Tips From Successful Small Business Owners

Good Advice: Tips From Successful Small Business Owners

Kelly Spors

Many long-time small business owners would agree with the line from the 1970s song by the band Faces: “I wish that I knew what I know now.”

Over years of running a small business, owners inevitably gather many lessons about how to grow and run a business more effectively. Thankfully, many of these owners are more than happy to share their insights.

Here are seven business tips from several successful small business owners that are worth paying attention to:

1. Build a Support Network

For Laura Kelly, being a business owner can be an isolating experience at times. “Especially if you’re a solo business owner, you can lose touch with other business owners,” says Kelly, who 15 years ago started The Handwork Studio, a Narberth, Pennsylvania-based company that runs needlework camps and classes for kids in 10 states along the East Coast.

The crucial solution for Kelly has been to stay networked in the larger business community. That means meeting with her personal business coach for an hour every four weeks. The coach has helped her find solutions to problems and work through tough decisions with her business. She also networks on Facebook and Linkedin from the comfort of her own home.

“She walked me through some visualization exercises,” Kelly recalls. “Just that sheer exercise of removing myself from the business and looking down on it really helped me see the problems that were bothering me. In an hour’s time, I walked away with clarity and an action plan to move forward.

And then there’s the mastermind group to which Kelly belongs. She and her fellow women service business owners get together over a conference line. “We discuss problems and solutions, and we talk each other off the ledge.”

As a busy business owner, It’s tough to find time to network, but getting better at networking and making contact can pay dividends in the future.

(Download our free eBook: 21 Days to Be a More Productive Small Business Owner)

2. Be Very Specific With Your Goals

Another lesson Kelly has learned over the years: break big goals into smaller ones. “I have 10-year goals, I have 3-year goals and 1-year goals, and I have quarterly goals for my business,” she says. “When it come to revenues, I will break them into smaller numbers so they’re easier to obtain. If I know I need to make a couple hundred thousand in revenue in the first quarter, I say, ‘What does that mean in terms of camp sales? How many campers do I need to obtain?’ If I know I need 800 campers to reach the revenue goal, then it’s easier to figure out how to achieve it. These kinds of really specific goals can drive your actions.”

Every employee at The Handwork Studio has a dashboard with their goals on it which shows their progress toward those goals. It helps keep everyone focused, Kelly adds: “I can tell you at any exact moment how much revenue we have, the traffic of our website and how many Facebook likes we have.”

Building a performance-driven culture all starts with being very specific about goals– for yourself and your employees.

3. Delegate Whenever Possible

When the Marks Group, a technology consultancy, started in 1994, it was just Gene Marks and his dad. “He was doing sales and I was doing service,” Marks recalls. Then his dad died. “When he passed away, I took it over and realized I couldn’t do it all, and hired some new employees. I’ve learned that you can make a lot more money when you have other people doing it for you.”

As he hired more people, it dawned on Marks that he had been doing work that he was pretty bad at doing. The revenue of the business soared as he brought on new people because he was hiring people who were better than him at certain jobs. “I just sort of learned the hard way: focus on what you do best, and delegate the rest.”

4. Keep Your Overhead Low

Eight years ago, it dawned on Marks that he was just sitting in an office costing nearly $30,000 a year in rent, while his employees were out working with clients. So Marks got rid of the office in suburban Philadelphia and made his workforce virtual. Along the way, he replaced the landline with an Internet-based phone that cost about $10 a month, and he ditched computer servers for the cloud, too.

Lowering the overhead brought Marks some peace of mind through the Great Recession. “When things turn bad, you don’t have to panic, because you can take a cut in revenue,” Marks says. “Even in the brunt of the recession, we never lost money. Cutting down overhead really gives you that peace of mind. If your overhead is low, you can make pricing decisions that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to make.”

