What Successful Businesses Have in Common

These 14 traits show up again and again when examining the reasons behind business success.

How does a small company become successful? Despite the bad newswe so often hear about the number of small businesses closing ormoving, the news really isn't all that bad: Thousands of smallbusinesses startup every year, and a good percentage of thosecompanies have learned what it really takes to survive the earlystartup years and become successful enterprises.

After working with dozens of small companies, I discovered thatthe successful ones share some common traits. Here, then, are the14 qualities I've witnessed in many of the thriving smallbusinesses I've worked with:

Company culture. Culture is defined as the"integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behaviorthat depends upon man's capacity for learning and transmittingknowledge to succeeding generations." For successfulcompanies, culture is about attracting and hiring the people whowould be most successful in that specific organization. Andit's about driving the behavior that makes the companysuccessful.

Customer service. Simply defined, customer service meanstaking care of your customers. Many companies integrate customerservice into their business culture through training and the design(and frequent redesign) of relevant business processes. In mostcases, the business plan dictates how they will provide qualitycustomer service.

Attitude. As the owner of the company, you must have apositive attitude and accept 100 percent of the responsibility forthe results of your business. When you accept responsibility, youcan act to make the necessary changes to accomplish the desiredresults. Then, when success is achieved, you're generous ingiving credit to others within the organization. Without exception,the most successful business owners understand that it's allabout people: hiring and retaining the right people, eliminatingineffective people and providing the necessary resources foremployees to master their tasks.

Business strategy. A complex strategy or business planisn't necessary to achieve success. A simple one-page documentwill do, but it should be well thought out and well executed. Apoorly crafted business plan that's well executed is farsuperior to the well-crafted business plan that sits on the shelfcollecting dust. A good business plan defines and drives theactivities and behaviors of the entire organization. Without it,the business becomes a ship without a rudder; it simply can'tbe steered and ends up going around in circles. A sound strategyshould include a financial plan, marketing differentiators, andproduct strategy as well as a plan for employee retention.

Discipline. Discipline is all about executing thestrategies and then staying the course. It's about stayingfocused on your core markets and measuring success as defined byyour business strategy. It's not about overreacting to marketchanges and adjusting your core strategy to keep up.

Risk. Successful business owners aren't afraid totake calculated risks with clear outcomes in mind. Most owners whotake risks do so because they recognize the need to change as theeconomic climates changes, and they understand it's disastrousnot to embrace change. Successful business leaders understand thatbeing in business is about managing and responding to change.Companies that succeed embrace change and respond to challengespresented by the market, the competition or changes in generalbusiness conditions.

Financial roadmap. An important attribute is the creationof a financial roadmap and budget--and then having the disciplineto follow it. A financial plan reminds owners where and how tospend money, and it provides ways to measure progress orshortfalls. A sound financial plan is the cornerstone of a greatbusiness plan.

Business processes. Another frequently credited attributeof success is the streamlining of business processes. We call this"creating predictability." Unfortunately, this isprobably the least understood task a small-business owner can takeaccomplish. Business processes are how things are done within abusiness. Every company has some processes; some are clearlydefined, others are implicit. The intention here is to increaseproductivity and reduce costs while generating the same (or better)outcomes. Successful businesses understand the need to continuouslyimprove their business processes: to become more efficient andproductive, and to respond to market changes faster while providingbetter service to customers.

Information technology. While technology is important, itdoesn't have to be complex or costly to be effective. Effectivetechnology is probably the most important enabler for change that acompany can introduce.

Marketing. Effective marketing efforts perform differentfunctions around unique selling environments. For example,business-to-consumer enterprises have completely differentmarketing needs than business-to-business companies. Having a goodunderstanding of the pains your clients are experiencing and howyour product and services stop that pain can help you understandjust how to market to your customers--and that's critical tobusiness success.

Sales. Every company's approach to sales isdifferent. Some depend on building referral partnerships andstrategic alliances, and this is the extent of their sales process.Others aggressively attack the market with direct-mail campaigns,cold calling and other forms of direct customer contact. Thespecific selling approach a company uses is usually defined by itsmarketing plan. Successful owners know that the concept of sellingis a process that can be measured and improved, like all businessprocesses. They talk about the importance of having a consistent,measurable and repeatable sales process, and they engageprofessional sales trainers (with flexibility to customize trainingto their selling environment) to help create consistency withintheir selling process.

Training. Because we live in a world of continuouschange, it's more important than ever to implement a culture ofcontinuous learning. For many successful owners, continualinvestment in training is a major contributor to success. Fortraining to be successful, however, there must a direct link backto the business plan and an understanding of how training supportsthe successful implementation of the business strategy.

Team of advisors. Without exception, every successfulbusiness owner I've worked with has talked to about how havingtrusted advisors is necessary for success. They know they can'tknow everything and they searched out advisors they could trust.They usually preferred to pay for this advice because they werelooking for someone who would challenge them, hold themaccountable, ask them important questions and introduce them toothers who could help them when necessary.

Work/life balance. Successful business owners understandthat every person has just 1,440 minutes in any given day and howthey spend this time directly impacts how effective they'll bein growing their businesses. Smart entrepreneurs successfullyintegrate their social lives into their business lives: The clientwho purchases a product today gets invited to the lakeside cabinthe next weekend. Clients become friends, and co-workers becomelike family. These entrepreneurs build their lives around theirbusiness, and it's almost impossible to distinguish betweentheir social lives and their business lives.

Ron Finklestein is a business coach and theowner of YourBusinessCoach.net. He is also the author ofCelebrating Success! Fourteen Ways to a SuccessfulCompany.

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