By Joe Pulizzi published April 2, 2012

15 Critical Business Success Tips after Five Years in Business [with special giveaway]

5THANNIV-230x230According to the myriad of small business success studies, it seems that about 50% of startups fail after five years in business.

Well, it’s nice to be on the right side of that statistic!

It’s hard not a get at least a little romantic about celebrating our 5th year in business. We officially launched Junta42, now the Content Marketing Institute and SocialTract, on April 2, 2007. After 1,825 days in business, we are stronger than ever. 2011 was by far our best year, as we grew revenues over 300% and launched the largest content marketing event in the process.

MCM-Cover-75x75To celebrate our anniversary, we are giving away copies of Robert Rose’s and my book, Managing Content Marketing, for 99 cents on (Kindle version).  This will only be available for 42 hours starting 4/2, so get the “how-to” manual for content marketing today for practically nothing (and spread the word!).

15 Critical Business Success Tips for Startups and Small Businesses

As we’ve grown CMI, I’ve leaned on many critical resources and keep them pinned to my office wall, such as Mark Fletcher’s 15 Startup Commandments, Dharmesh Shaw’s Startup Triplets, and Fast Company’s 10 Common Mistakes Startups Make. Although it’s hard to clearly identify what the most critical success factors have been during our “road less traveled”, here are the ones that I believe have made the most impact on me, on our company, our amazing employees, and most of all, our valued customers.

  1. Be the Leading Informational Provider for Your IndustryContent marketing works.  We have tremendous flexibility in our business model simply because we deliver valuable and compelling industry information to our customers and prospects. Our daily updates, our weekly enewsletters, our quarterly magazine, and our annual research all helps to position us as the go-to resource for content marketing information. Without all this, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to grow our business, not to mention the sheer cost of sales.
  2. Invest in the Right People – Although our people are some of the leading experts in the entire industry, we hire first based on attitude and flexibility. People with great attitudes who are fun to work with can learn and do just about anything.
  3. Give Employees Permission To Fail – We tell all our employees the following: “Do what you have to do to be successful.  Don’t wait for permission. Ask for forgiveness later.” Whether this is a solid policy or not, it helps our employees to take risks and become leaders.
  4. If You Partner, Plan the Exit Strategy First – I cannot express how critical this is.  If you partner with anyone, plan that someday the divorce will happen.
  5. …Or Just Don’t Partner – In my experience, most partnerships simply don’t work and hamper the creativity of the organization.  Just be careful.
  6. Risk Everything, Everyday – One of our advantages is that we are willing to try anything if we believe in what it can provide for our customers or that we can gain a competitive advantage.  We reach decisions quickly, and change these decisions slowly if and when they are changed.
  7. Success Is Impossible without Failure – I saw this statement on Kansas basketball player Thomas Robinson’s arm (tattoo) and I couldn’t agree more. There were moments when I didn’t believe the business was going to make it.  Looking back, it was those moments that have defined our organization.  I’m no longer afraid of failure, but keenly aware of what new opportunities arise because of it.
  8. Don’t Fall in Love with Your Product or Service – This almost cost us the entire business.  Although our content marketing matching service, Junta42, was working and profitable, we weren’t growing the business at a rate that was acceptable.  But Junta42 was my baby and, although I knew it needed to evolve, it took everything I had to pivot the business in a new direction.  Discarding the product we began the business with was the best business decision, and hardest one, I ever made.
  9. Get a Good Attorney and Accountant – Never do any of this yourself.
  10. Rely on Your Instincts – If the numbers are right, but your gut feels different, go with your gut…every time.  This little piece of advice has served me well.
  11. Don’t Listen to Your Friends – The majority of my friends thought I was crazy for leaving a high-paying executive job to start a business.  Again, go with your gut.
  12. Write a Book – How can you be the leading expert in your industry without a book?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  Write the book for your industry and it will become the greatest business card you’ll ever have. It will also lead to amazing speaking opportunities that you would never get without the book in hand.
  13. At First, Try Everything…then Focus – When you are a micro-sized business, you can afford to try a little bit of everything.  That’s perfectly okay.  But once you get to a point where the business model is flushing itself out, then you need laser focus.
  14. Give Content Gifts to Industry Leaders – It is your responsibility to know who the influencers are in your industry that can help make or break your business.   Once you identify those people, you need to be sharing their content on a consistent basis, whether that is through Facebook, Twitter or building lists like we did with the Junta42 Top Content Marketing blogs. The more unsolicited gifts of content you can give, the more they will return the favor…helping to build your business into the future.
  15. Have Fun! – If you wake up in the morning and you aren’t excited about going to work, something is wrong with your business. The last five years have been an amazing experience that only can happen to someone who has launched a business.  I find myself in the unique place of not wanting for anything in life.

