The keys to success in business vary significantly according to your sector, size and resources. However, there are some fundamentals that never change. Best of all, if you get these basics right, you’ll be well on your way to business success – whatever you do.
David Michael, Co-Founder, CEO Tutorial
David is a former freelancer and co-founder of CEO Tutorial. For 10+ years he ran his freelance contracting business, and now he helps others navigate the industry.
In this article, I’ll cover the biggest keys to success in business – and show you plenty of tricks and tips to get on top of them all.
Let’s get started!
1. Act on research
Every day, you’ll likely complete a range of tasks – from marketing, to managing people. However, you never want to be acting out of blind faith, as it’s the fastest way to lose motivation.
A successful business owner knows that starting a new venture requires continuous research and investment in your own knowledge. If you’re someone who prefers to learn from trial and error, make sure that you track your failures. That way, you’re still compiling valuable research, so you can take something from those bad moments as well as the good ones.
2. Right business tools
One of the keys to success in business today is the help you can get from the right business tools. Take starting an online business as an example, you’ll need at least some of the following digital tools to do basic functions like launch a website, take payments and promote it. For example, you undoubtedly have some of the following.
- Domain – Bluehost, GoDaddy
- Hosting – WP Engine, Kinsta
- CMS – WordPress, Wix
- Payment – Shopify, Woocommerce
- Email – Google, Mailchimp
- HR software – Monday, Trello
- Accounting software – Quickbooks, Workday
- Social media tools – Hootsuite
However, beyond the must-have tools, there is also digital software capable of making a transformational difference to your operations.
If, for example, you have an online blog, you might use writing tools like Jarvis.ai to do most of the work for you and scale up faster. Getting the right tools for your industry is one of the biggest keys to success in your business.
3. The best team
The right people are the cornerstone of a successful business. When hiring, make sure that they have the necessary skills and experience to excel in their roles.
You could also find ways to connect with other business owners, or even find a mentor. Many people fail in business due to poor teamwork. This can be avoided by working together with like-minded individuals who have the same abilities.
Instead of being an entrepreneur, build a team full of people who are more skilled than you are. This will allow you to have the courage to take on more responsibilities and work harder to get things done.
4. A business plan
Your business plan is one of the most important keys to success in business. It will help keep you organized and focused as you refine and develop your ideas.
Having a formal business plan is very important to keep your company on track. It can help you plan out how to achieve goals and grow it efficiently. On good days, you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere as you tick off milestones, and on bad ones it’ll stop you going too far off track with your business. What’s more, having a plan can also help you avoid making mistakes and undermining certain key factors of your organization – whether that’s related to people, financials, targets or profits.
5. Accounting knowledge
Right from the very start, it’s vital that you understand the basics of accounting – profit, revenue, loss. Your accounting knowledge will help you create and stick to a budget, save money, and finance a business.
You need pay particular attention to these two accounting aspects:
- Finding great online accounting software that you’re comfortable using, such as Quickbooks, Xero, FreeAgent or Freshbooks. I use Quickbooks as I prefer the user interface, but they all have their pros.
- The second key to success for a business is having an accountant, or accountancy team that you trust implicitly. As a small business, they will likely be outside of your organization, but they can take a huge stress away from you.
Even with a good accountant, you still need to have a good understanding of financial basics. These will help you make informed decisions and keep track of your expenses.
What else can accounting knowledge include?
Aside from cash flow management and accounting, financial knowledge can also include topics such as liability insurance and how to borrow money.
Your mastery of finance is a vital aspect to making your business a success. The greatest product or idea can come undone if you make mistakes in your accounts. Even if you have a great plan, managing the finances will determine how well your team will perform. Your knowledge in this area will help you handle financial statements and make informed decisions.
If you feel like you lack some accounting knowledge, you can explore the following excellent online courses:
6. Repeatable Processes
There’s a saying that a business’s worth is defined by its:
The first two are obvious. Your business is worth more if it employs fantastic people. In some businesses, like consultancies, the business pretty much IS the people. Products also makes a lost of sense. It’s clear that your business is defined by the product it sells, whether that’s a physical product (like an iPhone) a digital product (like Facebook) or services product (like a bank).
What are business processes?
However, processes tends to get overlooked, which is a mistake. One of the biggest keys to success in business are the processes that you do every day. Nobody goes in to work daily and completes random tasks in a random way. It’s all organized by processes.
Creating effective processes can help small business owners get everything done. It saves them time and helps them focus on what they do best. Creating a seamless process in your business can help you organize your work, so that it doesn’t get out of hand.
If you picture yourself as someone who has a high chance of failing, then it’s going to be difficult to succeed. Success in business is a self fulfilling prophecy – you need extreme belief to overcome the many barriers or obstacles you face.
