Skip to main content

I recently wrote about UK “unicorns” -successful start-ups that have reached a valuation of US$1 billion or more – demonstrating how British entrepreneurs are finding mythical levels of success in a whole range of sectors. And what inspiring stories those are.

Growth of that order is, of course, scarce, and most entrepreneurs will be aiming for success of a far more modest level. One should always aim for the stars, but most people will be thrilled to achieve long-term financial security for themselves 

With our Asian office based in Vietnam, I take a particular interest in the Vietnamese and Asian markets. The Vietnamese Government has set out to create a vibrant “start-up nation” and wants to see a million new enterprises born by 2022. 

The entrepreneurial spirit is remarkably strong in Việt Nam, and I would be delighted to see it nurturing unicorns of its own. However, the reality (at least for the present) is that Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are likely to form the bulk of these start-ups and prove the engine of job creation and Việt Nam’s further economic growth.

The principles for growing a successful business remain largely the same, irrespective of magnitude, region and, indeed, sector. For entrepreneurs, there is always something to learn from success stories of any kind, however.

My specialism is in Mergers and Acquisitions, and I have learnt an incredible amount from myriad types of companies. Often a fresh perspective is invaluable, and you should always share insights where you can. So, here are the seven secrets of successful start-ups I always try to convey to my fellow entrepreneurs.

1. Know your market, and constantly eye your competitors.

You may have a great idea, but it may be that others have had similar (or will do). Keep a constant eye on the competitive landscape to ensure you keep up with new developments. Know what has worked and what has not for others in your market.

2. Keep your customer central.

The customer makes or breaks your business, so you must keep them central to everything you do, however, fast your business grows. Larger firms should do regular market research and test new products/services with real clients extensively. Smaller enterprises should enlist help from wherever they can (family and friends are helpful here!). Listen to any customer feedback you get. It is gold to a growing business.

3. Cultivate candid contributors

It is vital to have as many experienced, honest viewpoints as possible as your business evolves – people who will tell you how it is, even if you don’t necessarily want to hear it. Larger companies should look to employ non-executive directors to help steer their business. Still, even smaller ones can seek regular input from seasoned business people in more informal ways, so get networking!

4. Keep the passion alive

The luckiest (and often most successful) businesspeople have chosen to start businesses in sectors they genuinely have a passion for. This ensures that they do see gaps in the market and are sustained with innate enthusiasm when things get tough (as they always will in growing a business). Stoke your passion by watching competitors and giving back to the community through your business where you can. Also, make sure to reward yourself for your efforts and take time for yourself – this is very easy to forget.

5. Keep control, but not too much.

At first, you need to be involved in every decision to lay the right foundations for your business, and you should undoubtedly remain “captain of the ship” as it grows. However, no one can have responsibility for every single thing in a business of any appreciable size, so find the right people to help – and then let them.

6. Nurture relationships

Strong relationships – with customers, staff, suppliers, authorities – are the foundation of any business, so nurture these by “living your brand” in everything you do. Also, maintain a good relationship with the person who started the company (you!) and don’t stray too far from your vision.

7. Stick to the plan, but not too rigidly

You should never compromise on your vision for the business or your values. But while you should formulate a strong business plan, you must be open to changing it as circumstances dictate. Reacquaint yourself – and any staff – with your “mission” regularly, but also look for signals that your past roadmap is taking you slightly off course.

These are, of course, just a few of the critical precepts I have picked up over the years, and I look forward to sharing more with readers of this column. It would be great to hear from entrepreneurial readers what their “secrets of success” are, and perhaps what the big pitfalls are to avoid also. Please get in touch with your business stories. 

HSP Consulting – Brian Spence