It is possible that, in the IELTS speaking test, you may be asked to describe a business. There are many different possible ways that you could be asked to do that, so it is important to read the cue card carefully or else you might say the wrong thing.

In this article, I’m going to explain some of the important things that you will need to know in order to do this task. I will talk about:

  • the cue card
  • making notes
  • picking the right language

Then, I will give you my own sample band 9 answer to this question. If you only want to read that, you can skip to the bottom of the page.

Describing a Business for IELTS

As I said above, there are different possible ways that this question could appear in the test. First, it’s important that you read the cue card properly. It might say that you need to “Describe a successful small business” or “Describe a company you have visited or worked in.”

Note the difference in language. Both “company” and “business” mean the same thing, but the questions are asking you to do different things. In the first one, it is very clear that you are to describe a business that is small and successful. However, for the second question it could be a much bigger business or even an unsuccessful one.

There are many other possibilities, such as “Describe a business that you would like to own or set up” or “Describe a small business you want to start.” These are basically the same but totally different from the previous two. Also, be careful that it doesn’t say “Describe a businessperson…” That would require a totally different answer!

It may also say something like “Describe a family business.” In that case, you should make sure that your business is owned by a family or else you would not have given a proper and full answer to the question.

You need to read the question very carefully to find out what you have to do. The bullet points are usually pretty easy to understand but the first line might need some thought. Also watch out for words like “organisation,” which are not exact synonyms with “business” but have some crossover in meaning.

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The Cue Card – Describe a Successful Small Business

Today, we are going to focus on just one cue card. We will use the following:

Describe a successful small business that you know.

You should say:

– what the business is

– where it is

– who runs the business / how you know about this business

and explain why you think it is successful.

To begin with, you need to look closely at the first line and see what is being asked. You need to think about the following:

  • What should you describe? A business.
  • What kind of business? A successful small business.

Don’t read too much into the “you know” part. Obviously, if you’ve heard of a business then you know it in a sense. The question does not mean that you have to be personally familiar with the business and its owner.

Also, watch out for the bullet points. You should try to mention all of these things in your speech but you don’t need to talk about them in that order. If you can put together a coherent description in a logical order, it doesn’t matter whether you referred to them as they were written on the cue card.

Making Notes

When you look at the cue card, you have one minute to prepare your answer. During this time, you can make some notes to help you remember things later. This might include vocabulary or ideas. I strongly recommend that you don’t write too much here. I have seen people try to write full sentences because the idea just struck them and they didn’t want to forget it.

However, it is important that you just write down a few words or phrases. If you have ever timed how much you can write in 60 seconds, I’m sure you’d find it isn’t that much. This is doubly true in IELTS, when you are feeling stressed and busy thinking of how to answer the question.

For this question, I would make notes like these:

  • Enterprise
  • Exclusive
  • Reputation
  • Thriving

You can see that these notes have little meaning! They make sense to me because I know what I want to say. In fact, these are just a few words that I will use in my sample answer below.

Choosing the Right Language

It is hard to talk about the right language to use when describing a business because it depends on the business that you want to describe. Honestly, for IELTS speaking you will not need to know about the fine details of running a business. Having a solid grasp of business English would not be necessary to score a band 7.0 here – or even a band 9.0, for that matter.

You should focus on talking about what the business does. If it sells things, what does it sell? If it offers a service, what is that service? These are important things to be able to describe. You can also talk about the location of the business and the owners, as these things are mentioned in the bullet points.

As you can see, there is really no call to use specialist business English vocabulary. If you know some of this, it might impress the examiner a little, but make sure that you really know how to say something before you try using it in an exam!

If you are struggling with language and ideas, it’s always a good idea to check online. Make sure to use a source that was written by a native speaker or else you will come up with some mistakes. Try Wikipedia.

Look at this description of Apple, the technology company that created the iPhone and iPad. There is lots of great language here! Sure, some of it is a little too formal for regular speech, but there are many words and phrases you could borrow.

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Some Examples of Grammar and Vocabulary for Business

If we look at the very first line of that Wikipedia page, we can see some basic structures that could be used to start the speech:

Apple is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California, that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. It is considered one of the Big Four technology companies, alongside Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

Now, the first sentence is a little complicated but we could simplify it like this:

Apple is an American multinational technology company that designs and sells consumer electronics and computer software.

Here, the key ideas remain but it is a little easier to use. The simple structure is just

COMPANY + IS + DESCRIPTION + RELATIVE CLAUSE

We can change it to something different:

McDonald’s is a fast-food chain that primarily sells hamburgers.

Adidas is a sports brand that is famous for making football shirts.

Tesla is a car manufacturer that builds ecologically sound vehicles.

You can see that this is very flexible.

Vocabulary about Businesses for IELTS Speaking

In terms of vocabulary, you might find that because we’ve said “successful small business” then we can use some of the following:

  • Start-up – a relatively new company
  • Entrepreneur – a person who started a small business
  • Mogul – a very successful businessperson – but this is a slightly negative term, meaning perhaps they bullied other companies
  • Investment – money that goes into a business
  • Booming – an adjective that could apply to a successful business

Sample Answer – Describe a Business

Here is my sample answer to the speaking question, “Describe a successful small business”:

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My best friend, Roger, started a business about five or six years ago that has really grown into a successful enterprise. The business is a café and bar in Japan called The Docklands. It began as a really tiny café on a residential street and they could only fit a small number of people inside. However, it grew quite quickly and they had to move to a new location, where they could fit more customers inside.

They serve food and drinks, and at night the café turns into a bar. It is really popular among young people and it is common to find customers who have travelled a long way just to visit it. In the beginning, The Docklands was really exclusive and so it developed a reputation over time as a cool place. Eventually, when everyone could visit, it maintained that reputation by being the best at many things.

In The Docklands, you tend to pay more than at other places but the food and drinks are much better. It is also very clean and the staff are unfailingly professional. They put on interesting events for people that always get lots of attention, like open mic nights.

For all these reasons, it became successful and has stayed that way for many years. I am really proud of my friend for starting this café and making it into such a thriving business. He deserves all the success he has achieved and I’m sure that he will continue to grow the business for a long time.

Notes

This answer would take me about 1:20 to read, which is a good length of time. You certainly don’t want to say too little and finish early.

In terms of language, I have avoided any specialist business phrases because they are really not needed. However, at the start I used this phrase: “a successful enterprise.” It is another way of saying “a successful business.” At the end, I said “a thriving business.” Here, “thriving” is a synonym of “successful.” It is good to use a few synonyms to make your language more diverse.

In my case, the business was a café and bar. I have described it in enough depth, using language like “open mic night” to talk about an event that they host. This is useful but will obviously vary according to your own ideas.

My answer here was good in terms of content but you must also remember that you are being judged on your ability to speak English properly and that includes pronunciation. You should spend some time practicing at home so that you can give answers confidently.

Finally, try to make your answer sound interesting and enthusiastic! I know that you will feel nervous about it, but your attitude can make a difference. A boring answer will not help you get a good score. As such, pick your idea, plan as well as possible, and then give your answer while making eye contact and keeping a friendly expression on your face.