in their business organization:

o Invariably they have a positive attitude towards their business and life in general.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

o They are committed to their effort.

“The only place you’ll find success before work is in the dictionary.”
May B. Smith

o They are patient.

“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” Victor Kiam

o They are persistent.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison

Secondly, the owners of successful businesses have developed a business blueprint called a Strategic Business Plan that clearly describes their business concept, their mission and their philosophy of business. In this document, they have set personal and corporate goals and set out specific time lines and strategies to achieve them.

Thirdly, successful business owners think of their employees as “associates”, a favorite descriptor used by Sam Walton and a more meaningful idea of a management/employee relationship. Successful owners view their associates as their most valuable asset and resource. Associates are gathered into an Organizational Structure that functions as a well-oiled machine. This structure, including all its policies and procedures, encourages associates to perform to their utmost capabilities and gives them the freedom to achieve, rewarding those who excel in proportion to their contributions and disciplining those who deviate from acceptable behavior. Positions, tasks, duties and responsibilities are defined and communicated routinely and performance is measured regularly. Training, job enrichment programs and incentive compensation plans are designed to encourage each associate to excel.

Fourth and last, the owners of successful businesses have developed Operational Support Systems. These may be financial or non-financial, manual or automated. The objective of these systems is to support and make efficient all the activities of the organization. Well structured, they also relieve management of many day to day routine activities, giving owners more time to be strategic thinkers. The information provided by these tracking systems provide critical information on sales, cash flow and other financial performance data so that senior management can take timely action as change occurs. Red flags appear early, before problems become unmanageable.

IN SUMMARY, THE FOUR KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL SMALL BUSINESS MANAGEMENT ARE: (1) Owners have developed habits and traits that are Positive, Committed, Patient and Persistent. (2) A living Strategic Business Plan is in place. (3) An Organizational Structure has been developed that encourages people to be their best and allows them to do so. (4) Operational Support Systems are used that track performance and relieve senior management of daily detail yet supply them with critical data to manage the business.

Let’s go a littler deeper into what is meant by a Strategic Business Plan.

Successful businesses operate within a planned framework. A Strategic Business Plan is written for a minimum of three years or two years beyond the current budget year. The plan describes the company’s mission, analyzes corporate and marketing strengths, evaluates weaknesses and how they will be overcome. It identifies target markets and pricing strategies and describes strategic alliances that exist or will be pursued. The plan describes positions on any other issues seen as critical to the long term health or viability of the business.

“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”
Effie Jones

Now let’s look a little deeper at what we mean by Organizational Structure.

The basic building blocks of organizational structure for a business are:

o An Organizational Chart, Job Descriptions, Task and Duty Lists, a Job Performance Evaluation System, an Employee Handbook, a Policies & Procedures Manual and an Incentive Compensation System.

When all of these organizational components are in place and being utilized routinely, the organization will have structure and purpose. Employees will feel they know where the company is going and what their role is in helping it get there. They will know the boundaries of what is expected as acceptable behavior and they will be aware that outstanding performance will be rewarded.

Now let’s look a little deeper at what we mean by Operating Support Systems.

Usually the most involved system for a small business is the Accounting System. This may be a relatively simple system such as QuickBooks® or Peachtree®. These systems are pre-designed and user-friendly and are particularly good for non-manufacturing businesses that simply buy and resell items. Also, they manage customers, vendors, accounts receivable and accounts payable very well. Finally, they have the capability of generating excellent managerial and financial reports, virtually in a minute or two.

No matter what the type of business, some type of accounting software package is needed that can capture daily transactions in a real-time environment and be easily operated by in-house personnel. In today’s fast paced business world, relying on an accountant to provide periodic statements of company performance several weeks or even months after the fact is not an acceptable strategy.

Other systems small businesses should have in place (typically these are automated Excel®-based systems):

o Cash Management, Annual/Monthly Budget with Variance Report, Labor Burden Tracking System, Job or Product Pricing System, Incentive Plan Distribution System, Break-Even Calculator and a Weekly Sales Reporter.

Even if you have none of these developed, the task is not as daunting as it may seem at first. Plug-in systems are available from a number of sources at modest cost and include backup training and support (one such source can be found at http://www.isbminc.com).

A business that has these four critical components in place stands a much higher probability of success than businesses that are not so equipped.

© Institute for Small Business Management, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Business Process Consulting – Consulting to the Small Business Owner

Why are small businesses such a powerhouse in the economy?

One of the ingredients is that successful small businesses are run by people with passion. Small business owners believe in what they are doing, and they love doing it. They are brimming with ideas.

At heart, most small business people feel that they were born to make a difference in the world – to make the world a better place. The small business owner is obsessed with succeeding in making that difference and reaping the rewards that they deserve for both themselves and for the people around them.

They do what it takes to make something happen – the long hours, the heartache, the joy, the desperation, the failure, the success and the elation. These people experience the full range of human emotion in the pursuit of their dream. They are the true believers.

How then can the small business consultant contribute to the small business owner’s success?

