Starting a business is a lot of hard work. You’ll need to write a business plan, find investors, set up a website and social media profiles, develop your first products and services, and so much more. Once you’ve done all this, the hard part is still not over. Your business won’t magically find customers and grow — you’ll need to continue working long hours, strategizing, and investing.
So, how long does it take for a business to be successful?
What Makes a Business Successful?
First of all, you need to know what makes a business successful. Otherwise, how will you know when you’ve made it? A few factors indicate success:
- Quality of offerings. When offerings are high quality and desirable, customers return to buy more. You’ll have few returns on sales and complaints but plenty of word-of-mouth recommendations and good reviews.
- Brand awareness. People will be familiar with your brand. Beyond recognizing your name, they’ll understand your values and have an idea of your brand’s personality.
- Understand your target audience. Your new releases will meet your customers’ needs and your marketing will resonate with your audience.
- Charitable action. You’ll give back to your community, whether through donations and sponsorships or by taking part in events. Sufficient time and funds to make contributions to social causes is a great indicator of success.
Here’s How Long It Takes a Business to Be Successful
Although every business is different, most can expect to start seeing success after about seven to 10 years. In fact, the first three years are just about finding your direction and establishing your business as a real company.
Take these examples of some of the most famous businesses today. They all took several years to become successful:
- Google — In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began developing their search engine. In 1999, they were unable to sell the company for a mere $1 million. However, by the early 2000s, Google had become the dominant search engine.
- Microsoft — After Bill Gates established Microsoft, it took six years for the company to gain its first big contract, with IBM.
- ClassPass — After spending just 14 days coming up with a business idea in 2011, Payal Kadakia created ClassPass. In 2016, the company had taken more than 17 million bookings. By the end of 2017, total reservations were at 45 million.
- Apple — It took Apple even longer than these of businesses to find success. Steve Jobs founded the company in 1976, but he didn’t release the Macintosh until 1984. Whereas this computer was popular, Apple only became a serious competitor in the tech world in 1998 with the iMac.
As you can see, there’s no strict timeline for success. However, most businesses can expect something like the following:
Your first year in business will be the most challenging. You’ll need to put in many hours of work to avoid failure. The good news is you’ll also reach many targets in this period. Small successes may include becoming incorporated, launching your website, selling your first products, and gaining clients outside of your original contacts. All this will give you confidence that you’re coming closer to meeting your goals.
During your second year, there will likely be less to celebrate. It’s important to remember that you’ve done well just to make it this far. Success at this stage may involve maintaining a positive cash flow. It’s likely that you’ll need to increase your investments, which may well drain your savings and put you into debt.
If you’re to survive beyond your second year, you’ll need to develop your customer base. Many of the people you first sold to will be long gone. You’ll need to focus on nurturing those who are left to keep your loyal customers. You should also be seeing an influx of leads through your website, social media, and other channels. Your success will depend on efficiently converting them.
By your third year, things will be even more tough, since you’re still several years away from success. Even small milestones will be few and far between. Keep reminding yourself that you’re unlikely to see true success until your seventh year in business — at the earliest. Now is the time to commit to putting in the work, even as you acknowledge that it feels like you’re making no progress.
Don’t worry — there are still positives in the third year. It’s about this time that you’ll transition from a startup into a small business. This may mean you hire more employees, develop new products or services, or even expand into a new market.
Fourth to Sixth Years
The final stretch before success tends to happen between years four and six. Only then will you start to feel like you know what you’re doing. You’ll have a steady flow of new customers, your brand will be well defined, and you’ll be regularly releasing or updating your products and services.
Seventh to Tenth Years
You’ve made it! If you’re like a typical company, somewhere between years seven and 10 you’ll see success.
How Long Does It Take a Business to Become Profitable?
Profitability tends to come a few years earlier than success: at around the second to third year. This is great news, as seeing profit a few years before you become successful may well provide you with the motivation you need to keep going.
Although starting a business undoubtedly sounds appealing — no boss, the chance to pursue a passion, turn your ideas in reality — it’s not for everyone. Every step of the way to success, there are going to be challenges. You need to ask yourself if this is something you really want.
You may discover the work is too hard, decide you don’t want to continue investing your own savings into your venture, or realize your idea is less appealing to your target audience than you imagined. It’s fine to give up. However, if you do have a viable business plan, hire a great team, and keep putting in the effort, you just need to remind yourself that, at any given time, you’re just a few short years away from success.