What are the most successful small businesses?

What makes some small businesses succeed while others fail? That’s one of the most common questions you’ll hear asked among aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners, but it’s one that can be hard to answer in any concrete terms. But by learning more about some of the most successful small businesses, you can gain some insight into what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur—and then put those lessons into practice in your own small business venture.

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A business with a mission people care about

Regardless of industry, your first priority should be coming up with a business idea that people really care about. If you’re not solving a problem that impacts real lives—that’s a pretty good sign you shouldn’t bother starting a business. Take Jack Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm and JustFood, for example. He didn’t set out to start an organic yogurt company in 1984; he wanted to help improve his local food system. More than 30 years later, his mission is still thriving and his products can be found in nearly every supermarket across America.

A fresh take on an old product

While there’s no exact science to creating a great product, we can look at what others have done in order to gain some insight. Take, for example, Google Glass. This device has been on our radar for a few years now. Yet despite all of its potential benefits, it’s had trouble taking off. A look at why that is and how you can create something similarly (or even better) will help your product take off once you launch it into the market.

An innovative solution to an everyday problem

Many great companies have come from a solution to an everyday problem. Whether it’s paying for lunch with friends, sharing pictures on social media or publishing a great idea, asking people what they want and then helping them get it is a great way to solve problems and create value. The question is: What does your idea do for people? Not only is it an important exercise in marketing (having clear answers will help you tell your story), but it’s also incredibly fun when you think about all of those things you take for granted that other people have to think up! No matter what problem your company solves, no matter what unique product or service you provide—there will be someone out there who has never thought of that before.

A great story

Everyone loves a great story. Stories of success and triumph motivate us to work hard and achieve great things in our lives. There is no better place to learn about those stories than through books, films, and TV shows. Learn more about business by immersing yourself in fantastic storytelling mediums that feature some of our greatest innovators and entrepreneurs. Reading biographies like Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson or books like The Four Steps to Epiphany will help you understand how business has changed over time. Watch documentaries like Startup: Silicon Valley or films like Erin Brockovich for an inside look at what it’s really like to start your own company.

Accessible locations and easy online ordering

If your business is a restaurant, nail salon, barbershop or other service-based location, don’t overlook accessibility. Customers want to be able to walk in and out without scheduling an appointment; they also want to know that your phone number is easy to remember and that your website makes it simple for them to order takeout or schedule appointments. 

Offering online ordering can increase profits by eliminating staff hours spent on phone calls and taking orders at busy times of day. Additionally, making your menu available online allows customers with dietary restrictions or vegan/vegetarian diets to easily find items they can enjoy eating. For example, if you own a pizza place but aren’t offering vegan cheese as an option, you could lose out on a significant portion of your market. Make sure your online presence reflects all aspects of your business so potential customers can see how accessible and convenient you are.

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Innovative ads that catch people’s attention

Being a small business means you don’t have an unlimited advertising budget. So you need to be creative in finding ways to get your name out there. One of those ways could be getting a bit edgy with some off-the-wall, funny advertisements. What’s better is that these advertisements won’t break your bank, but they will generate attention for your brand and allow you to get across your company’s message—all without spending too much money.  For example, Dollar Shave Club ran a series of very popular ads that poked fun at how expensive razors can be. The company offered customers razors delivered straight to their door for as little as $1 per month. The humorous ads caught people’s attention and helped Dollar Shave Club become one of today’s fastest growing companies. If you want your small business to grow like Dollar Shave Club has, then it might be time to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to marketing efforts. You might even want to consider taking inspiration from these types of ads (you can find more examples here).

Good customer service

Customers will always be drawn to a business that cares about its customers. A great way to show you care is by providing good customer service. It’s also a surefire way to ensure you retain your customers. And as a small business owner, it’s easy to keep track of and maintain relationships with people who have already expressed interest in what you do. To keep customers happy, all you have to do is listen, interact and provide real value—so they know they aren’t just getting a product or service but also access to an expert in their field who can help them move forward professionally.


A new or relatively new business is often considered a small business. Since some people think that only certain types of companies can be referred to as small, others think that all companies with fewer than 500 employees can be called small. The SBA generally defines a small business as one that’s independently owned and operated, has no more than 500 employees, and is engaged in commercial or industrial activity. This means if you own a five-person company that makes organic food products, it would not fit into these criteria. Instead, it would fall under categories like agricultural and for-profit private institutions of higher education. However, some SBA resources define a small business as one with fewer than 20 employees or less than $7 million in revenue.

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