The answer is that the small business consultant must know how to help the small business owner learn to think strategically and thereby gain clarity, focus and direction. Such results are possible only when the consultant keeps three critical factors in mind:

- While passion is often a key ingredient, a small business cannot run on passion alone

- The small business person must make good strategic decisions

- A successful small business person works hard

A Small Business Cannot Run on Passion Alone

Passion is critical in small business, but it must be channeled and directed. Single-minded focus is gained only by going through a deep thinking, soul-searching process that delivers a clear sense of Mission, Vision and Values.

This process must occur at the personal level and then be reflected in the business itself, through words that spell out the Mission, Vision and Values in easily understood language.

These words become the primary essence of the business. For the small business person, these statements spell out their beliefs and assumptions about their business and inform everything that they think, say and do.

Every morning, when the successful small business person gets out of bed, it is with a real sense of purpose, namely, to fulfill his or her Mission.

Their Mission, Vision and Values are well understood within their business, and they are the critical clauses of the employment contract that everyone in the business signs up for.

Mission, Vision and Values inform and shape all business policy development and the processes and measures that are put in place to ensure disciplined execution.

Making Good Strategic Decisions

Once the value base of the business is defined, it must be aligned with good strategic decisions.

Strategy Formulation is critical for success in small business. It is the thinking that this exercise generates that delivers high performing action, sustainable outcomes and lasting results.

The effective small business consultant takes the small business owner through a process of thinking that ensures that the nature and the direction of the business are fully understood. The critical issues for action are identified and priorities are set.

Agreed actions must then be written down, so that they cascade from the strategic level to all the operational streams of the business. Everyone in the business must know what part they play in achieving the strategic goals.

Remember, small business people are energized by the demands put on them in the moment. This is because they are people of action. However, this can be a problem when they are under too much pressure. They can become overwhelmed by the clamor of present demands, and they often fail to have a planned approach.

Working to a well constructed small business plan, based in good strategic thought and decision making, relieves the pain of the frenetic pace and worries of the day to day.

By paying attention to the important things that further their strategic goals, the successful small business person gains the right perspective on immediate and urgent sounding distractions. Business development and risk management are all addressed, when the small business owner works to a plan.

One of the important things that the small business person must have clear in their minds is everything to do with their customers. They must know who they are. They must know what they need. They must know where they are and how they are going to be reached. They must know their own capabilities in being able to deliver what their customers want.

They must know the gaps in their own business that must be addressed to achieve high yielding results.

When all their capabilities are analyzed at depth, the small business owner has the information he or she needs to make the decisions that will secure the future of the business. The small business consultant must ensure this is the case.

A Successful Small Business Person Works Hard

When the small business owner is clear about his or her Mission and Vision, and is behaving in keeping with a well defined set of values, hard work is not an issue. Working to a well conceived plan generates sufficient enthusiasm that even small gains become immensely gratifying.

Quality of thinking, combined with good decisions and focused action, evoke the work ethic that creates momentum and delivers outstanding results. Small business owners are energized and become even more motivated when they are in touch with their own value base.

They feel in control when they have a good plan in place that they can work to. This is because they are paying attention to the right things, in the right way, and they can see that they are making progress.

Passion, aligned with good decision making at the strategic level, puts them in control of their business and makes them feel alive. It puts them on the path of never-ending improvement, both personally and in their business.

10 Steps to Starting a Small Business


If you are looking for the most effective way of starting a small business without spending a lot of wasted money and time, this article is a great place to start. The advice you get from this article may be a totally new way of approaching your new small business. As I provide each of the following steps, I will give you very good reasons for why this method is the best. I provide business planning services for many new small businesses. In so doing, a business plan is often an essential aspect of getting funding.

The Secret To Starting A Successful Small Business

Let me tell you the one single factor that will assist you in obtaining funding – Customers! If you already have customers before you go to banks, friends, colleagues or relatives for money, I assure you that your efforts in raising money will be greatly reduced. I cannot tell you how many times that I have been really excited about new business ideas that my customers have brought to me. I can tell you this though, that the banks see dozens of new business ideas every day. Dozens… Their excitement level is measure a little differently.

How To Get Small Business Funding

You know what the only thing banks get excited about?… Money and only money. The closer your are to making profitable sales when you ask for funding is the only way that you are going to get heads nodding behind walnut desks. Imagine yourself going to a bank dressed in your best business outfit for a loan. Think about how truly confident you would be in asking for this money, when you know that you already have the names of customers that would purchase your product now if you just had funding.

How To Get Customers Before You Have A Businesses

So you may be wondering how will you have customers before you have a business. The answer is that nearly any business that you can conceive of now has informational products that can be purchased on the internet. Whether it is a farm, auto shop, hair salon, or home improvement. These businesses all have audio or video or e-book products that can be sold on the internet that complement these businesses. How about a video product that you sell to women entitled “How to Maintain Your Hair Between Hair Appointments,” or audio podcast program series for farmers to listen to on “Advanced Crop Yield Methods” while they are busy on the tractor. All of these can be created and sold easily on the internet with a simple website. So the idea is to move into the info business first, then formalize the business into its fuller implementation after proof of concept.