A sincere (and I mean it) thank you to all those people (especially our employees) who have helped make our business successful.  A special thank you to my wife and family for their unwavering support every step of the way.

Here’s to the next five years and beyond…and if you made it this far in the post, don’t forget to get your anniversary copy of Managing Content Marketing to help celebrate with us.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Robert Rose

     I’m honored, humbled and truly inspired by you every day.  I’m so tickled to get to work with you every day – and even more so to call you friend for these last five years.  Let me just say that I wrote my own blog post to celebrate – and in the spirit of like minds… Mine takes off right from #15….

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Awe shucks dude.  I remember that day at Web Content conference that we met and said “You know, we should do something together.”  My short thought on that is – Good decision!

      • Joseph Kalinowski

        A wise man once said “Love what you do and you never work a day in your life.” You two fellas are stellar examples of that statement. 

  • predsicker

    Congratulations Joe! You (and especially your new book) have inspired me tremendously. No 13 is working out very well for me. Thank you for everything.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Awesome Patricia…thanks to you for everything that you’ve done to advance the industry and partner with us.  I truly appreciate it.

  • Jeff Miller

    A sincere congrats to the entire CMI team. Keep up the excellent work…

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks so much Jeff!

  • Scott Crossin

    BIG congrats and thanks to the entire CMI and ST team for making a difference every day… And bravo to Joe and Robert for partnering on a terrific book. Keep up the great work, gang!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Excellent.  Thanks Scott!

  • MarketingbyAnn

    Congratulation and Thanks Joe, #2, #10, #11, #13 and #15 is working well for me, still a long way to go.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Go Ann!

  • Nenad Senić

    Congrats. What an inspiration and an honor to have met you. Cheers to many years to come and to meet F2F again and thx for believing in me and letting me “meet” all the fun people you work with. N. 

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks my friend.  Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  • jaybaer

    Congrats Joe, and to all the fine folks at CMI and your other tentacles. You are doing it right, and it’s gratifying to see nice guys succeed and cream rising to the top. Honored and delighted to hang on your coattails from time to time. Onward and upward, my friend!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Honored and delighted to hang on your coattails from time to time.

      You are a trip man!  I’m more than honored to have shared the stage with you and call you my friend.  Truly appreciate all your support.  Robert Rose and I were chatting the other day, and agreed that you are “one smart dude”.

  • Димитър Цонев (Dimitar Tsonev)

    Well I can’t agree with #8 – you have to love what you do to be successful. I know that your product/service is your baby, but not all babies are cute. But it is still yours and you continue to love it and take care of it, helping it to grow and be successful.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Dimitar…I see your point, but loving what you do and falling in love with your product at the business’s expense are two different things.  If you love your product or service so much that you lose rational focus (I’ve seen this happen many times), it becomes a big problem.

      • Димитър Цонев (Dimitar Tsonev)

        both focus and love should be combined for a successful idea. 🙂

  • Rita Dawson

    Its nice that you have mentioned the point – Give Employees Permission To Fail. Many employers blast at their employees if they happened to commit a mistake. This leads to a fear that becomes a hindrance for creativity.