12 Signs That Your Business is Successful

How do small-business owners know whether they should keep the business open or close up shop?
February 21, 2012

Running a small business can be confusing. Many owners are just successful enough not to go out of business. The path forward is often unclear. Should they keep the business open in hopes of future success or close up shop?

What is that moment of truth that tells the small-business owner they will be successful? Here are 12 signs that you've got something going beyond survival.

1. Your company earns money while you're on vacation

Going on vacation and earning money at the same time means you have built a company, not just a job.

”I started my firm 10 years ago," said Paige Arnof-Fenn, of Mavens and Moguls. "For my 40th birthday, my husband and I celebrated by taking a month off. I honestly did not know if I would have a business to come back to. When I returned, I realized that my company had not just survived but thrived in my absence.”

2. You show up on the first page of search results

The new main streets for the digital age are search engines like Bing, Google and Yahoo. Some business owners feel that when they organically show up on the first page of their favorite search engine, they have made it.

“I knew my business would be successful when I made it to the first page on Google for a bunch of highly searched, highly profitable keywords," said Bill Elward of Castle Ink.

3. You change a customer’s life

Most small business owners seek to make a difference in the world through their businesses. When a customer writes to tell you the difference you have made in their life, it's one of those moments.

“Following the launch of our I-Ease eye drops to help relieve dry eye, a long-term sufferer of the condition called me to express her gratitude for our product," said Dr. Greg Maguire BioRegenerative Sciences. "[She said it] has changed her life.”

4. Clients find you

People you do not know and never contacted you are now buying from your company.

“My moment of truth was the first time I got an online sign-up from someone who had used our services…and hadn't spoken to anyone on our team," said Shawn, of Stratus Prep. "The idea that someone would make that kind of investment without any prior knowledge of the company convinced me that we were on the right track.”

5. You know you're not alone

When you finally realize that many other owners share the same problems as you.

"We had 200 women join my meetup for mom entrepreneurs only six months after launch," said Jill Salzman of The Founding Moms. "I knew in that moment, checking the membership numbers (and hoping for six or eight people in there) that I was really onto something.”

6. Customers refer you

The highest compliment is when one of your customers refers another person to your business.

"When our first major client's CEO told me to my face that we were the best driver-retention solution he'd ever seen," said Tucker Robeson of CDL Helpers. "[He said] he would help me in whatever way he could to get us new customers."

7. You bounce back

When you go through bad times and you are able to bounce back to success.

“I knew I could make my business work after hitting rock bottom and then defying the odds and getting my business back in shape," said Lauren Berger of The Intern Queen. "Today it's healthier than ever before.”

8. News media takes notice

A news article helps to get the word out, and it flushes out other “believers” besides you.

“I run a handcrafted gemstone-jewelry business, started in late 2002," said Bonnie, of Calico Juno Designs. "In early 2004, after our jewelry was featured in a national fashion magazine, I received so much business from it. (I made more money, in two months' time, than in my previous whole year!)”

9. You fire customers

When your business is successful enough, it can let go of customers that are unprofitable for your business.

“About three months after we started the company, we were working with a new client who asked for our help with three different positions," said Jeffrey Weinstock, of Rhodes & Weinstock. "His first request was for an executive assistant. He called and said 'I forgot to tell you, when you send me candidates, they all need to be young women.' I am an attorney, so I spoke with him about why he could not make that request. He apologized.

"A few weeks later we were working on finding a COO for his company. He called and said, 'I forgot to tell you. We are now a religious organization, so when you send me resumes please tell me each candidate's religion.' We immediately agreed to fire the client."

10. You achieve cash-flow positive

This holy grail gives the business the time to succeed and reinvest its profits for future growth.

“We launched our business in Jan 2009," said Mike Scanlin, of Born to Sell. "[It] took 18 months to build the product, which we launched in July 2010. Four months later, we had gained enough subscribers to be both cash-flow positive and profitable.”

11. Publisher asks you to write the book

Even in the digital age, when you write a book, you instantly add to your company's expertise.

“A book publisher asked me to write a book sharing my experience in how to run a Web-design business," said Jim Smith, Blarneystone. "My older brother told me when...you are asked to write about running your business, you become an expert in the field.”

12. You get that first paying customer

When someone pays you for your product or service, there is nothing like it.

”My moment of truth was signing up our first student," said David Greenberg, Parliament Tutors. "We now have 500-plus tutors in more than 20 states and 80 cities.”

What was your moment of truth?