From side-hustlers to CEO's, successful businesses do this.

Jun 06 2019 | Contributing author Gene Marks, CPA, Columnist, Author, and Owner of Marks Group PC

I’ve been providing consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses for more than 20 years and have met thousands of successful CEOs and business owners.
While everyone’s business journey is different, I’ve noticed successful business leaders share several common traits, all of which can be easily adopted by any business owner. Here are the top ten tips for a successful business.

1. Learn accounting basics.

Lacking financial savvy can almost doom a business owner. Paul, an owner of a clothing company, recently shared how overlooking the books and the amount of debt he was accumulating almost put him out of business. Paul’s lesson is important for any aspiring business owner: know math. Learn accounting. Sure, it's not exciting. But the numbers are the very core of what you do. Knowing your margins, getting financial reports, being familiar with financial trends, and reading a cash flow statement are all things my most successful clients learn how to do.

2. Delegate tasks.

Mike is the managing partner of a large law firm. He's a busy man, but, in all the years I've known him, I've never seen him miss a Little League game, a school play, or a family occasion. Why? Because Mike isn’t afraid to delegate. He once told me that when something needs to get done, the first question that comes to his mind isn't "How can I get that done?" It's, "Who's going to do that for me?". It’s a powerful mindset and one successful leaders have. People who make money (and still have a personal life) are experts at managing the work other people are doing for them.

3. Think like a salesperson.

Alan is the president of a 100-person manufacturing business. During a downturn, when I asked what he would do if his business went under, he responded, "I'd start selling something new." Easy, right? Whether or not that's a good plan doesn't matter. What matters is that Alan is not just a business owner. He's a salesman. All great business owners are salespeople. They know they're ultimately the representative of their companies, their products, and their services. They may not love selling as much as other work, but they understand the importance of it and are usually better at it than anyone else.

4. Be open to change.

I met Aly when she was just starting to take over a restaurant-supply business. A few years in, she started noticing her customers needed serious upgrades to their technology. So, while running her core business, she started selling point-of-sale systems. Now her technology business is almost the same size as her supply business. Aly finds new, unexpected opportunities to grow her business. She's flexible and open to change. You’ll find that successful business owners share these characteristics. 

5. Treat your suppliers well.

"I hate it when people pay me late," Dana, the owner of an industrial equipment company, said to me. "I would never do that to my suppliers." She's not alone. The most successful business people treat their suppliers as well as they treat their customers. Dana relies on her suppliers to provide the parts for the industrial equipment her company sells. If a supplier delivers late, Dana’s orders will be late. "Why would I possibly want to upset someone so important to my business by not paying them on time?" she asks. Sometimes business owners think they're doing the right thing by bullying their suppliers - both on price and payment. But, remember, you’re only as successful as the people you work with.

6. Look ahead.

"Sure, I'm watching this year. But I'm really thinking about the next two years." That was Jason, a director at a growing non-profit organization. Smart business leaders delegate the day-to-day tasks to other people, and devote their thoughts and energies to other matters, like where the business is headed, where the money is going to come from, and where their money should be invested. They know many people – employees, customers, partners, suppliers, and their families – are depending on their business success and they need to keep the ship navigating in the right direction. They're looking at forecasts, projections, budgets, and just thinking ahead.

7. Pay attention to ROI.

It took me more than five years to finally sell Dan, a founder of a mid-sized industrial business, our $5,000 software. Was he a procrastinator? Absolutely not. In fact, during this time he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on processing equipment. Why? Because he knew that the equipment would provide a tangible return on investment within a year or two of buying. My software? That wasn't so guaranteed. Sure, you can make bets in your business. But the smartest executives don't do this too often - and they never bet the house. They analyze investments and carefully determine whether the ROI is worth the effort. "If I want to gamble, I'll go to Vegas," Dan says.  

8. Pay your staff well.

Liz runs a successful retail chain. One thing she's adamant about is paying her people well. Minimum wage? Forget it. Liz pays much more than that, regardless of age or experience. She gets it. People are a company's biggest asset. Recruiting and keeping the right talent makes a huge difference. Look at any successful business and you’ll quickly observe how their people stand out. There are many reasons for this, but let's be real and admit that compensation is a big one. That's why tech giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft – and great entrepreneurs like Liz – make it a point to pay their staff well and offer great benefits to their workers.

9. Find work-life balance.

Ron has been running a very successful contracting business for many years. Regardless of what you hear about small business owners burning the clock, he makes sure to take off a full month every year. "It's called balance," he once said. "We're not on this earth very long and your business isn't everything." Successful business owners and managers work hard to incorporate balance in their lives. They take vacations. They exercise. They make time for their families. They have "me" time. Getting away from the job and redirecting your mind to something completely unrelated – a book, a movie, a bike ride – is a powerful way to put things into perspective so that when you get back to business, you're refreshed and ready.

10. Read.

I don't profess to be as successful or smart as any of the people I mentioned above. But I will admit to one thing: I like to read. And when I read, I like to read history. Why? Because it helps me learn and stay optimistic. When I read how shopkeepers, restaurateurs, manufacturers, tradesmen, and other business owners – people like me – had the same issues and still managed to navigate their businesses in much tougher times than me, it gives me a little perspective.

Running a business? Starting a business? Take the time to learn from others. Talk with successful business owners, read all that you can, and ask questions.

This article represents the thoughts of the author, Gene Marks, owner of the Marks Group PC, and is not endorsed or verified by PayPal. PayPal does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared and is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, tax, financial, and legal advice before engaging in any transaction.

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