It’s a sad fact but true: approximately half of small businesses survive their first five years of operation. On the flip side, that means that 50% do survive, with the potential to grow and thrive. So what differentiates the successful survivors from the failing flops?

Business Insider magazine decided to find out, surveying a range of business owners across a range of marketplaces to try and work out what marks out a small business for success. Or more accurately, what marks out a small business owner for success. Their findings make interesting reading.

1. Spend to accumulate

An old saying, but still holding true. Owners who invested in their businesses were more likely to survive and thrive than those who held back the cash. Examples included:

  • Outsourcing jobs that the owner could do if given plenty of time to learn – which they didn’t have
  • Outsourcing financial admin tasks including invoicing and payroll
  • Hiring a VA (virtual assistant) to help with admin and release time for the business owner

One business owner saw her VA in a vital screening role:

“I have the best force field around me, and as a result, my clients get the best of me and I can do what I’m best at! Also, my staff gets my time and mentorship.”

2. Market to your target audience

It may sound simple, but according to the responses to the survey, it happens more than you might expect. Examples included:

  • setting up branded wine clubs for talk radio hosts – nobody buys wine over the radio
  • not keeping up with technology that the target audience wants

One of the key mistakes we’ve seen is not advertising in the correct channels for your audience. This is especially true for social media, where certain customer bases favour a particular channel. There are also too many assumptions made:

  • Facebook is a young person’s platform (no)
  • Instagram is for narcissists (no again)
  • Twitter is dead (and again, no)

As an article by Duct Tape Marketing says:

“Instagram skews younger than Facebook, so the demographics of the audience you’ll reach will be more Millennials and Gen Zers. Plus, Instagram is a visually-based platform, so your content there will primarily be photos and video. Facebook has a wider appeal with folks across all generations, including Baby Boomers. Plus, the platform allows you to create a variety of content, including long-form written posts.”

3. Not trusting your own judgement

This is something that almost every small business owner will have felt at some time. Everyone else knows more, has the answers, is better informed than you. One entrepreneur shared her experiences of following a “guru” with a business methodology, only to discover that it didn’t work for her customers, in her marketplace, in her specific geographical location. At least they realized after only 3 months, allowing them time to adjust and move forward with their own strategy instead.


Can-do attitude for your customers

Another fascinating article at Business Insider interviewed a former Army Sergeant, Frank Diaz, who now runs a successful business. His top tips for thriving not just surviving include:

A can-do attitude

“I’m a can-do type of guy … so if there’s a way to make it happen, I make it happen. That’s just been my mindset.”

Outsmart the competition

Look at what the competition is doing, and devise a plan to do it better. Not cheaper, not faster, just better.

– Make the most of available resources

There is a lot of help out there for small business owners. Look out for opportunities to upgrade your skills or knowledge, get advice and support, and meet other business owners. You never know what you might learn. As Diaz says ”Not one of them had all the answers, but all of them had some of the answers.”


Local resources and expertise

Your local Chamber of Commerce is a fabulous resource that our members can tap into anytime. From networks and specialist courses to practical services such as Certificates of Origin, membership gives you so much back. You even get discounts on everyday business requirements, from fuel to benefit schemes. Ask us for details, or see our Member Benefits page.