How Long Does It Take for a Small Business to Be Successful?

How Long Does It Take for a Small Business to Be Successful?

Most small businesses take at least 2 to 3 years to be profitable and become truly successful once they’ve hit the 7 to 10 year mark. Most small businesses take years to be successful, despite the overnight success of companies like Facebook. Statistics show that successful small businesses are built over years, not months, according to Forbes.

Small businesses have fairly predictable patterns of growth in their early years, according to Startups.co. They face similar challenges and successes. Unfortunately, the overnight success of businesses like Uber are the exception to the rule. It’s also important to note that success means different things to different owners.

Below, we’ll look at the first few years and what markers of success a small business may find in each one.

Year One

Though year one is full of financial struggle as you try to get your startup off the ground, it can be full of small successes as well and rewarding experiences.

Owners can celebrate all the hallmarks of starting a new business like incorporating, launching a website or getting some media attention. Growing your client list and realizing you can pay your personal bills thanks to your startup are other exciting successes you can celebrate in your first year, according to Entrepreneur.

Still, these initials successes aren’t necessarily signs your business will succeed over the next few years. It does mean that you’re starting off well. And it’s important to note too that about 20 percent of small businesses fail in their first year. So if you made it through year one, that’s reason to celebrate alone.

Year Two

Year two is when the initial successes of year one start to pale in the face of cash concerns. Your savings are probably tapped, your credit card might be maxed out and owners will start to have to borrow more, creating stress around mounting debt.

This is the year when small business owners realize that their early customers aren’t necessarily long-term customers. And that successfully starting a business isn’t the same as running a business that’s successful for the long haul.

Success in year two becomes about hitting growth milestones—even small ones. If your business is growing, you’re on the road to building a viable company, according to Entrepreneur. Year two is when you should see your client list really expanding.

Year Three

Success at this point may mean breaking even or making a profit. That said, a fully profitable and sustainable business is probably another two to three years in the distance.

At this point, success may be knowing you have a great business idea and that you’re willing to push on for the next couple of years to see it reach fruition.

Or success might mean knowing either your business isn’t sustainable or that you’re not willing to continue working at such a gruelling pace—and that’s okay. If closing your business is the best decision for you, then that’s just fine. A healthy long-term business is never a guarantee for even the fastest growing companies.

If you do choose to hang in there, success in year three is definitely fine-tuning all areas of your business, according to Inc.. Figure out what areas of your business you can grow, recruit a solid team, plan for risk, work on your leadership skills and dive deep into your numbers to see what products or clients are driving your business and where you can cut expenses.

Year Four +

An “overnight success” is usually a company that’s just being discovered after year four. Many businesses that are called an overnight success have actually been around for about 10 years, according to Inc..

Instant success is a miracle not a rule of thumb and small businesses shouldn’t look at them as models of growth. It’s more reasonable to expect lots of mistakes and tiny steps forward, or as Forbes puts it, “failing forward.”

At year four and beyond, a small business can look for the following markers of success:

  • Sharper brand positioning
  • Effective marketing
  • More efficient management team
  • Refined process of customer acquisition
  • Better product development
  • Stronger profit margins
  • Figuring out what customers actually want

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