So let me me summarize the 10 steps to starting a small business:

10 Steps To Starting A Small Business

1. Market Research

What is market research? Simply stated, market research is knowing that the number of customers you think are out there for your product really exist. To translate your product into customers, it is only essential that you identify the keywords that characterize your customers’ Google searches. You can easily get these numbers free through the use of the internet. Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool (adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal?defaultView=2) is easy to use and after you get a free account, it is awesome in getting quantitative data to know 1) how many people are looking for what you want to sell 2) how many competitors already are out there. Once you have a website done in the next step, you can use the brand new Google Search Based Keyword Tool (google.com/sktool/#) to refine your market research. If you have a website type in your url and your keywords.

2. Build Website

You website initially needs to do only two things – 1) let others know that you exist and who you are 2) communicate to them that you know their needs in terms of what are their pains and desires and how you product is absolutely the best solution for them in the world. Your website does not need to cost more than $1,000 and can be put together in a matter of days (not weeks or months). If you want to do it yourself, you can use Word Press or call us.

3.Traffic and Promotion

Use Google Analytics to track the number of visitors to your website to ensure that you are getting the attention to your message that they deserve. Before you get people to your site, you will need to do some promotion to ensure that this happens. There are a lot of ways to do this, but having the website 1) optimized for on-page manageable factors (meta tags, title, attractive web address (url)) and 2) getting a large number of back links to your website are the most controllable factors.

4. Build List of Customers – Email opt-in

When customers get to your website, this is where you want to get the big prize – the customer list. In order to get a list of customers, you offer them a free written, audio or video product that provides some truly valuable information to them in exchange for the their e-mail address and name. It is important to note that you will only get a sustainable business if you provide something of significant value as a “give away” at this point. I have seen many – free PDF reports, “how to” audios or videos that are really useful. Make sure that your is too. You can use Aweber or Constant Contact as auto-responder services to obtain the e-mail addresses. These are services that provide the website scripts, capture e-mail lists, provide confirmation e-mail and provide information product.

5. Sell Affiliate Products

After you create your website, you will go and find products that are already available that you can sell as an affiliate. What is an affiliate? An affiliate is someone (you) that is selling into a niche market that understands the needs of the customers and can sell products created by someone else. Who is the someone else? Many – Amazon, Commission Junction, Clickbank. Nearly every big internet retailer has an affiliate program. Look at the bottom of their home page for the words “affiliate” or “associate.” They provide the whole shopping experience and you get a small commission for doing so. They will give you the tools to list these products attractively on your website with html scripts that are easily implemented.

6. Create information products

Now that you have a good idea of who your customers are and what they want, you can easily create your own information products in writing (e-books), audio or video. All it takes is the ability to write, record, film and edit this information in a near professional manner. The content of these products is what is really important. This process sounds very complex, but can be made very simple by someone that does this on a day-to-day basis.

7. Sell own informational products and through affiliates

Now that you have your own information products, you can sell your products on your website and also through affiliate programs such as Clickbank and Commission Junction. You will need to augment your website to allow products to be listed, purchased and to accept payment. Since you are now the vendor of these products you will also need to create a purchase, return and shipping policies (if either of these applies). Most customers will want to know about these things before they purchase from you and often will not purchase until they know that you are reliable and that their money is well spent with you.

8. Create business plan

Now that you have proven your business concept on an informational level (and at an affordable level of investment I might add), you are in a much better position to judge for yourself whether this business is investment grade. What is investment grade in this case? The answer to this comes in the form of another self-question: Would you bet that you will get a good return on the money that you are asking others to invest? There are many good business plan templates available for free. All it requires is to get basic questions answered in each section and to formalize into an attractive and readable document.

9. Get funding

Get dressed up as appropriate for the money people. If they are bankers, dress in a suit. If they are family or friends, dress as friends or family. If they are colleagues, dress as a colleague. Be professional and honor their time. Make sure that you keep their interest by asking yourself what is in it for them. That is all that matters to them. For family matters, the issue is a little bit different. They will be concerned with family solidarity. In other words, what would happen if you could not pay them back? Would this permanently disrupt your relationship with them? Think about this before you go to them. When you get money there are two questions you will always need to answer for them up front 1) what will you use the money for? 2) from what source will you pay the money back? Know these answers.

10. Formalize business organization

This is the part that most people think about when they think about starting a business. Do you find it strange that this would be the 10th step in this process? Don’t worry, most other people would too. However, doesn’t it make more sense to formalize the business after it is making money first and then to formalize it? When I speak about formalizing the business, I am talking about 1) creating an appropriate legal entity (corporation, limited liability corporation or other) within your state or country 2) create tax status with the tax authorities 3) publicly announce the business formation through public recording or periodical announcements or both 4) get a checking or bank account. Note that I am not advocating subverting tax or legal guidelines…as a matter of fact I am suggesting that you follow the rules, through making your business profitable first.

In Summary

That is all there is to it. What else is there left to business than that? A business is nothing more than delivering answers to problems (pains or desires) of customers and doing so while making profitable sales. Creating new products is just using lateral thinking to create other related products that meet the needs of customers. And what a great life that is….help other people while you make money.

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© Copyright – 2008 Frank Dobner