Anyone can start a business.

Fill out a few forms. Get the necessary permits or licenses. Advertise in some way, shape, or form.

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Running a successful business, though, is an entirely different story.

For example, in the United States roughly 9% of businesses both new and old close each year. On the flip side, only 8% are opened. We're losing more than we're gaining for the first time since those statistics have been tracked, and the crossover coincided with the recession of 2007-2009.

business closings hold steady while business startups decline

Source: Capterra

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the overall number of business applications began to recover in late 2009 and has been trending up for the past ten years. That's good.

But, the census data shows the number of planned wages (WBA) and high-propensity (HBA) business applications have not shown the same level of bounce-back. That's not so good.

The failure rate for new businesses is somewhere around half, with about 50% calling it quits after the first five years.

Not a great stat, but it does mean that 50% are surviving past the five-year mark. The outlook depends on how you view the proverbial glass.

The Small Business Administration says that almost 80% of new businesses make it through their first 12 months. Although that might surprise you, it's definitely a much better statistic to focus on.

The specific number changes depending on the industry. Some, like healthcare and social assistance, have a much higher-than-average survival rate. Others, like construction and transportation, have rates that are lower.

Why Businesses Fail

There are, of course, a myriad of reasons why a business might fail. According to research, though, there are a few that are more common than others:

  • No need: A great service or product will get you nowhere if there's zero need for it. Due diligence and market research are essential in the early stages.
  • No money: Launching and building a business is expensive. You need capital, investments, loans, and/or revenue to get you through the lean times.
  • The wrong people: The most successful business owners and entrepreneurs know to surround themselves with people smarter than them. You need a strong team.
  • Too much competition: If the market is already saturated, and there are already plenty of established providers, you're fighting an uphill battle.
  • Pricing: If your prices are too high and you limit your customer base. If they're too low and you're not pulling in enough revenue to stay afloat. It's a very, very fine line.

But that's not all. there are plenty of other reasons, like bad location, poor business plan, ineffective marketing, expanding too fast, and so on.

If you go into business hoping for the best, you're most likely going to fail. It's harsh, but true. You have to actively work to make a business successful. You need to research, study, and learn.

And you need to look to the pros for the tips and tricks that have helped them succeed before you.

You have to start at the beginning. The old adage that you must look before you leap applies not just to your business (i.e., market research, professional goals, buyer personas) but also to you personally.

1. Be clear about what you want.

Don't underestimate the importance of conducting careful, detailed market research.

You need concrete data on your ideal customers, the existing competition, expected growth and demand, market trends, and more. These types of insights are invaluable and help you make informed business decisions and goals.

And you need to be clear on the 4 Ps: product, price, promotion, and place. They can guide the creation of your market research, marketing plan, and customer personas, and serve as a fantastic jumping-off point if you're not sure where to begin.

The 4Ps of the Marketing Mix Product Price Place and Promotion

Source: E Jerome McCarthy | Image created using Canva.

The 4 Ps of the marketing mix are evolving, and you might want to explore the 8 Ps that more accurately reflect modern marketing. They include product, price, place, promotion, people, process, physical evidence, and performance.

With business goals and research in hand, don't forget to think about what you want personally, too. There's a reason why airlines instruct us to place our own oxygen mask on before helping others: if we don't take care of ourselves, we can't take care of someone else.

Likewise, if you don't have personal goals and plans for your own mental health, you won't be as effective in running your business. Period.

2. Write it down.

Whether it's your business plan, professional goals, workflows, or anything else, it needs to be written down somewhere and shared with all stakeholders.

In the digital age, this is easier than ever before. A living document stored in the cloud and accessible to everyone not only allows for consistency and collaboration, but for evolution over time. Changes can be made, saved, and shared automatically.

Need help? Look online. There are guides, how-tos, templates, formats, and frameworks a-plenty.

However, the key here is to write it all down. It's not enough to simply set goals and processes. Research reveals that we are actually more likely to achieve and remember them when we write them down. We learn better when we create rather than just read.

Make a plan. Set goals. Create workflows. And write them down.

3. Become a better leader.

Before anything else, develop the leadership qualities necessary to build your business's long-term vision. Great leaders exhibit integrity, accountability, empathy, humility, vision, influence, and organizational direction to drive ideas to completion.

Even as a new business owner with no other employees, you are responsible for leading your business to success. As you (hopefully) grow and others come on board, that becomes increasingly important.

Do you have the necessary skill set of a leader? If not, get it. If so, hone it.

