Startups: Here's How You Craft Your Own Definition of Success

Business owners measure success in many different ways. Use these three tips to help benchmark what success looks like for you.

learn more about Maria Haggerty

By Maria Haggerty • Jun 6, 2016 Originally published Jun 6, 2016


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

How do you define the success of your growing brand? All business owners take a different approach to determining what's considered an accomplishment within their organization. For some entrepreneurs, success is measured in profits or expansion opportunities. Others let customer satisfaction indicate the health of their company. However, with U.S. ecommerce sales expected to surpass $480 billion in 2018, emerging brands must quickly determine what success means to them -- and master those characteristics or risk losing major growth opportunities in the years to come.

As CEO of Dotcom Distribution, I've learned firsthand that understanding success is just as important as achieving it. Of course, boosting your bottom line and watching your business thrive is a pleasure you've earned, but these metrics mean little if you cannot explain where success comes from.

Related: Define What Success Looks Like to You

While there is no one definitive measurement of success, many metrics can help you determine if your company is headed in the right direction. Here are three tips I recommend startups use to benchmark the success of their business.

1. Understand your brand and set realistic goals.

In order to achieve long-term success, businesses must constantly be aware of their own strengths and limitations. All startups think they've invented something unique and that their product will be in high demand. While I love this entrepreneurial spirit, I often find that younger companies can set unrealistic goals. To sustain initial success in the years to come, businesses must self-evaluate and set realistic goals based on measurable metrics.

To keep yourself honest, take time to compare your company to businesses of similar size or stature. Trajectories of similar companies can help you decide which goals are feasible for now, while you can look at more established brands as aspirational examples.

If a very successful brand within your vertical was doing x, y and z two years ago, you can use their success as inspiration. But never simply duplicate what another company is doing. Researching businesses similar to yours is valuable, but you must adapt ideas and strategies to your specific brand to preserve your own company's individuality.

As you make improvements, remember that it's alright to start slow. When Dotcom was first starting out, our goals looked quite different from what we aim for today. Larger client accounts and a wider variety of services were simply unavailable to us early on. With a few years of experience under your belt, you'll develop a trusted track record and naturally get better at what you're doing, as well as how you're doing it. Then, you can take on larger and more imaginative notions of success, like global storefronts or new product lines.

Related: To Manage Your Brand, Understand Your Brand

2. Use customer feedback as a metric.

How you service customers is a key factor in your brand's reputation, which ultimately plays a role in measuring your success. To achieve success in service, first determine what areas of customer service are most important to your brand's identity and to your consumers.

Customer feedback is a metric that indicates your brand's reputation in the eyes of the most important people -- your customers.

For instance, your social media customer engagement may be of great value. Or perhaps your online shopping interface or how your package looks upon arrival are top priorities. There are many facets of service to focus on, and while your business should ideally be working to improve every area, narrowing in on a single metric or practice will give you much needed clarity. Mastering just one or two areas will allow you to excel, and provide your customers with the best experience possible.

For emerging brands, attention to customer service really does pay off. One example that comes to mind is Zappos, which has undergone rapid growth in part due to its commitment to a highly personalized and easily accessible customer service experience. Rather than outsourcing customer service, the company has staffed domestic call centers with hundreds of employees trained for weeks in making shoppers happy. The company even spent hundreds of thousands of dollars relocating to Las Vegas to find and grow a top-notch customer service team. Rather than creating a separate customer service office, Zappos moved mountains to position customer service at the heart of its larger operations.

This dedication to customer service may seem extreme, but it's a key business feature that's helped Zappos scale initial -- then long-term -- success and maintain its top-notch service practice. Knowing and interacting with customers is easier to do on a one to 100 basis, but it's no less important when interacting with thousands of shoppers each week. As Zappos proves, owning your service experience -- and even prioritizing customer service over other business efforts like traditional advertising -- is a smart way to keep customers satisfied well into the future. Like Zappos, your success can come from going above and beyond to please customers.

Related: 7 Tactics That Show You're Getting Customer Service Right

3. Keep yourself accountable.

As you find success, you also need to develop strategies to make it sustainable. Gretchen Rubin, author of "Better Than Before," is a great resource on keeping yourself motivated. Rubin's quiz can help you determine your own workplace tendencies, as an entrepreneur's own personality is a powerful determiner of the best approach to take. Some will need an accountability partner, but others will require a "boss" -- even if they don't want one. Personally, I'm at my best when I can set my own agenda and work with autonomy, keeping myself on track.

It's important to identify your motivators and incorporate them into your day-to-day routine, whether that's in the form of team members or processes that keep you in check. This is especially true for early stage companies. As the excitement of starting a brand dies down, you have to find ways to keep the spirit and hard work ethic of your company alive.

Understanding, defining and then measuring success is crucial to a healthy business that's strong enough for continued growth. Success will look different for every company, and even the definition of success for your brand may change over time.

As you make sense of your success early on, it will become easier to replicate best practices and keep customers engaged and happy over time. Take smaller steps -- like the three above -- to learn more about consumers and sales successes, and then keep pushing for those goals no matter how large your brand grows. To learn other ways you can keep your startup success momentum going, download the Dotcom Distribution Emerging in ecommerce ebook.

Maria Haggerty

Founder and CEO of Dotcom Distribution

Maria Haggerty is the driving force behind Dotcom Distribution’s third-party logistics team. Since co-founding Dotcom Distribution in 1999, she has played a critical role in developing and defining all aspects of the business, including sales and marketing, operations, finance and IT.

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