5. Find Your Best Niche—and Stick With It

Trying to do too much too soon?  Feel like you need to be all things to all clients? Maybe diversifying isn’t always the best strategy. Sometimes, it’s good to replicate the magic if you have something that works really well. That’s been the successful strategy for Ace Apparel, says Marc Mathios, who along with his two brothers are the third generation to run the 78-year-old family business.

“One of the industry silos that we’re really good in is parking garage operators,” Mathios says. “The reason that parking garage operators like to work with us is because we manufacture our own line of jacket that’s suited for parking garage companies. … We’ve duplicated that success with 30 different parking garage operators across North America.”

Finding your niche and continually innovating around that niche is a path to success.

6. Keep Your Day Job Just a Little Longer

It is a common trap: A person gets excited by a small business idea, quits his or her day job—and then runs out of money and fails.

Spanx founder Sara Blakely credits her success to the fact that she actually kept her day job as an office equipment salesperson for two years, learning to work with minimal sleep as she got her form-fitting shapewear company off the ground. Blakely did not want to resign from her day job until she was absolutely sure her small business idea would work, according to Forbes.

By the time Blakely resigned in 2000 from what was then office equipment supplier Danka, she had already spent countless nights and weekends studying pantyhose design and existing patents. She would drive from her Atlanta home to North Carolina, where she sought out hosiery mills willing to make the product.

“There were days that I’d be at Danka all day and the semi trucks would drop boxes of Spanx outside my apartment. … I resigned on October 14, 2000. I quit Danka and two and a half weeks later I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show,” Blakely says.

7. Avoid Distractions at All Costs

A few years ago, Seattle-based content marketing company AudienceBloom was operating so swimmingly that its founder and CEO Jayson DeMers decided he could get away with focusing on a second startup that he was intrigued with. DeMers would come to regret the decision.

“Running a company ‘just fine’ is not what an entrepreneur’s job is,” DeMers says. “Successful entrepreneurs don’t do the minimum for their company; they constantly work to grow it, evolve it, and prepare it for the future. Because I was splitting my team between the two startups, growth stalled at my first company, and I didn’t have enough time to dedicate to the new startup to make it successful.”

Eventually, the second venture failed. AudienceBloom was able to grow again once DeMers was able to focus his full attention on it. “I learned that a successful venture requires 100 percent attention, focus, and effort. Secondary ventures need a full-time manager or else they’ll just distract you and derail your existing efforts if you aren’t careful.”

Avoiding distractions applies to managing yourself so you get stuff done on a day-to-day basis too. “I know when I’m smart and when I’m dumb” says Marks. “I save the big tasks for the morning when I’m smartest, and do the monotonous ones when I’m dumb at the end of the day.” Keeping yourself organized and on-task is the real key to small business success.

Do you have any tips to share with fellow business owners? Let us know in the comments!

45 Responses to "Good Advice: Tips From Successful Small Business Owners"

    • Macryn Voice Greetings | November 29, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      Good tips! It’s also important for small business owners to have a professional sounding voicemail greeting and auto attendant message on their business phone and/or cell phone! You can find sample voicemail scripts on our website and hear professional phone greetings as well: http://www.MacrynVoiceGreetings.com

    • Fernando | March 20, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Excellent tips, but I would also recommend getting the services of an accountant for your small business given all the tax and legal issues that arise with incorporation

    • Jake Tillerson | July 21, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      I think it’s also important to know how vital a website is in today’s world.

    • Richard Baylers | October 21, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      Thank You for the information. I am a first-time small business owner. I appreciate any, and all available help you can provide. I have my e-mail info included. This is a great site.

    • Bill Horrigan | October 24, 2018 at 9:40 pm

      Know what you do best and stay with it. Find ways to reduce costs. Take discounts whenever possible. Network.
      Ask for referrals from current clients at the point of your agreement . Hire good people and don’t hesitate to get rid of non preforming personal. Join trade groups and figur out how to make it profitable. Advertise by putting together a sales book of your clients. They can speak volumes to your next prospect whom they may know. Gather sales information within your own field and learn how your competitors are acting. Good Luck. 👍

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 25, 2018 at 8:47 am

        Bill, thank you for these additional tips!

