Every fledgling company dreams of being successful one day. But with only half of startups making it to the five-year mark, it’s never going to be an easy ride. Starting out with a good idea of what success looks like (and breaking it down into small achievable milestones) can actually give your business an advantage when it comes to survival. The tricky bit is deciding what success means for you.
When you think about what makes a company successful, what first springs to mind? Money? Sure, every business needs to make a profit to survive, but making money isn’t the only way to measure success.
At CookiesHQ, we judge our success by the strength of our team and our staying power.
We’ve been going for a while now, creating jobs and expanding our client base. Our team is growing gradually and we’re diversifying the skills we can offer to be more resilient. We’re not changing the world but we are making our community a better place.
But that’s just what works for us. Here are some of the other ways you can judge the growth of your startup.
Knowing how many new customers you’ve gained each week or month is a great way to judge success. Even better if you can work out what business actions (such as bringing out a new product or offering a discount) are best at bringing in new people.
But how do you judge what a good rate of growth looks like? You could try picking a handful of similar businesses in your sector and see how they’re doing. But you might also want to look at businesses with a similar ethos or structure to your own, even if the product is different.
Quality of products
Everyone wants to offer a good quality product or service. But it can be very hard to define what quality is. Your development team might define it according to how many bugs a piece of software has, or how stable it is. Your sales team might define it according to how many units they can sell – and if people keep coming back for more.
The important thing is to find a definition that works for you and an accurate means of measuring it – and try to improve on it continuously.
Ongoing, valuable relationships with customers are the key to long-term success. So how do you find out if your customers are satisfied?
Firstly, you need to work out what success looks like from your customers’ perspective. Talk to your them as much as possible, send out surveys and monitor any reviews you receive. Set up feedback loops, log issues as they arise and set aside time to fix them. When a problem is sorted, make sure you notify your customers so they know their feedback has been listened to and the service improved.
Market share is a useful measure of how competitive your business is. But too many people equate a larger market share with more profit and the two aren’t always linked. Because results are relative to your competition, marekt share is often more useful for seeing how your rivals are doing, rather than how your business is doing.
Gaining a bigger market share shouldn’t be an objective or measure of success in itself – just a good way of seeing if you’re on track.
Some companies chase awards aggressively, others couldn’t care less. While it sounds impressive to be able to stick ‘award-winning’ in front of your company’s name, you need to be sure you’re going after the right kind of awards. Some really are prestigious – others may be gained quite easily if you pay for a big table at the awards ceremony.
It’s always better to go for awards that are recognised and admired within your specialism, so you’re impressing the right people with the right prize.
You don’t have to be a charity or nonprofit to want to know you’re doing good in the world. Even if your goal is as simple as ‘making sure the local area has a decent printing service’, you’re still having a positive impact.
If doing lasting good is something that’s important to your business, you might want to consider ways you can contribute to your community outside of providing a product or service. You could offer trainee schemes to young people, donate a percentage of profits to a worthwhile cause, loan out space and equipment, or run events for other professionals in your network.
Measuring success according to how much positive change you’ve made in the world is arguably a far more important goal than profit.
Balanced work life
Not the most obvious measure of success, admittedly – but one we value highly at CookiesHQ. If your hours are running over, you’re not able to spend time with your family and you’re constantly stressed out, can you really say your business is successful?
It’s common in startup culture to work very long hours, but this makes burnout a very real risk. It also impacts on quality and how committed your team is to the business. Successful businesses focus on being as productive as possible within core hours – it’s about how you use your time rather than how long you spend working.
Opportunities to grow
You might be doing well now, but have you considered how well you’ll be doing in 2, 5 or 10 years’ time?
We learned about needing to continuously grow and diversify the hard way. In 2015, we were 8 people – by the start of 2016, we were 4. Our offering was focused on Ruby on Rails development and we weren’t keeping up with our clients’ demands. Since then we’ve become more well-rounded in our services. We’re still highly technical with backend and Ruby at our centre – but we can now offer frontend development, design and copywriting. And we’re all the stronger for it.
Ensuring that you can adapt quickly and grow with the times is crucial to long-term success. Even as you’re monitoring your current progress, you should keep one eye on future challenges and opportunities.
How am I doing?
Put it this way: if you’ve managed to crack most of these to the point where you’re satisfied and stable, your business is doing great. As you carve out your business’ identity, you’ll realise that some of these are more important to you than others. You’ll pursue some measures of success a great deal and others not at all.
The important thing to realise is that success comes in all shapes and forms. You might never dominate your field like Google, Amazon or Facebook. But if you can say your product helped people and your contribution will be remembered, that’s pretty good going.
Join us at Design/Build/Market: Successes and Failures for more insight into building a successful startup.