4. Build your team.

Don't just build any team -- build a superteam.

As budget and demand allow, surround yourself with experts in things that you are not. Ask for input and feedback from them. Involve them in decisions that will impact them directly and indirectly to foster greater investment in what you're building, and to make better, more informed decisions together. When you win, you all win.

But that's not all. "It's important to develop a clear onboarding strategy for employees and a system for measuring results," says Nico Prins of Launch Space. "Putting systems in place will help as you scale the business, especially if you're expanding quickly, and reduce the amount of time and work associated in dealing with inevitable staff turnover."

The number-one mistake entrepreneurs make is trying to do too much. Don't try and do everything yourself. No matter your stage or size, there are low-cost and accessible ways to get some things off of your plate.

"Outsource to experts and pay by the hour when you can't afford or don't need full-time staffing for a skill set," suggests Giles Thomas of Whole Design Studios. "Productized services are the simplest thing to buy as you see what you get up front and don't get any nasty bill-by-the-hour invoices at month's end."

Many new businesses neglect to take care of their employees -- and what the business leaders don't realize is that the company culture is created when the company is still new.

Successful business owners and leaders delegate to employees, freelancers, and consultants as necessary. This lightens the load on full-time employees and lets you and your team focus on your specific areas of expertise.

5. Develop your toolkit.

The number of apps, products, and SaaS solutions available is growing exponentially. Identify and use those tools that can help you optimize your business.

Thanks to the ever-decreasing cost of technology, even small businesses have all the tools they need at their fingertips. But choosing the right ones can be challenging. According to Manvi Agarwal of SocialPilot, there are a few things you should consider when deciding which tool is the 'right one':

  • Zero in on the processes you want to use each tool for.
  • See how each one of those tools can make that process easier or more efficient.
  • While it might be tempting to go for an all-in-one tool, it's better to choose one that performs a very specific task.
  • Compare how much value the tool is providing vs. the amount it will cost you.
  • Ensure the tool is scalable – that it grows along with your business and can meet your business's changing needs.

Speaking of which …

6. Spread your message.

It's all about getting the right message to the right people at the right time.

And in 2019, that means embracing the digital revolution in both your communication and marketing. Where are your customers? Online. How do they prefer communicating and engaging with businesses and others? Digitally.

Here are the most common methods for communicating with potential customers:

It's more important than ever to be active in omnichannel marketing if you want to attract prospects and keep customers happy.

You need to integrate the various channels used by modern consumers into one seamless experience.

omnichannel marketing graphic

Source: G2 Crowd

They want to browse, connect, engage, purchase, communicate, and advocate on their terms and in their preferred ways. And if you don't provide that for them, they'll find someone else who will.

Tips for a Successful Business

Ready to take it to the next level? Try these battle-tested tips from the pros.

1. Focus on the customer experience.

The customer experience (CX) is poised to become the key differentiator in the next year or so, if it hasn't already, more than the price, and more than the product itself.

Customer experience is defined as the impression you leave with your customer. And this impacts their perception of your brand across each stage and touchpoint of the customer journey.

And customers want and expect a great experience from beginning to end. 86% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for it, 73% list it as an important factor in any purchase decision, and 65% say it's more influential than amazing advertising.

customers highly value great customer experiences

Source: SuperOffice

Are you ready to provide that experience? Are you over-delivering on your CX? You need to be.

2. Remember to listen.

You're spoiled for choice when it comes to listening to and gathering feedback. You can engage in social listening, conduct surveys, gather data on customer sentiment via net promoter score (NPS), or collect feedback by calling or emailing and simply asking.

People are talking about you and your brand whether you ask them to or not. Are you listening and considering what they're saying?

Listen to the market and your customers. Adapt and be flexible, but don't waver on your core values, beliefs, and objectives.

"As the founder of an indie startup, I've come to embrace a few core values," says Eugene Woo, CEO of Venngage. "This includes realizing our mission over a long period of time instead of a quick exit, creating value for our customers by helping them solve real problems, being responsible for our own financial sustainability, scaling at our own pace and doing the right thing over 'it's just business.' This philosophy has guided every aspect of my decision-making process as I've made Venngage into an independent, growing and profitable business over the past four years."

3. Cultivate trust.

The very foundation of your business is built on trust with your customers. 91% of consumers report they are more likely to buy from a brand they trust. To develop that, make sure your business is available above and beyond their minimum expectations, build a loyal community, and make sure your product does exactly what you say it does.

4. Develop your platform.

Successful businesses develop a primary platform to share their message to their audience.

