95% of small businesses fail in the first five years – don’t let yours be one

A tailor at a market in Zambia.

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As most entrepreneurs are aware, the effort required to turn an idea, product or service into a groundbreaking and lasting success is nothing short of herculean.

The steps involved are, of course, numerous and complex: refining the concept, defining the market, creating the business plan, conducting the market research, selling the plan to investors, lining up vendors, partners, and suppliers – and that is all before you have determined what kind of staffing needs you may have down the road, or how you will handle the logistics of delivering your product or service to directly to your audience.

It is no surprise, then, that a typical workweek for an entrepreneur exceeds 52 hours, according to a UK survey, and is likely much longer, if you believe what some entrepreneurs have to say. The fact is, however, launching a business is about more than just the time you are willing to give.

What makes a successful entrepreneur and a winning business concept? It may come down to some principles that many entrepreneurs say are central to every start-up effort: passion for the idea, an ability to communicate well, an obsession with research and the customer experience, and a willingness to think big. Here are some key ideas for today’s entrepreneur.

Be on a mission, and believe in it

The best new companies are born from a belief or concept that is held passionately by the entrepreneur in charge. If you want to drive your business forward, you need to have the right motivation, and the right sense of purpose in what you are doing.

Many top entrepreneurs have noted that they are not spurred solely by the idea of success for its own sake, but instead by the vision of bringing their ideas to life.

Explain yourself well

To launch and sustain your mission, you need a succinct and powerful mission statement. While it is an essential foundation for your marketing efforts, the mission statement is also a launchpad for communicating with investors and partners. If you can’t succinctly explain what your business does, you’ll have trouble getting anyone to listen.

Ultimately, it is important to think of the mission statement not as a formulaic requirement, but as an inspired representation of what your company can achieve.

Do the research

Understanding the market for your product or service is essential for planning and building your business. That may sound obvious, but far too many small businesses neglect to conduct formal market research; far too many do not have a grasp on the real numbers behind their ideas; and far too many lack an accurate understanding of the costs involved in the operational side of the business.

To gain deep insight into the potential demand for your product or services and the attendant pricing, logistics costs and other operational costs, it is wise to pursue both primary and secondary market research. That means both direct surveys of potential customers as well as research gathered from private and governmental sources, including industry associations.

Be customer-focused from day one

Your research should tell you what your customers really want – but you need to make sure your marketing, delivery strategy and customer care are focused on making the right impression and engaging them in your brand.

Before you even reach your first customers (or for those existing small businesses, your next customers), you should have a plan in place to keep them coming back.

Think big

For small businesses and start-ups today, the potential field of customers is not local – it’s global.

Advances in logistics and technology (think e-commerce) have shifted the paradigm, and successful entrepreneurs understand that their possible marketplace is the world. To gain insight into global markets and customs and the border clearance process, we’ve compiled useful resources in this DHL Expressed post.

John Fox is Sr. Vice President and Western Area General Manager at DHL USA. This article was first published on the DHL Expressed blog.