By Ben Walker, CEO for Transcription Outsourcing, LLC 

The competition for new businesses today is increasingly fierce. Companies are forced to make an impression from the get-go in order to be noticed and gain customers. 

It’s easy to forget that some of the biggest companies today, such as Google and Apple, started out as tiny startups. While trial and error is inevitable for any new business, companies that thrive today have leaders who realize that the little things add up to be massive game-changers in the long run.

For years, smaller companies have tried to follow in the footsteps of bigger companies. Half of them fail in the first five years of business, according to Small Business Administration data. Perhaps the problem was that they weren’t following the right steps. 

Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for every company, there are a few key things that successful businesses do well. Let’s jump in.

1. Treat customers right.

Putting customer service as a top priority is undeniably something that all successful companies do well. The customer is the key consideration and factor in all product and operations decisions. If your company is willing to go above and beyond, you’ll be rewarded with repeat customers and free customer acquisition through word of mouth. 

The CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, sets an example of superior customer service by attending annual call-center training sessions alongside thousands of Amazon managers. He famously said, “We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backward.”

2. Treat employees even better than customers.

Needless to say, employees are an essential part of a business. What’s even more important than retaining employees is keeping them happy. Successful businesses today have both great Glassdoor ratings and attractive company cultures. 

Take Facebook as an example. Facebook feeds its employees free meals throughout the day -- snacks included. In its headquarters, employees have access to a gym, barbershop, video arcade and more.

While it’s not possible for every business to go to this extent, there are a few key things that are required to keep your employees happy:

  • Fair pay.
  • Employee recognition.
  • Sufficient paid time off.
  • Raises and bonuses.
  • Work-life balance.

Remember, happy employees = happy customers = successful business.

3. Be ready for unexpected changes.

Being able to navigate change is another aspect all successful companies do well. Whether it’s a new competitor, a downturn in the market, an internal staff change, emerging technology or a change in regulations, you should be confident that new conditions won’t drag your business to the ground. 

Remember when programs from Microsoft had to be manually updated every year by purchasing and installing a new CD? Cloud technology changed all that, leading software companies to reinvent themselves and adapt. Now, Microsoft users can enjoy seamless updates on a subscription-based model. 

In times of change, having clear communication, strong leadership and an open mind is the way to overcome obstacles and come out even better. 

4. Set strong company goals.

Goals provide focus. When a company sets goals, it makes priorities clear for everyone involved in the business. Goals can help you measure your company’s success. To reach these goals, employees need to feel they can achieve them. Consider following the SMART method: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. 

Many remote companies today use goal-setting strategy models. Businesses assign quarterly goals (sometimes referred to as “rocks”) to employees. Then, the business sets one-, five- and ten-year goals for itself. 

5. Strive to be unique.

The business world has a habit of weeding out generic businesses and making room for those that differentiate themselves. Businesses can take many shapes and forms depending on industry, products, goals and leaders. What successful companies do well is pledging to be unique. 

Have you ever been to a coffee shop? The answer is likely yes, and there are about a billion of them out there. What isn’t so common is cat cafes (also referred to as “catfes”). These are coffee shops that offer cats for adoption while customers sip coffee. It’s a good cause, and it’s more enticing than a visit to a normal coffee shop (if you’re a cat person, that is). 

Businesses that lead industries today had to adapt, change and find the principles that allowed them to grow to where they are now. While strategies may differ on the micro level, some elements are the same among all successful companies. If you dream of reaching the top of your industry, include these five steps into your business strategy plan and follow through consistently. 

Ben Walker is the CEO for Transcription Outsourcing, LLC and has made contributions to Entrepreneur Magazine, The Associated Press & Inc.