    • Dave Knibbe, Ph.D. | October 24, 2018 at 11:08 pm

      It is also important to remember two key principles when it comes to managing time and productivity:

      1. Divide your time/attention between two basic choices:

      A. Those tasks that are crucial
      B. Those tasks that are useful

      Stick to these two choices only. If something does not meet the above standards, DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME AND EFFORT ON IT.

      2. Finally, remember this age old advice: “Quality appropriate to the task”

      Keep going. Don’t give up ever.

      Dr. K.

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 25, 2018 at 8:47 am

        Great advice Dr. K, thank you for sharing!

    • Tim Sweet | October 25, 2018 at 8:03 am

      Helpful tips!

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 25, 2018 at 8:46 am

        Thank you, Tim!

    • James B. Potter | October 27, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      Summary: Focus, focus, focus. Keep your eye on the ball — one ball. Work past the point of exhaustion, then take a good rest. Keep the coffee and alcohol to a minimum. Get a good night’s sleep regularly. Leave your home cares and concerns at home, and your business problems at work. Know your capabilities and limitations. Hire good help and delegate as well as assign. QuickBooks is a good way to start, but it soon requires a lot time and data entry as your business grows, so hire a bookkeeper/ accountant. Pay your tax obligations on time and in full. Pray. for guidance and strength.

    • Anthony Contenta | January 7, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks for the information

      Anthony Contenta CCS, CWAC

    • Techieslug | January 21, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      small business is important for new business lover and they do need some tips and guide which is very important. I found this very useful for me. Thanks

      • Hannah Sullivan | January 22, 2019 at 8:44 am

        Thank you for your feedback!

    • Jacob Miller | March 29, 2019 at 6:33 am

      Nice tips! As from my view for small business owners should also maintain an attendance system for their employees as it makes quiet easy to track their attendance without any hassle. Moreover, you can also apply some professional ways in the business that wills definitely help out to run business successfully. Visit us @ https://www.canadiansme.ca/

      • Hannah Sullivan | March 29, 2019 at 7:54 am

        Great advice, Jacob!

    • Yoshiko Flora | April 11, 2019 at 1:42 am

      I find it cool when you shared Gene Marks’ quote about on focusing on what they did best in their company and delegate the rest. When you read that, it reminded me of my sister, who is planning to open her custom handmade jewelry commissions this year. If her business becomes a full-fledged jewelry brand in the future, I would recommend her to an executive search firm. That way, she can find the right people who can keep it running.

      • Hannah Sullivan | April 11, 2019 at 1:52 pm

        Congratulations to your sister, Yoshiko! Thank you for reading.

    • Clown 1396 XL | May 6, 2019 at 6:12 pm

      Always purchase liability and commercial auto insurance. Never, ever conduct even a day of business without insurance.

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 7, 2019 at 8:46 am

        Thanks for reading!

    • Andrea Thomas | May 6, 2019 at 7:30 pm

      Great advice. I’ve owed my firm for 30 years! I have found staying very organized, making a to-do list every day is critical.
      I may work on 10-12 projects at one time and the organization is KEY to staying on track and delivering reports on time (or my advice is to deliver them ahead of schedule – clients are blown away when you deliver ahead of schedule – they say – who does that!)
      I do have a CPA to do my tax return, but I’m a sole owner, I keep my books in excel and code the expenses. i don’t need quick books, way too complicated and time consuming.
      Also, its is critical to have good, reliable business partners that can help with tasks you don’t have the capability to handle.. And most important is your staff, I have people who have worked for me for more than 20 years and when you find good people, I treat them like royalty! Most people who work for me are referred to me by other staff. I have no full time employees, only independent contractors, I use them only when I need them. I totally agree with “keep the over head low” so you can make good profits, which is the name of the game! Best of luck to all of you!

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 7, 2019 at 8:47 am

        Thank you for sharing your experience, Andrea! Wishing your firm continued success in its future.

