Characteristics of Successful Small Business Owners

Successful small-business owners are as different in personality as they are in appearance. Some of them are risk-takers and some are risk-averse. Some organized and some not. From years of observing and training business owners across the country, I have found that successful small business owners share three characteristics.

Strategic Vision

Strategic vision allows you to look into the future and anticipate what lies ahead. Different from forecasting, which is knowing what to expect based on experience (needing more widgets in the winter and fewer in the summer, e.g.), strategic vision allows you to see unexpected challenges on the horizon.

When you know what challenges are ahead, you can devise ways to respond to them. Your business has a competitive advantage when you know what is ahead and your competitors do not, and while no one has 20/20 strategic vision—no one is always right about what will happen next month or next quarter—good business owners are more accurate than mediocre business owners.

Strategic vision also allows you to anticipate what your competitors will do in the future, and interpersonal strategic vision allows you to anticipate how people will act in the future, so you know what to say and how to say it.


Being a business owner does not mean you are a leader—it merely means you had enough money to start a business. A leader, on the other hand, has the characteristics to get the best out of others.

When facing a crisis—if you are a leader—you meet with your employees and tell them what to expect. You neither hide the truth nor sugarcoat it, and after you have prepared them for the bumpy road ahead, you lay out your plan and explain why it will work.

If you are a leader you create an atmosphere of teamwork in good times and bad by repeating that by working together, there is no challenge the team cannot overcome.

If you are a leader you know how to motivate your employees. You know some need praise, some need money, and some need to be reminded they were more productive the previous year. As a leader you know how to motivate and when to motivate.

As a leader you inspire, and your employees fear no challenge because they know no matter what lies ahead, you will be calm and confident, you will create an effective plan, and you will make wise decisions to pull them through.

Closing Ability:

It does not matter if your product or service is the best in the industry, nor does it matter if it is the most innovative—if you cannot close the deal (i.e., make the sale), you will not be in business long. No way around it.

Everything you and your staff do, every practice and procedure, should be done with the goal of closing the deal in mind. This does not mean ignore your process because you should continually find ways to increase effectiveness and efficiency, but the focus should be on making sales.

Some business owners, for example, are eloquent and charming and make captivating presentations. But they cannot close. Eloquence and charm are wonderful to have, of course, but what good are they if they cannot help you accomplish your goal? Every word, every gesture—everything—should be carefully chosen and properly presented to persuade the prospective customer to buy your product or service.

The characteristics I have listed are skills, so if you were not born with them, there is no reason to worry—you can develop them. I suggest you do.

There are lots of articles that list characteristics successful business owners have—25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs, 7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs, 10 Qualities of Fantastic Small Business Owners—and while these lists are helpful, if you lack strategic vision, leadership, and closing ability, these lists will ultimately do you no good.

Marvin Carolina Jr. is a Vice President for JE Dunn Construction. He can be reached at