Unfortunately, most of the time, it’s not easy to put aside the fears and negative thoughts that often pop up when it comes to making positive changes. There are a few things you can do:
- Adopt positive habits
- Create simple (and achievable to do lists) every day with no more than six items
- Surround yourself with positive influences
- Follow people who have trodden the same path as your business
8. Target your market
Your customers can’t support you if they don’t know where to find you. Creating a marketing plan is the first step in getting started. The first principle to consider when selecting a new product or service is to find out if it fills a need that the customers have, these are principles adopted in the lean start-up.
Once you’ve got a great product or service, you need to develop effective marketing strategies.
To target the right people:
- Use data-driven platforms like Facebook and Google
- Ignore vanity metrics around reach and impressions.
- Identify your perfect buyers and customers, and find out where they spend time
- Use more specific marketing platforms, like Twitch, Amazon and TikTok to reach the right people.
Read this article from Instapage to explore Facebook marketing strategies that will help you target the right people.
9. Never stop learning
Being able to learn from others is one of the most critical factors to succeed in business. Plus, with the speed of change, the only way to stay ahead of the curve in business is by continuing to learn, every single day.
Learning new business techniques and management styles is one of the most important strategies in your business. It is very easy to copy others, but in the long run you need to have the knowledge yourself to be able to make your own decisions when the stakes are high – whatever the size of your business.
10. Quality beats quantity
The most important thing a product-driven business needs to consider is quality. In fact, this is just as true for service driven businesses too. If it’s competing against other products or services, it should have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and everything should be executed to the highest standard.
Uniqueness is and testimonies are the key to success in business. Today, the world revolves around reviews. A product or service must be special enough to stand out and gain high ratings from its peers.
- A film that gets great word-of-mouth ratings will get more people going. A film with a huge marketing budget can still flop with bad ratings.
- A freelancer on a platform like Fiverr or Upwork is almost unemployable with bad ratings.
Ratings and reviews are EVERYTHING. Therefore, put quality above all else and you won’t go far wrong.
The easiest way to guarantee quality is to improve a product or service that people already use. The skyscraper theory on Backlinko works by saying that you should take an existing competitor page and just improve every single aspect of it:
- More images.
- Better videos.
- More examples.
- A better user experience.
- Polished design.
That way it’s hard for Google to justify ranking you below it. A focus on quality throughout your business product or service can work the same way.
11. Spend to grow
While you need good budgeting and tight financial controls, you also need to invest in order to grow faster.
Successful companies match tight finances with knowing where to invest. They use these two components of their business to their advantage.
There are numerous examples where a company choosing to up their spending in a difficult time has generated positive results.
During the 2009 recession, Nike and Adidas were almost head to head. But throughout the hard times Adidas chose to cut spending, while Nike decided to increase it. This meant that by the time both brands emerged a few years later, Nike had gained critical market share.
12. Cashflow is king
Cashflow is the lifeblood of a business. Successful entrepreneurs know that keeping track of their cash flow is a vital part of their organization. They monitor it every day and make sure that they spend only what they can afford.
Cash reserves are vital to the stability of a business. You might be on the cusp of something special if you can survive through a certain period, but if you run out of cash the walls will soon come tumbling down.
Online business software like Quickbooks or Xero can give you clear visibility of your cashflow, and your projections.
13. Learn how to sell
One of the most keys to success in business is a strong sales department. The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple commodity or a service, the goal is to create and keep a steady supply of customers.
The key to business success is having the ability to sell. This is a skill that most people fail to develop because they don’t know how to effectively sell themselves and their product. You need to figure out your USP, and what your customers’ pain points really are.
The person who has the most enthusiasm for a new product or service will most likely make the most sales. You can improve your sales techniques with a simple Udemy course.
14. Customer loyalty
There’s a brilliant article about the theory of 1000 true fans. The idea is that most companies appeal to as many people as possible, which dilutes their approach. The theory goes that you only need 1000 true fans to get the ball rolling. Think about it, if you’re an artist and your work is in a real niche, as long as 1000 people LOVE it then you have a business. If you can get them to each spend $100 a year on your product then that’s $100,000 in revenue straight away.
Creating a loyal customer base is key to a successful business. It can be challenging to measure, but it can be worth it.
One of the most effective ways to build customer loyalty is by telling the story of your company and explaining why they should buy from you, and engaging with them in a unique and personal way. This is perfect for smaller businesses like Etsy stores.
A successful business owner should always be on top of his or her game when it comes to maintaining good relationships clients. Just go the extra mile – it’s worth it.
15. Stay resilient
Regardless of your career or business, there will be ups and downs along the way – that’s a fact. One of the keys to success in business is how you negotiate these obstacles and move on.
To be resilient you need to:
- Find solutions and think outside the box
- Continue to learn to broaden your skillset
- Look at what you can control, and focus on that
- Accept the down times, and find a way to move on
- Look after your mental health by having downtime
- Surround yourself with people who will support and believe in you
Having the right attitude is crucial to bouncing back and finding alternatives when all seems lost.
16. Take (calculated) risks
To really get ahead, you need to take some risks as it will set you apart and help you get ahead in the long run.
Take a look at some of the most successful businesspeople of today – one of the biggest risk takers is Elon Musk, who nearly lost it all when deciding between Tesla and SpaceX. He decided to keep both and the rest is history.