    • Tonia Wright | May 7, 2019 at 8:56 am

      Inevitably, business will ebb and flow. If you own a small business, there will be great revenue seasons and ones that are truly tough. When the tough times come, stay encouraged. Draw on experiential faith. Remember the battles you won, the challenges you’ve overcome, and the sheer depth of your expertise. Those positive thoughts will keep your head in the game — even when it looks impossible. Draw on your network. See if there are opportunities you may have overlooked with your current client base and reach out. If not, create new ones. Eliminate overhead where you can. Most importantly, take one day at a time. The hard times come and go. You’ll make it.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 8, 2019 at 8:10 am

        Great reminder of the ups and downs of running a business. Thank you, Tonia! – Elizabeth

    • Judy | May 8, 2019 at 10:17 pm

      Never compete on price!! Out innovate and out design your competition!

    • Missy | May 8, 2019 at 11:51 pm

      Don’t hire friends or family especially if you have to supervise them! It’s could be disastrous to the business and relationship

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 9, 2019 at 11:22 am

        Thank you for the feedback, Missy! – Elizabeth

    • Yvette LaGarde | May 8, 2019 at 11:56 pm

      I have run our business for over 20 years. I have a business degree and an MBA. Having said that, you don’t need an advanced degree to be successful. Part of it is luck; part of it is addressing unmet needs (or doing it better than the competition) and part of it is hard work. And you better be prepared to put in long hours. The best courses I ever took include typing and accounting – the language of business. You need to develop a budget that includes estimates for revenue and expenses. But understand the difference between profit & loss (income statement) and cash flow. As Mr. Wonderful says on Shark Tank, it’s all about the cash baby. In my experience, costs are usually double and sales are half. Better to be conservative or you’ll find yourself trying to figure out how to pay basic bills.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 9, 2019 at 11:23 am

        This is something we talk about all the time on the Small Biz Ahead Podcast–you need to know your numbers! Thanks for sharing your advice, Yvette. – Elizabeth

    • Glenn Erickson | May 9, 2019 at 6:15 am

      I agree with most of of what I’ve read here. The main advice I offer is: Seek Qualified Professionals to support the parts of your business you are NOT qualified to handle. I use an accountant to keep me on track, and a lawyer for questions about contracts. The flip-side is: knowing what you are NOT qualified to do. Delving into areas you are not qualified to handle WILL get you into trouble!

      Do more than expected and don’t be afraid to turn down business that makes you uncomfortable ethically.

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 9, 2019 at 11:48 am

        Thank you for providing this advice, Glenn.

    • Kim Maitland | May 9, 2019 at 7:32 am

      I’ve been a business owner for 19 yrs. using Quickbooks. I’d say one of my biggest challenges lately has been troubleshooting quickbooks error that comes out of nowhere. Knowing other quickbooks users could be so helpful during times like this, which I know few of. I’ve spent countless hours researching to find solutions to quickbooks, and other office software issues, that could be reduced if only I had some experienced users to brainstorm with. Oh, and did I mention that the foreign speaking quickbooks support group are little help? And only help if you pay a high annual tech support fee. So, my recommendation is to give above board customer service, reward your employees with much praise, manage your finances well. But leave time to find networks (Which I’m still trying to do) for help when those unexpected issues arise and you need another business owner to brainstorm with you.

    • Jimmy | May 9, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Shop Prices on everything you buy , Parts, Raw Products,Packaging,Insurance,Offic e Products ,Everything and Everyone has a competitor wanting your business….

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 9, 2019 at 8:34 am

        Thanks for the tip Jimmy! – Elizabeth

    • Jason Maximovich | May 9, 2019 at 8:42 am

      This advice is lackluster, especially 3, 4 & 6.

      3.) Delegate – yes, this is important, but more importantly, is finding quality people that fully understand who you are and what is the business. You can delegate to fools all day long and all it will do is increase your workload, get you in legal trouble and possible out of business.

