IELTS Cue Card: Describe a successful small business

IELTS Cue Card: Describe a successful small business

Describe a successful small business.

You should say:

  • What kind of business it is
  • How you know about it
  • What the business’ reputation is like
  • What kind of products they sell

And explain how you feel about it.

Part 3:

  • Which do you prefer most: family businesses or non-family businesses?
  • What is required to make a company successful?
  • What qualities do successful businesspeople have?
  • Which emerging industries do you know about?

Part 2 — Sample Answer:

Ever since I was little, my parents have been running their own business. They’re quite entrepreneurial people and have found it more satisfying to be self-employed instead of having a traditional job.

They run a wedding photography business. Both of them have a passion for photography. In fact, that’s exactly how my parents met — through photography. They were both skilled photographers that bonded over this shared passion. They took it a step further and turned it into a business.

I think they stated it a few years before I was born, so the business has been running for more than a couple of decades now and has earned quite a good reputation in the local community. Because of this, a lot of their business doesn’t come from advertising but from word of mouth. Couples that have been over the moon with their photos have told their friends and family about my parents’ business. When someone they know is getting married, my parents’ business is one of the first to be recommended.

Over the years they’ve expanded the business and employed other photographers. They’ve also opened up a bridal shop that’s stocked with both fashionable and classic wedding dresses. My mother can sell ice to eskimos and just about any bride that walks into her store ends up buying something.

I think it’s really awesome that they’ve managed to build such a successful and long-lasting business. I know they’ve gone through some tough times with it and their resilience and determination has really paid off. They’ve taught me a lot about entrepreneurship and have always encouraged me to do my own thing, rather than be pressured into getting a traditional job.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Entrepreneurial (adjective)
If someone is entrepreneurial is someone who makes money by starting their own business, especially if this involves managing risks and opportunities.

Example: My brothers have always been entrepreneurial, and have always used their entrepreneurial skills to make money.

In fact (idiom)
A phrase used for saying what is really true when this is surprising or different from what is expected. It can also be used for when you are adding something to what you have said, especially something surprising.

Example A: He was paid money for a job that did not in fact exist.
Example B: I haven’t seen him for years. In fact, I can’t even remember what he looks like.

Word of mouth (noun)
If someone recommends a product or service to the people they know, especially because they think it’s good, this is a word of mouth recommendation. There’s no formal communication such as a news report or advertisement involved, and there’s no payment for making the recommendation.

Example: Most of our customers hear about us by word of mouth.

Over the moon (idiom)
To be extremely pleased about something.

Example: He was really over the moon that he got his stolen bike back.

Over the years (idiom)
This phrase is used to describe a period of some, several, or many years.

Example: This town has changed a lot over the years; I hardly recognize it.

Sell ice to eskimos (idiom)
Someone that can be very persuasive salesperson. Oftentimes it means they can sell things to people that don’t really have a good use or need for them.

Example: I can’t believe you were able to sell an extra 200 units to the hospital. You could sell ice to eskimos!

Tough times (idiom)
A period that is difficult or a struggle, such as when there is not enough money, or an unfortunate situation is happening.

Example: A lot of people went through tough times in the last economic recession because they lost their jobs.

Paid off (phrasal verb)
If something you do pays off, it is successful and brings you some benefit.

Example: All his hard work paid off in the end because he finally got that promotion.

Do my own thing (phrase)
If you do your own thing, you do what you want to do without worrying what other people will think about it. Often it refers to something you do on your own.

Example: They spend a lot of time together, but they also like to do their own thing.

Pressure into (idiom)
If you try to force, influence, or persuade someone to do something or act in a particular way, you pressure them into it.

Example: My parents pressured me into studying medicine despite the fact I didn’t want to be a doctor.

Part 3 — Sample Answers:

Which do you prefer the most: family businesses or non-family businesses?

I think it depends on the reputation of the company. There are some small, local, family run businesses that have been around for generations and are able to outcompete large international corporations that have tried to gain a foothold in the market.

For example, there’s a local seafood restaurant that’s run by some family friends. They put their heart and soul into that business and it really shines through. They care about all their customers and treat them like extended family. They really believe in serving the best fish available, and their family name has become associated with fish in the region.