You can certainly focus on getting new customers through Facebook, email marketing, digital ads, and search engines, but strong businesses condense their strategy down to a primary platform that they own.

A new company's branding, design, tone, and personality all need to be aligned across every marketing channel and point to a newly-created website. Additionally, having your own website gives you a channel that you own to promote your content. High-quality, valuable content drives traffic and leads to you.

Just make sure that content is solving an existing problem or itch. "One way to validate that people are looking for solutions to their 'problems' is through keyword research," says Nathan Gotch of Gotch SEO. "You can find the exact keywords your prospective customers are using with tools like UberSuggest or the Google Keyword Planner. You then need to create content around the keywords you find."

But it doesn't stop there. "Content is also a valuable sales tool," says Valerie Turgeon of Brandpoint. "While a strong sales team is essential for closing the deal, buyers are more likely to self-educate and engage with digital content before conversing with sales. According to Forrester research, 68% of B2B buyers have expressed a 'don't call us, we'll call you' preference. A content strategy will help guide your content creation and distribution efforts to get in front of buyers first and help capture leads for your sales team."

Furthermore, having an effective content marketing strategy is one of the best ways to stand out in today's crowded online marketplace, according to marketing specialist Isaac Justesen of Constant Content. "But consistently creating high-quality content isn't easy," he says. "That's why many successful businesses outsource content creation instead."

5. Refine your process.

Perfect your sales process and scale your efforts with the right team and software to get more done with less.

Instead of disparate platforms, spreadsheets, and email tools, condense your sales process into one distinct CRM and sales platform. By leveraging a combination of the right sales tools, you can save hours of time every week and you could increase your close rate by 28%.

The right tools make you better able to meet and exceed customer expectations. For example, HubSpot research indicates that 82% of customers rate an "immediate" response as important or very important when they have a marketing or sales question, and 90% expect an instant reaction in the case of customer service questions.

To meet these expectations, give your digital visitors the ability to get in touch with you within seconds by implementing a callback solution like CallPage. This tool, implemented on your web page, encourages an immediate conversation and connects a potential client with a consultant in 28 seconds, having a direct, positive influence on conversion rate and sales results. And live chat software can help address the need for an immediate response.

6. Create a fantastic Human Resources team.

Businesses often overlook the power that culture and employee engagement can have on all fronts of the company, from recruiting to exit interviews.

"Good HR teamed with an arsenal of great tools can change your company for the better," says Ali Anderson of BambooHR. "Happy, engaged employees do great work, and company growth will quickly follow."

According to Anderson:

  • When companies invest in their training and onboarding processes, they'll find their employees are more prepared to do great work and take on the challenges of the business.
  • Taking steps to measure and improve employee engagement and employee net promoter scores can increase productivity, improve employee sentiment, and make your employees more likely to recommend your business to their friends.
  • Monthly or quarterly performance discussions build team camaraderie and improve employee mental health. These meetings can also create an environment of trust, which leads to greater innovation.

Small businesses can attract rare candidates by having a positive culture, a strong career track, and well-trained, unbiased recruiters. "A supportive culture and a strong career track are key to attracting the best of the best," agrees Taylor Dumouchel of Peak Sales Recruiting. "Top professionals seek respect, not just within their immediate teams, but throughout an organization; they want to work for companies that value what they do. In order to recruit top talent, executives need to highlight their positive and supportive culture and underscore how they recognize that their positions are a part of the major drivers for company growth."

Good HR teams with an arsenal of great tools can change your company for the better. Happy, engaged employees do great work, and company growth will quickly follow.

7. Take notes.

Keep a detailed list of everything you do, and break it all down into simple steps. What tasks and activities can you outsource or delegate without sacrificing quality? Do so.

This will allow you to focus on the 20% that delivers 80% of your results, as explained by the Pareto Principle. "Focus on workflows, not work," suggests Gal Dubinski of Poptin. "The moment your business is based on repeatable pattern activities, you'll have more time for growth."

8. Get out of the office.

Almost everything we do can be done online, so it's tempting to just hide out behind your computer screen. But don't forget to get out of the office from time to time. Engaging in personal, face-to-face communication, attending events, and networking are all critical parts of business success.

Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week. -Lori Greiner

Starting a business is easy.

But running a successful one takes time, effort, commitment, and a willingness to constantly learn from others and improve. Looking for more? Learn how to become an entrepreneur next.

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Originally published Mar 15, 2019 8:30:00 AM, updated July 16 2019

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Entrepreneurship