More than 99 percent of all employers in the United States are considered small businesses — classified as having fewer than 100 employees — so it is almost guaranteed that you will be employed by one of these businesses throughout your career. Current statistics show that about half of new small businesses do not last five years, and less than a third last more than 10 years. Sparkman and Stephens, a naval architecture and yacht brokerage firm where I work, has survived both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and for most of that time it operated in the small business category — save for World War II when the company grew to more than 100 employees in support of the war effort. Whether working for a small business or starting your own, these next few items are part of what aid success.

The most important thing for small businesses is relationships — both intra-office and inter-office. Treating clients with respect and honesty will help in developing long-term relationships, which will not only result in repeat business, but referrals as well. As many small businesses have limited marketing budgets, it is important to capitalize on the client network, which only grows with excellent customer service. When working with a small team, disagreements and personality conflicts can easily derail any momentum. Deal with these in the moment and move forward together.

While fiscal responsibility may seem like an obvious suggestion, many businesses go through the tedious process of developing budgets and projections and then never monitor their progress against reality. Careful monitoring of progress can quickly reveal deficiencies in budget line items or false projections. Flexibility needs to be maintained to account for unexpected expenses or lack of projected income — and without knowing you are missing your marks, timely adjustments cannot be made.

An integral aspect of fiscal responsibility is controlled growth. Small businesses need to maintain agility in order to react to a changing business environment; however, careless reactions can quickly cripple even a well-funded business. If production needs to be increased, management needs to look behind the increased demand and determine whether it requires a short-term solution or it can support long-term growth. If short-term solutions are required, collaboration is a great way to handle spurts of demand. In addition to increased demand, a diversity of offerings should be handled similarly. Working with collaborators will allow you to focus specifically on your area of expertise and provide your clients with the level of service they have come to expect. Additionally, the relationships you develop with collaborators will help cultivate additional business.

And finally, very few small businesses have ever succeeded without dedication and tireless effort. The lack of sheer volume of employees in small businesses means that each employee needs to carry a larger load than a similar employee working in a medium or large business would. A valuable trait for an employee in a small business is the ability to be a self-starter, which reduces the drain on management and allows them to focus more on big-picture items. The obvious benefit is that in small business your contributions directly affect the bottom line and your efforts are more easily recognized.

Working for a small business typically allows you greater access to management, autonomy and opportunity for self-growth. Ask questions, seek advice — use your relationships to your advantage. Keep all these things in mind and you will have success in small business.

Jason Black is the chief operating officer of Sparkman and Stephens Naval Architect Firm.

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