      4.) Overhead Low – while this is practical advice, as the owner of a technology consulting company that provides a number of services, including those highlighted in this article, phone and cloud solutions, the way this is laid out is foolish. Internet-based phone solutions have their place, but you pay for what you get. When I read $10 a month, great, I really can see how much he really cares about his business and the always forgotten about aspect is service and support. How much money do you really save when you have to wait in a queue and get $10 a month support? As for cloud-based solutions, this is a huge mistake that many business owners are looking at for cost savings. Once again, you pay for what you get and each business has unique needs that may or may not have a real need for cloud-based services. Before any business just starts making decisions on technology to save money, find a consulting company and actually weight out cost vs. business productivity vs. realistic expectations.

      6.) Keep your Day job – the easiest way to fail. How much trust will anyone put in your business, your service if you have kept one foot in the door? This touches on #4 as would any legitimate business trust their technology needs to a person that has a day job and is only available in the evenings or weekends. Obviously, no, but I see this all the time and they ALL FAIL. During my first two years of self-employment, the #1 issue I ran into was trust that I would be around and by moving technology needs to my business, what if I went out of business, where would that leave them? I could not have imagined trying to pitch my business but was still working 50 hours a week elsewhere. I would have done nothing but waste everyone’s time.

    • Elizabeth Ramirez | May 9, 2019 at 9:20 am

      Go to and join your local business chamber. Get to know the other small businesses in your area. Word of mouth is always one of the best ways to grow a business, so you need to be in your community networking to get the word out. Join a board that your business would be a good match with.

      • Hannah Sullivan | May 9, 2019 at 11:49 am

        Great advice Elizabeth! Thanks for reading.

    • Kate | May 9, 2019 at 11:37 am

      Make sure you have vendor confidentiality and anti-compete clauses in your contracts with employees and independent contractors. Hire an attorney to go over your contract to make sure it is legal and airtight. Also, make sure you only give access to sensitive information on an as needed basis with staff. I ended up in a lawsuit because I had an employee who sabotaged me and opened a competing business using my vendor and marketing information. It is stressful, time-consuming, and very costly to be involved in a lawsuit. Hindsight really is 20/20.

    • Loralei Zwitt | May 9, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Work in the industry you want to start your business in first. I can’t tell you the number of people who thought they wanted to do what I do and found out it was a lot harder than they imagined. Also, you better love what you do because you are going to be working more hours not less. Your business should be your “child”.

    • Joyce Roger | May 9, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      Take a good look at your lease before you sign it and spend the money to have an attorney review it. I recommend avoiding a lease that does not allow you to auto renew it at end of term. If it does not auto renew, and your landlord decides not to renew it then you will have to move out of the space even if you are successful in that location. Moving is destructive for your customer base not to mention all the costs of finding a new place and actually moving.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 9, 2019 at 3:49 pm

        Great advice, Joyce. – Elizabeth

    • Joanna Puritz | May 9, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      CUSTOMER SERVICE. It is the key to all of our successes. We CAN do what the big guys do but they Can Not or will not do what we Can; Humans answer the phone or go to the client’s place of business or greet each and every customer with smile and a dog friendly atmosphere or hold their hands when making a big decision.
      The second key is employee’s with GREAT work ethics, hard to find but not hard to keep if your willing to treat them with respect and share with them your good fortunes. Humans more than ever need human contact, a real voice answering the phone is imperative. The only time our answering machine goes on is when we are closed!

    • Ron Bolinske | May 9, 2019 at 9:19 pm

      Ultimately, if all employees have the mindset of “Make a loyal customer and the profit will follow”, it will. Customer service before, during and after every sale or an item or service. Seems to be a lost trait!

    • Carmen Jenkins | December 6, 2019 at 3:32 pm

      After owning a coffee shop for over 15 years the best personal advice I can give anyone is to work like you don’t need the money. Work because you love what you’re doing.

      • Chloe Silverman | December 9, 2019 at 8:46 am

        Great advice! Thank you for the comment, Carmen!

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