08/13/2012 11:34 am ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

Six Guideposts To Follow In Starting, Running And Growing A Small Business

The paths that business owners take to start, grow and successfully sustain a business are as varied as there are types of small businesses. While there may not be a singular blueprint for success in this regard, 1,200 business owners surveyed by The Guardian Life Small Business Research institute identified six guideposts that they believe can help chart a path to success and avoid the pitfalls that many start-ups and young companies typically face.

1. Seek a Mentor
The vast majority of respondents in the study (77.1 percent) said that having a mentor - someone with relevant business experience and the willingness to share it - is a critical resource for business success.

2. Acquire Sound Financial Acumen
While almost 83 percent of respondents said that successfully running a business requires being good at managing money, financial management is also the one area where most business owners believed they could improve. Seventy-two percent admitted needing to learn more about managing their finances, and an almost identical number (71 percent) reported that they considered it critical to have trusted financial guidance from an accountant.

Ironically, in spite of countless press reports concerning the challenges that business owners reportedly face in obtaining capital for growth, almost two-thirds (60.4 percent) of respondents said they considered borrowing money an option of last resort. Only 17.1 percent said they would consider borrowing money to hire staff.

3. Leverage Prior Knowledge and Experience
Almost 91 percent of business owners reported that they considered it extremely important to have a prior understanding of and experience in the market sector in which they intended to create a business.

And what size organization typically prepares a business owner for success on her own? Some 77.1 percent of respondents believed that working in a small company was a more advantageous training ground for small business ownership, while 60.8 percent attributed their success to experience acquired working in large companies.

4. Build Strong Interpersonal Skills
Business owners recognize the connection between success and the ability to work well with others, with 86.7 percent of respondents attributing their success to their ability to get along well with people. Underscoring the importance of having strong interpersonal skills, more than two-thirds (66.9 percent) confessed the need to continue to make improvement in this area.

5. Recognize What You Don't Know
Business owners in our survey pointed to four areas that they considered important to their business' success, but about which they were not particularly savvy:

  • The Economy: A plurality of respondents in the study (42.3 percent) pointed to the economy as the one obstacle to their business' growth. Yet, almost three-fourths (72.4 percent) acknowledged they needed to better understand economic business cycles.
  • Technology: Some 79.1 percent of business owners acknowledged a desire to better understand how to use technology to make their business operate more productively and efficiently.
  • Marketing: Given the overwhelming, and ever changing, digital and social media options, it's not surprising that 82 percent of business owners admitted the need to improve how they market their business.
  • Growth Strategies: An additional 85.6 percent of survey respondents confessed to needing help in better understanding how to more effectively grow their business.

6. Have a Vision -- and Communicate It
Having a clear vision for their business' evolution was cited as an essential success factor by 87.6 percent of the study's respondents. These business owners acknowledge that sharing this vision with their business partners, employees, advisors and family members is key to ensuring that everyone remains aligned and on the same path forward. In fact, 84.3 percent of respondents reported that effectively articulating what needs to be done has made a significant difference in their business.

More information on these findings is available at