How to Run a Successful Small Business (SME) in 12 Steps

By Benedict Chidiele

Discover how you can start and run a successful small business enterprise

One of the biggest challenges is the fear of failing. You’ve come to appreciate the regularity of salaries and wages and then you think, “What if I don’t make it quick enough?” “What if it takes me to where I didn’t want to be?” “How would I cope with the day to day financial demands if I stopped paid employment to work for myself?” “How am I sure I would succeed in my own business in the first place?”Sometimes in most employees life you get frustrated at the hustle and bustle and boring regularity of paid employment. You just want to take initiatives and responsibilities that would bring about a successful enterprise – your enterprise. You dream of being your own boss. But then, it’s one thing to dream, but another to see such dreams to reality.

Truth is: Being a business owner comes with challenges unique to the size and function of the business. The small business owner, for example, has to handle all the challenges of selling, delivering, financing, managing and growing the business with little or no staff, while trying to make it a success all at the same time. This can often prove a daunting task. But it is not altogether unachievable.

The most important of all is to retain the interest of all stakeholders like customers, partners, vendors, your best staff and team to build momentum in a short span of time. This takes vision. It also takes courage and belief – belief in your ability to steer your ship to success. No one ever said it would be easy running a successful small business. But then when you get it right, the rewards can be hugely amazing and remarkably astonishing. And it should interest you to know that most big, successful and legendary businesses today started off as small businesses.

Therefore, to achieve success in the running of a small business, here are few tips on how to run a small business that can make these challenges easier to handle and make for a successful business venture.

Step #1: Have a clear vision of what you intend to do and the business you wish to run.

Vision is a key hallmark of success principles in business and other aspect of life. Vision gives you a vivid picture of what you want to accomplish. It makes you see the end from the beginning. This picture will illuminate and motivate your mind throughout the course of your business journey. By having a clear vision for your business, the mission takes shape and business objectives and goals emerge.

Step #2: Define clearly what you sell and also to whom you sell or render service

Defining what your business does from the word GO, as you set out into the business world, is always one of (if not) the most important step to running a successful business. If you know what you are in business to do, why you are in that business and understand clearly how to do the business, then it becomes a whole lot easier to manage your company going forward. In addition, this enables you to explain your business clearly, without ambiguity, to investors or partners when the need arises.

Step #3: Source for funds security and sustainability

Running a small business requires financial backbone, prudence and efficiency. One way you can do this is to explore all available financial options open to you. These include family, friends, business associates, investors, banks, etc. Banks today have been known to offer small business owners opportunities for building businesses. However, choosing the right bank for your business’ financial plan and support is vital as not all banks in the country are big on SMEs. Nevertheless, some have great platforms that help businesses, especially SMEs, flourish (e.g. Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank, to name a few). A number of financial institutions offer accounts with low fees, loans with discounted rates or free direct deposit programs for small business account holders. Banking with the right institution that gives you the best deals will help you stretch every naira and make for financial prudence in the way you run your venture and manage the financial side or your business.

Step #4: Get business information and technical input from Small Business Development Consultant(s) around your area for professional business development guidance and advice

Today, a number of businesses and professionals give expert business advice and services at a token fee for individuals and groups wanting to go into new businesses or diversify their existing businesses into new areas or line of products and/or services. These services range from legal advice and consultation, to business development and strategies, as well as recruitment and management of staff from business psychologists, and so on. These professionals provide help and sound business support and solutions services during all stages of the business life cycle. They can help you create a powerful business plan to approach a lender or investor with, help with information and advice on legal documentation and business name registration, marketing and sales strategies, and also provide temp recruitment services, to name a few. Their business support and development services also helps your budding business make the right business calls that won’t only serve you in the immediate and short term, but would strategically assist in positioning you for business success for the long haul.

Step #5: Create a workable business and marketing plan for your SME

One of the keys to running a small business enterprise is having a detailed and workable business plan that outlines your objectives, goals, target market and projected growth. In addition to having a concrete business plan, ensure that you work out a detailed business marketing plan to go with it. In the business plan, endeavour to carefully outline your finances so you know what sales numbers you need to meet in order to break even along with specific goals you have for the growth or improvement of the business. Suffice it to say here that every small and medium scale business (including the larger enterprises) needs a functional marketing plan that is properly geared to meet the target market and generate sales. Without this, you might rethink why you are in business in the first place.

Step #6: Go ahead and start a business

Once you have established the vision and mission of the company, defined clearly what type of products and services your business wants to offer, contacted your financial sources for funding and secured your business funds, consulted business professionals for necessary legal and business strategy building aspects such as registration, documentation and business structure and processes building, and then finally you have built a creative and detailed business and business marketing plan to drive and carry the business, it is now the time to start! Don’t waste another moment idling and wishing. Just start!

