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3 Essential Elements of Small Business Success

8 years of interviews. 70 successful small businesses interviewed. 3 essential elements to business success.

For eight years, I have interviewed successful small business entrepreneurs in South Carolina. Despite the differences in industry, personality and mission, all of these successful small businesses have elements in common -- elements that have formed the basis of their success.

Want in on their big secrets to success? Check out the three most universal elements below:

  1. Ask for help.
  2. Network with other entrepreneurs.
  3. Treat employees like the invaluable assets they are.

Ask for help.

Whether it’s seeking out experts or just asking for discounts, asking for help is perhaps the most essential element of business success, and it was the most universal among the successful entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to.

Astrid Stuard, Acts Inc., recipient of multiple excellence in contracting awards:

“I’m very big on asking questions and asking for help. I’ve learned to go to the highest person in the organization. If they don’t have the answer, they will know someone who does.  Sometimes this person will go the extra mile to help you.”

Radha Herring, Watermark Real Estate Group, 2012 South Carolina Small Business Person of the Year:

“Find a mentor and keep that person throughout your career.”

Bill Kunze, Jungle Taming:

“For any entrepreneur with limited capital, sometimes the going gets rough, particularly when you run into unforeseen business problems. What you really need is a third party who believes in you and is willing to keep trying as long as you apply yourself.”

Steve Parrott, Retire EASE Senior Services:

"One of the greatest aspects of having a SCORE counselor working with us was the fact that [he] asked us the tough questions to make us identify our weaknesses so we would be fully prepared to meet the growth and challenges that face new business owners. Without his help, we could not have avoided many of those early pitfalls.”

Ramona Fantini, Pino Gelato, 2012 Runner-Up Small Business Person of the Year:

“Ask for help. For example, our landlord gave Pino Gelato a discount on rent during slow months after I reached out to him.”

Julie Riffle, Palmetto Pepper Potions:

“When we were unable to find much information about specialty food manufacturing, we actually called the manufacturer of one of our favorite hot sauces for guidance.”


Network with other entrepreneurs.

If you’re having a problem with your business, chances are another business owner has faced that same problem and found a solution – a solution that just may work for you.

David Branton, Cornerstone Surveying & Engineering:

“As business owners, we get a pride complex. We need to listen to other people. We need to network.” In fact, when David attends business-related training, he doesn’t just go for the training itself – He goes for the chance to rub elbows with other business owners and learn some new best practices or about a great business resource, like new software.

Radha Herring, Watermark Real Estate Group, 2012 South Carolina Small Business Person of the Year:

“I learn so much from other people.”

“I get together with two business owner friends once a quarter for lunch or happy hour to talk business practices. We just start chatting and suddenly one of them has solved one of my business challenges.”

“Sometimes as a business owner, you get so caught up in the day-to-day, you lose the energy for the vision. Being around people who are business owners reminds you that you need to continue to be a visionary.”

Ramona Fantini, Pino Gelato, 2012 Runner-Up Small Business Person of the Year:

“Talk to other business owners. Everyone wants to offer advice.”

“Networking and connections really make a difference … Networking is priceless. Research and networking are key to growth.”


Treat employees like the invaluable assets they are.

If you want your company to succeed, you’d better take care of its components – Your employees. After all, your employees are not just important to your company, they are your company.

Rich Hagins, US&S, South Carolina’s 2012 Minority Small Business Person of the Year nominee:

“The most important thing we have is the people. We treat employees as a family.” Rich also looks looks at prospective employees holistically, seeking “the right person to be part of the team.”

Murray Compton, Appalachian Springs, finalist for 2013 South Carolina Small Business Person of the Year:

“What we’ve had to do to survive is hire good people. All employees are important.”

David Branton, Cornerstone Engineering & Surveying

“In my family-run business, [I have to consider how] I get employees to feel that they are family too. Because without employees, we don’t have a business.” In fact, in the midst of the recession, David chose to find other ways to cut costs rather than laying off any employees.

“There’s a myth out there that only large companies can give benefits. But if you don’t give benefits, you’re just playing at business. We must take care of our employees.”

“At first, we could only send birthday cards to employees … That was the only benefit we could offer, but it showed that we cared. Now our benefits are just as good as a Fortune 500 company.”

Clifford Smith, Small Business Group, Inc.

"I've seen so many small companies that can't [grow] because the owner wants to do everything. That's inefficient. You have to let your people do what they do best."