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What Is a Good Small Business Growth Rate?

April 17, 2024

When you consider the revenue growth rate of small businesses, it’s important to recognize that these rates can vary significantly. This variance depends on several factors, including industry, business size, and specific business conditions. Leadership acumen also plays a big part in how fast and well you grow. From my professional experience, I’ve observed that a well-managed small business should aim for a growth rate of at least 5-7% annually. This minimal growth is crucial, as it helps offset the rising costs associated with running a business.

How should I look at different growth rates?

In the landscape of small businesses, growing by 10-15% annually is considered above average and is an indicator of a healthy, expanding business. When growth rates hit between 15-25%, we’re looking at what can be classified as fast growth. This rate of expansion is impressive, but it can start to put pressure on both operational capacity and financial resources.

Businesses experiencing growth rates above 35% are in what I call hyper-fast growth mode. Such rapid expansion often leads to significant strains on the organization’s operational and financial capacity, which can be challenging to manage. You’ll find that keeping pace with this type of growth proves to be an ever-elusive task, and you’ll need to have the stomach for constant change.

Special Considerations for Start-Ups

Start-ups are a unique breed in the small business category. For these companies, I typically advise aiming for at least 50% growth per year during the first five years. Since you are starting from a zero base or relatively small number, achieving the growth percentages initially is not as hard as mathematically. This aggressive growth is often necessary to establish a foothold in the market. If the business lacks substantial venture capital or private equity backing, it may be wise to readjust expectations toward more sustainable growth rates after this initial period.

Factors Influencing Growth Rates

Several key factors can influence the growth rate of a small business:

  1. Size: Mathematically, it’s much harder to grow the percentages of a larger company.
  2. Industry: Certain industries naturally allow for higher growth rates. For instance, technology startups often outpace retail businesses due to the scalable nature of tech products and services.
  3. Business Model: Companies that can scale efficiently, like those offering Software as a Service (SaaS), typically enjoy higher growth rates compared to those requiring physical retail spaces or significant capital investments.
  4. Market Conditions: The overall economic environment, consumer trends, and competitive landscape can greatly affect a business’s growth potential.
  5. Management and Strategy: The capability of the management team and the effectiveness of the business strategy also play critical roles in determining growth rates.

Setting Realistic Growth Goals

The ideal growth rate for any small business ultimately aligns with its specific goals and objectives. While some businesses might prioritize rapid growth to capture a larger market share, others might focus on steady, sustainable growth. If you are a lifestyle entrepreneur, you may find a level of perceived comfort that matches your risk profile and stay there. Working with financial advisors and industry experts can help tailor a growth strategy that considers the unique challenges and opportunities facing your company.

The Double-Edged Sword of High Growth

High growth rates are attractive to investors and can indicate a business’s success. However, they also bring about challenges such as increased staffing needs, higher operational costs, and greater capital requirements. If not managed carefully, rapid growth can lead to issues with cash flow, profitability, and overall financial stability. You need to keep a close eye on your leading financial and operational indicators.

Navigating the Risks

Pursuing high growth rates isn’t without risks. Businesses might take on excessive debt, overextend their resources, or compromise long-term sustainability for short-term gains. How are you going to fund your growth? Will it come from existing working capital or require outside assistance? How does the cost of capital compare to your current return on equity or profit margins? Will this create positive or negative arbitrage situations? If you sell equity, how will this affect your ability to run the business? Being aware of these risks and planning accordingly is essential for maintaining a healthy business trajectory.


In summary, understanding and managing growth rates is crucial for the success of small businesses. Each business will have its own ideal growth rate, depending on its industry, target market, and internal resources. Striking the right balance between growth and stability is key to building a resilient business that thrives in its market.