Step #7: Build a strong brand identity that will stand the test of time

Actually, branding of your business should start the very moment you articulate and conceptualize the business idea. At that very point your branding has begun. Branding your business involves creatively building a business identity that would appeal to the target market you wish to sell to. This identity building is a never ending process. The identity begins with the choice of business name, the type of business you engage in; to the personality you want your business to have. Remember that people approach and relate to and with you in relation to the type of personality you exhibit. Same is true with businesses. Be very creative and innovative with your graphic designs, business colours, taglines and business logos and other communications. Everything must be organized and attractive to the customer. Overall, ensure you tailor the personality of your business brand to the target consumers for easy identification. That way, you’d ensure an emotional attachment with your customers that would bring about more sales and continued business patronage.

Step #8: Prioritize on making profit

It’s amazing how many times people start up business enterprises and then forget how to make profit. It is a known rule in economics that the chief aim in business is to make profit. When that is no longer the case, it becomes difficult to sustain or grow business. Therefore, the moment you set out in business, if you truly want to be successful, you must understand money, and that the golden rule of money is to make sure more comes in than goes out. Applied to your business, more money should come in than should go out. It’s that simple. However, many individuals and companies just don’t seem to understand how important this basic rule is to businesses. More money has to come in than goes out, I have to repeat. When you do this, you ensure that the accrued profit does two things for your business:

  • There is enough to re-invest in the business.
  • There is enough to make you feel it is all worth it going into business.

In addition, prioritizing profit making also involves prioritizing cost management. Ensure therefore, that you run an effective cost management system in your business that minimizes waste and maximizes productivity and profitability. Increasing cost of doing business should be highly limited. And where you can’t seem to get it right yourself, hire or consult an accounting professional to help you keep your books in order and manage your finances properly and professionally to ensure your profit stays profit to bring in still more profit!

Step #9: Network and connect with other businesses and business minded individuals as much as possible

To grow your business for a wider reach and approachability, ensure you network with other local small businesses and small business owners. Connect with them on overall business vision and shared business strategies and opportunities. Attend regular business events in your area. These are great opportunities and avenues for small businesses to come together, rub minds and share business ideas and experiences. Also, you may join small business associations and participate in local events to raise awareness of your business. Participate in business functions around your local government area or state so potential clients and investors will be aware of the services you render and the products you offer. The advantages of such meetings and events are massive when adequately utilized to promote your business and its brand.

Step #10: Never leave a single customer dissatisfied

It may be very difficult to keep every one of your customers happy. That is a business fact. But you must try to keep every one of your customers satisfied. That should be your business reality. Having a pro-customer orientation – whether you run your small business alone or have employees working for you – is as vital a decision as the one when you decided to go into running a business in the first place. There can be no business without customers. And the more customers you have patronising your business, the more the chances of you making a profit from your business and actually building something successful and wonderful. To you, every customer should be worth $1million or N200 million or more. Always imagine and equate losing that single customer to losing over 200 million naira in possible business, as when you keep that customer happy and they keep coming back, in his or her lifetime, that customer may have spent a million dollar or more in your products and/or services. Therefore, your business must emphasis on customer satisfaction through effective customer service and relation. Make use of positive and negative feedbacks from customers to help you improve the quality and desirability of your products and/or services.

Step #11: Advertise your business

No matter how good or of great quality the products and/or services of your business is, if your target market do not know about them or are not motivated to patronise them, then there is no point being in business in the first place. To run a successful small or medium scale business enterprise, you must advertise and promote such enterprise to the market that needs what you offer. In today’s modern business world, opportunities abound to advertise your brand on a cheap through a lot of social networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, and so on. Blogging about your business is also not out of the question if you know how to blog. Creating fliers, handbills, catalogues, and giving out freebies are also great means of advertising and promoting your SME business.

Step #12: Be Passionate about your business and commit to continuous improvement

Never settle for less. Always go for more. Renounce average. Beware of comfort. Avoid complacency. Live by belief. Every day you should want your business to be in a better position than it was yesterday. This mindset should permeate through you to your staff. Even when hiring, ensure you focus on those you can do more, bring more, create more, live more, give more, sacrifice more, believe more, support more, relate more and accomplish more. Emphasis should be on more, more and more. And by more I mean constant improvement, never giving room for stagnation and redundancy. Strive to be greater than you are right every moment and engender such philosophy on your staff and everyone associated with you and your business. Remember, most of the iconic businesses you see today like Coca Cola, Apple, etc. didn’t start big. In fact, most of the Fortune 500 companies started small. But they made it to the top because they keep going and keep improving and wanting to be better. They still do today, and some of them are over a century old. You too can do it, if you try and believe you can!

Remember, running a successful small business may be tasking and at times just plain frustrating, but the eventual rewards of running a business successfully are too numerous to mention. The benefits you reap ultimately will be boundless. And the financial rewards? Well, you may just turn out to be the next Aliko Dangote or Bill Gates!

The author, Benedict Chidiele, is a trained Psychologist, writer, editor and poet, and has the honour of being among Top 100 Leadership Experts to Follow on Twitter 2015. He writes and speaks on Leadership, Relationship, Branding and Business. You can reach Benedict Chidiele on +234 813 733 7618or at and You can also follow me on twitter @benchidiele or like my pages on