On the other hand, there are some large grocery store chains that are able to stock their shelves with just about every product imaginable. When I’m doing my grocery shopping, nine times out of ten I’ll choose a large chain. I don’t want to spend more time than is necessary to find everything on my list, and being able to go to one store is a real time saver.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Reputation (noun)
The opinion that people have about how good or bad someone or something is.

Example: The bank didn’t have a good reputation.

Been around (idiom)
Something that’s been around has existed for quite a while, and usually has a lot of experience.

Example: The PR firm has been around for ages and will know how to deal with this problem.

Generation (verb)
A period of about 25 to 30 years, in which most human babies become adults and have their own children.

Example: A generation ago, home computers were virtually unknown.

Outcompete (verb)
To be more successful than someone or something.

Example: National companies are often able to outcompete local ones.

Foothold (noun)
An initial or stable position from which you can progress, improve your status, or become more successful. It’s linked to the place where you can put your foot to support yourself if you were rock climbing.

Example: They have managed to gain a foothold in the South American market.

Heart and soul (idiom)
If you put your heart and soul into something, you do it with a lot of enthusiasm and energy.

Example: She put her heart and soul into her dance classes.

Shine through (phrasal verb)
If something shines through, it’s noticeable and easy to see. Usually it’s to do with someone or something’s qualities.

Example: It’s only in the second half of the novel that the author’s sense of humor begins to shine through.

Extended family (noun)
A part of your family that includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

Example: Her whole family, including her extended family, came to the wedding.

Chain (noun)
A chain is a set of connected or related things.

Example: She has built up a chain of 180 bookshops across the country.

Nine times out of ten (idiom)
Something that almost always happens.

Example: Nine times out of ten, you can usually fix your car it in a few hours if it breaks down.

Time saver (adjective)
Something that reduces the length of time required to do something.

Example: Microwaves are a real time saver when I have to reheat food.

What is required to make a company successful?

There’s probably a lot of things that go into making a business profitable and long-lasting. However, the number one thing is serving their customer’s needs. If they don’t do this one thing, they won’t be in business for very long. Very few people are likely to spend money at a store buying something they don’t want, or tolerating rude service.

Possibly the most obvious factor is a good business idea. Knowing what to sell and being in the right market can make all the difference. There are plenty of people that have started businesses selling goods and services that nobody really wants, and this led to their business failing. Sometimes they were ahead of their time, and in spite of having a great idea they still failed because the market or technology wasn’t ready. This happened quite a few times in the dot-com bubble.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Profitable (adjective)
Something that gives you some kind of benefit or advantage, especially money, can be described as being profitable. Usually it’s used to describe something that makes money.

Example A: Over the years, it’s developed into a highly profitable business.
Example B: It was a really profitable use of my time because I learned a lot.

Long-lasting (adjective)
Something that exists or continues for a long period of time.

Example: The company did long-lasting damage to their reputation.

Makes all the difference (idiom)
To make a really big difference to a situation.

Example: Exercise can make all the the difference to your health and happiness.

Ahead your time (idiom)
If someone is ahead of their time, they have ideas or opinions that are so new that they can’t be properly appreciated for a long period of time. Something can also be ahead of its time if it is too new or innovative to be appreciated at the time.

Example: He was really ahead of his time with his ideas about civil rights.

Dot-com bubble (noun)
A period from 1995 to 2001 when there was a rapid rise in investment and technology stocks and shares. It was during the time when there was a rapid use and adoption of the internet. Ultimately this bubble burst and the stock market and the technology companies rapidly decreased in value.

Example: During the heyday of the dot-com bubble, many companies spent a lot of money on excessively fancy offices.

What qualities do successful businesspeople have?

Any business owner needs to be tenacious and to keep going in the face of adversity. Starting a business, especially the first one, is a difficult affair. There can be a steep learning curve and a lot of unfamiliar situations that require perseverance.

However, in spite of all this, sometimes a business fails due to outside factors and this can be unavoidable. An outstanding businessperson would know how to bounce back from such a failure and try again.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Tenacious (adjective)
Someone who is tenacious is unwilling to accept defeat, and is very determined when they are trying to achieve something.

