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What’s the difference between companies that grow and prosper and hit the pinnacle of success and those that stay really small? And by small, I mean less than $1 million of annual gross revenue. According to Dun & Bradstreet, 96% of private businesses in the U.S. never break that barrier and only a fraction of 1% of ever get bigger than $50 million.

Everybody wants their company to prosper, right, so what’s the difference? After 30 years of working with small businesses, here are what I see as the primary difference makers between very small businesses and those that are more successful.

First is that the owners of the small companies tend to be really controlling, touching everything in their business every day, making every decision. The CEOs of bigger companies still want to control their destiny, don’t get me wrong, but they know that to grow they have to loosen up a bit, they have to give other people opportunities.

Second, the very small folks tend to be do-it-yourselfers. Their thinking is that if you want it done right, do it yourself. The bigger folks know that that is really limiting. One person working as hard as they can, no matter how talented and energetic, can only do so much. The bigger folks know they can’t do it all and they have learned to let go a little and bring on people.

Which brings me to the third point: The small folks don’t have teams. They hire workers, but they don’t build teams. One of the great ways to build a strong team is to hire people smarter than yourself. The idea is really challenging, but it’s wonderful, too, because you get so many ideas. It’s not the boss and the workers, it’s a team of peers that can come together to make great things happen.

The fourth thing about the small folks is that they won’t allow any challenges to their thinking from family members or employees. It’s “my way or the highway.” Any perceived challenge to their control of the business and the decisions is immediately squelched. No doubt the guys that get bigger have big egos too, but they have enough humility to let everybody in the organization bring new ideas, new concepts, and new challenges—and maybe even question the boss on a course of action.

Finally, the small folks see themselves as really hard workers and doers of tasks. The bigger folks are really hard workers too, but they know that to achieve all the things they want to achieve, they’re no longer doers, they’re leaders. That’s probably the biggest mental shift that successful entrepreneurs make. They aren’t managing projects anymore, they are leading people because they know that if they can multiply their intelligence by bringing other intelligent people on board, everyone will go places together that they couldn’t have achieved on their own.

So if you are small now but aspire to get bigger, here are a few tips that might help you get to that next level.

First, get some coaching. There’s a wonderful program called the Strategic Coach that brings together entrepreneurs from different businesses and challenges then to rethink how to behave, how to act as an entrepreneur to get more of the things they want in life.

Second, read books. Read in your downtime—but not so much on the weekends, to keep your family time sacred—like when you’re on a flight, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or just have a few minutes to spare. Keep a book in your briefcase. You’ll get through it, and it won’t take as long as you think.

Third, go to conferences or conventions. Your trade associations have presentations that will get you to think in different ways. And find a peer group. If it’s a local peer group, that’s terrific, or if you can find an industry-specific peer group, that’s even better.

Finally, find a mentor—somebody in your industry with whom you don’t compete, who has been where you want to go. Talk to that person once a month, or once a quarter, for guidance and ideas. They’ve solved problems that are going to confront you, and they’ve overcome them—they can teach you shortcuts. You’ll be learning from other people’s mistakes, and it can accelerate your growth.

I’m convinced that you can engineer your own success, but it does take thinking and feeling about yourself in a different way. Maybe some of these tips will help you get to that next level.

Wayne Rivers is president of The Family Business Institute. You can get in touch with him at, or 877-326-2493.