Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a formula that calculated what makes a company successful over the long term?
Business owners are understandably tied to the numbers, but every business is different.
Quantitative measures of business health like ROA and working capital are useful– to a certain point.
But sometimes, the things you can’t measure are the best signs of a successful business.
How Do You Know if Your Business is Successful?
Here’s a look at some non-numerical indicators that your company will be successful over the long term.
1. You feel like a total novice.
These days, there’s a lot of pressure for business owners to become “thought leaders” in their fields.
While being known in your industry can spur growth, it’s important to remember that the best leaders start as followers.
After all, how can you know what kind of boss you want to be until you’ve had both good and bad ones?
How can you know what you want to change until you have a deep understanding of what’s normal?
If you feel like you’re learning new information every day, you’re developing expertise in your niche– and that’s a good indicator your business is on track to be successful.
2. When you look back, your business is different from day one.
American culture tends to celebrate big, disruptive changes.
We drool over the “unicorn” companies that revolutionize an industry overnight–
But with startups, the unicorn model is the exception, not the rule.
The Japanese have traditionally taken a different approach, aiming for gradual, ongoing changes that lead to constant improvement.
This principle, known as “kaizen,” is behind the slightly-better cars and running shoes you see released every year from Japanese manufacturers.
If you’re constantly tweaking processes and practices to make your business run more smoothly, you may never feel like you’re evolving.
But consider where you were a year ago:
If it’s markedly different from where you are today, you’re moving in the right direction.
Add kaizen principles consciously, and you’re setting your business up for success in the long term.
3. You’re “comfortably uncomfortable.”
Runners call this a “tempo” pace…
It’s not an all-out sprint, but it’s also not a casual jog.
If your business is growing, the problems you have to solve will grow too.
But the longer you operate at a comfortably uncomfortable pace, (and become comfortable being uncomfortable like the Navy SEALS) tackling these problems will become normal.
Essentially, you’re building endurance for doing the hard stuff.
Every day, you’re able to do slightly harder (read: more profitable) work to further drive your business success.
4. You’re excited to get to work every day.
When I taught English 101 as a graduate student, they told me that if I was ever bored with a lesson, my students would be doubly bored.
It’s excellent advice, and it applies to business owners too.
Nobody will ever care more about your business than you.
If you’re not excited to dive into work every morning, you can bet your employees aren’t either– and your customers are likely not inspired either.
There’s no single solution for rekindling a lost flame, but if running your business feels like a drag, take the time to do some soul searching to figure out why.
Then get to work making the changes that will get you pumped up again.
5. You’re not doing it all by yourself.
Americans have a tendency to glamorize people who can “do it all” on their own, but I consider this a major downside of our love for independence.
When you first launch your business, you have to do everything yourself: sales calls, invoices, taxes, order fulfillment, web design–
Oh, and don’t forget to actually perform whatever service or make whatever product you’re selling.
But here’s the truth:
One-person shops aren’t scalable.
The art of delegation is one of the hardest and most important skills to master as a business owner because it requires trusting other people with the business you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
One of the clearest signs a business will succeed is that the owner is okay with handing off non-core tasks.
6. Your network is growing.
Whether we’re talking social media or offline, an expanding network is an excellent growth indicator for two major reasons:
First, it’s easier to sell to someone you know than someone you don’t. There’s no secret– people buy from those they know, like, and trust.
And secondly, word-of-mouth marketing is incredibly powerful.
As you meet more people, you expand your business footprint and increase the chances that you’ll bring on new clients at a very low cost.
Note: Even if networking doesn’t come easily to you, it’s worthwhile to make the effort and get out there!
7. You’re getting spam emails from people trying to sell you services.
Sure, it’s annoying to see yet another cookie-cutter email from someone pitching off-brand SEO.
But think about it this way:
If you’re getting solicitations, someone out there believes there’s a good chance your business will pay for these services.
Meaning that, by someone’s objective measures, you are running a legitimate and growing business.
8. You’re receiving (and responding to) customer complaints.
Surprised? Don’t be.
When customers complain, it means they’re engaged enough in what you’re doing to say something about it.
In fact, customer complaints are a valuable opportunity to find out how your product or service is falling short– and to make it better.
In a best-case scenario, you’ll respond quickly to complaints with a request for details.
You’ll follow up with the customer as you attempt to solve whatever problem she experienced.
Done well, these interactions can actually turn complainers into your biggest advocates.
9. Your most skeptical family member asks you for advice.
Families and close friends are often the last to realize we’ve made it.
So here’s a surefire sign you’re on the path to success:
Your cynical Uncle (who still teases you about the time you used too much mayonnaise and ruined the deviled eggs; you were eleven for crying out loud) asks how you handle change requests from difficult clients…
Try not to gloat too much as you answer.
Keep in mind: If you can impress your family, you’re definitely going the right way.