In his book, Richard Branson talks about always being aware of the downside. Don’t risk it all on a punt. Instead, measure the upside and the potential downside and if the risk is worth it, take it.
Most of the time, small businesses struggle to get everything done on time. A common trait with entreprenerus and even freelancers with their own small businesses is that they have to perform every single role. Even in smaller companies of around 15-40 people, you can still often see the founder trying to do it all, while the team scrambles around without direction.
One of the keys to success in business is understanding your own limits and delegating where people have better skills or understanding than you. This is how you remove yourself from someone doing a job, to someone who owns a business.
By creating a delegation process for handling various tasks, you can save time and minimize the chances of making mistakes.
18. Build a network
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”1914 – citation anonymous
Business after business has been built on relationships alone.
Therefore, even if you can work from home, it is still important that you are always open to networking and interacting with people that can help you grow and run your business. Your network is everything.
Some of the best places to build a network online are:
- Facebook groups
These all thrive based on their communities and different values. To be successful in business, your network will take you a long way.
19. Be consistent
The mark of a successful business person is staying focused and consistent with their goals. As the saying goes:
What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while.Gretchen Rubin
Staying consistent can help you push the ball up the hill a little every day. It often requires small, mundane tasks over a ‘be a hero’ idea.
understand that success doesn’t happen instantly, you often have to grind to become a successful business owner. Consistent work and commitment will help you gain the trust and loyalty of many customers and clients. If you’re wavering, just keep this in mind:
20. Don’t forget to celebrate
This is a simple point, but so important for your mental outlook.
It can be easy to get down on yourself, since practically everything you do could be done better. You might have regrets, and it’s likely you punish yourself for failing. But make sure that you celebrate your successes. It will help you remember that feeling of pride, and inspire you to more success.
Like everyone else, I sometimes have a hard time celebrating success and can be quick to move on to the next task. However, looking back, celebrating is a key part of enjoying the business journey, which is vital to keeping motivation and building success.
21. Track everything
We’ve spoken about tracking your finances using digital software like Quickbooks. However, you should track a lot more than that – because that’s the fastest way to improve both personally and professionally.
- Track your failures
- Track your successes
- Record your investments, network building attempts and more.
The more you track, you can feed it in to a loop of refining, adapting and succeeding. Record-keeping is very important to a successful business owner as it helps keep track of the various aspects of the business, and it can help you make more informed decisions in the future.
22. Be innovative
When it comes to business success, the key is being innovative and thinking outside the box. If you do nothing different than every other business, where does your competitive advantage come from?
This is one of the most crucial keys to success in business, as it will allow you to keep on improving and developing new ways to do things.
To be successful, you must embrace change, be open to constructive criticism and find new solutions.
Outdo the competition
Knowing what your competitors are up to is one of the keys to success in business. Doing so will enable you to take advantage of their weaknesses and opportunities.
So, keep a close eye on their various products and marketing strategies to stay up to date with the latest developments. This isn’t a secret but in the cut throat world of business, your ability to adapt and outdo your competitors is crucial. Whether it’s outranking them on Google search, or creating products that go beyond theirs.
One of the most high profile was Facebook’s pursuit of some of Snapchat’s features:
You can read about all the ways Facebook copied snapchat. The overall point is simple, you need to outdo your competitors to succeed in business, whether that’s by being more creative, cheaper, better customer service, more useful product or more detailed content. Find your USP and make it better than anyone else’s.
What are the biggest keys to success in business for start ups?
When you get started, the biggest key to success is to be consistent. You need to resist the ‘get rich quick’ idea and make sure that you complete a number of actions every day to move the business forward.
It can be as simple as making sure you email a set number of people at the start of every day, or schedule your weekly tweets for the week. As long as each action has a tangible, positive impact then being consistent will bring results over time.
The keys to success in business for freelancers
One of the first things freelancers should do is to make sure their skillset is kept up to date, so you’re always an attractive candidate in your sector. For example, as a freelance social media writer, you might like to keep on top of all the latest platform changes, so you can communicate this knowledge to your clients.
As a freelancer myself for 10+ years, would also recommend getting an accountant you can trust and good, transparent freelance accounting software like Quickbooks. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re losing control of your finances.
The most crucial keys to success for online businesses
Online business face a different set of challenges. I covered most of them in the 23 different sections, but one specific challenge is cyber security and keeping your customers safe from any bots or hacks.
It’s estimated that cyber crime increased by 39% during 2021, so it’s imperative that you put the right processes in place.
The keys to success in business: a conclusion
Clearly, the keys to success in business vary according to your size, history, resources, processes and the maturity of your business. It might also look very different if you’re an online or offline business. However, this article has focused on the fundamentals which stay largely the same, no matter who you are.
You’ll always need a business plan, good processes, research, loyal customers, the ability to learn from mistakes and plenty of belief.
Let me know if you found this article useful – and feel free to share, comment and ask questions below.