Example: She’s incredibly tenacious and will never give in.

In the face of (idiom)
If you deal with a problem or difficult situation, you’re said to do it in the face of it.

Example: She left home in the face of strong opposition from her parents.

Adversity (noun)
A period in your life in which you have many problems.

Example: We struggled on in the face of adversity.

Affair (noun)
An affair is an event.

Example: The party turned out to be a quiet affair.

Learning curve (noun)
The rate at which you progress and learn something is the learning curve. Often it’s used with difficult or steep to describe something that’s hard to learn.

Example: This computer programming course has a very steep learning curve — it takes a lot of effort and is very difficult.

Perseverance (noun)
A determined attitude that makes you continue trying to achieve something difficult.

Example: Through hard work and perseverance, he graduated from university.

In spite of this (idiom)
It’s a phrase used for referring to a fact that makes something else surprising.

Example: In spite of his injury, he’s going to play football this weekend.

Outside factor (noun)
Something external that can impact a business, a result, or other outcome. These are things that are usually completely beyond your control.

Example: The business failed because of outside factors during the economic recession.

Outstanding (adjective)
Something that’s outstanding is extremely good or impressive.

Example: He’s an outstanding athlete and performs better than most others.

Bounce back (phrasal verb)
If something or someone becomes successful again after a difficult period or failure, they or it have bounced back.

Example A: Stock prices bounced back after the economic recession.
Example B: Children seem to bounce back from illnesses faster than adults.

Which emerging industries do you know about?

There are a few I’ve read about online. The car industry is changing and electric vehicles are becoming more and more common. More and more people are concerned about the environmental impact traditional gasoline-powered cars are having. They want to contribute to a cleaner future. They’re also concerned about rising gas prices as the world’s supply of oil dwindles.

However, I think the electric vehicle industry is primarily booming because it’s fashionable to own an electric car. They’re somewhat of a status symbol, although only Tesla is a household name in this industry.

I think as an extension to this, there’s a whole industry that’s being created around self driving vehicles. Some electric cars have a very limited ability to drive themselves, but I think in the future we’ll autonomous trucks and self-driving taxis ferrying passengers from point A to point B. I think a lot of people will lose their jobs because of this, but it will help society become more productive overall.

Vocabulary and idioms for this answer:

Environmental impact (noun)
The effect that the activities of people and businesses have on the environment.

Example: Cars have a huge environmental impact and cause a lot of pollution.

Dwindle (verb)
Something that becomes gradually less over time, or smaller over a period of time until almost nothing remains.

Example: Helium supplies are dwindling to their lowest levels in 20 years.

Booming (verb)
Something that’s becoming increasingly successful or popular, especially if there’s a lot of economic success, can be described as booming. Often an economy, a country, a region, or an industry will be described as booming.

Example: The housing market is booming.

Status symbol (noun)
A thing that people want to have or do because they think other people will admire them for it.

Example: Having a new car every year is often regarded as a status symbol among the middle class.

Household name (noun)
A person or thing that is very well known by most people.

Example: The most famous movie stars from the 1980s are still household names today.

Autonomous (adjective)
Something or someone that is independent and can make decisions.

Example: A lot of cars are autonomous and can drive themselves in busy cities without the need for a human driver.

Ferry (verb)
To carry people or goods between two or more places.

Example: Passengers were ferried to the island in a small plane.

From point A to point B (idiom)
From one place to another place, usually when these two places are not precisely specified.

Example: I’m not interested in the scenery, I’m just interested in getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

How long will these questions be valid?

At least until the end of April 2020 and possibly beyond.

Three times a year the British Council changes many of the topics and questions they ask. Sometimes they decide to keep a topic for another four months, but oftentimes they decide to replace it. This one is less likely to be replaced with a new topic at the beginning of May 2020, but it won’t be known for sure until then. Therefore, it may also be asked on exams up until the end of August 2020.

Just to let you know, there are 49 possible part 2/3 topics on the current exam. Sometimes there are more, sometimes there are less, and this number changes when the British Council updates the questions.

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