I’m a wannabe athlete.
I wear the gear and own the equipment, but most of the time I’d rather be in a hammock… and watch the professional athletes compete on television.
When I finally learned to swim just a few years ago, my then 7-year old son challenged me to try my first triathlon. It was a mini race, just enough for newbies like me not to drown, fall off a bike or have to walk to the finish line. It was fun, but now I’ve crossed it off my bucket list.
My husband on the other hand, has been a sponsored triathlete who has raced on and off over the last two decades. To this day, we have a solid group of friends who are both entrepreneurs and triathletes. Many run very large businesses, and they still manage to compete in extreme races – one where they swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a full marathon of 26 miles at the end.
How do they do it?
Here’s what I’ve noticed about how they train and think, and how those lessons can apply to small businesses.
5 Business Lessons from Triathletes
1. Train every day
With three different sports to master, triathletes train almost every day. They have to: it’s the incremental progress and consistency in each sport that makes them a stronger overall competitor.
In running a small business, we are often busy “doing” the work. However, it’s important to build in time to “train” mentally and learn something new. This is what triggers the creativity and innovation that pulls you ahead of the pack.
Also, go out on a limb and tackle something you are fearing – hesitation and fear is something we have to train ourselves to tackle on a daily basis if we want to grow. Eventually the dots connect in your business, in ways you can’t even imagine yet.
2. A coach can help you reach your best potential
All professional athletes have coaches. Coaches instruct the athlete on proper form and technique to maximize that player’s physical potential. Coaches can help “scout” the competition, motivate the athlete and help direct strategy or specific plays that surprise or overpower their opponent.
Business coaches also push you to your limits – to make 20 sales calls instead of your usual 5 a day for example. Would you do it if you didn’t have anyone to be accountable to? It’s much easier to take a break, go on Facebook to chat or walk down to the coffee shop, don’t you think?
So try and hire the best coach you can afford. They can help you save time by sharing with you key lessons or best practices, which in turn can ramp up your revenue and increase your time off. Coaches also help identify your blind spots, with the ultimate goal of you working smarter, not harder.
3. Have 360 degree vision
In triathlons, with hundreds of people leaping in to swim in the ocean at one time, or bikers speeding towards a turnaround, accidents can easily happen if you aren’t aware of what’s around you.
In running a small business, this is about staying intensely focused but also looking at what competitors are doing, what prospective partners are looking for and where the industry is going so you can see the big picture and avoid a big crash! Look up once in a while, it might just save your life and your business.
4. You can’t go it alone
Don’t be a lone wolf. No matter how strong you are, especially if you’re competing in a non-team sport, you need a support system for encouragement, logistics, nutrition help, sponsors for the right gear and so on. My husband once finished 2 minutes over his expected race time – I missed him at a critical checkpoint where I was supposed to hand over an energy bar to fuel him up! (Note to self: stick to cheering, not logistics).
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, the road can be extremely rough and make you want to give up. A support system including peers to bounce ideas off, networking groups that offer learning or new contacts, partnerships that help you win clients, and a team (internal or external) you can outsource to – can ensure you’ll make it to the finish line while running at your personal best.
5. Your mind is stronger than you think
At some point in an endurance sport, the body just wants to give up. You hear high performance athletes talk about their mind helping them persevere so they can keep going and put one foot in front of the other.
Most businesses aren’t physically demanding by nature – usually it’s about our mental and emotional power. Find a way to tap into your inner strength, your core values, your passion and your resourcefulness. It’s what you’ll need to finish the marathon of running and establishing a successful small business.
What else do you see athletes practicing that could help a small business owner? Would you like to add anything to this list?
I am blogging on behalf of Visa’s Go World Olympic Campaign and receive compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. This post was sponsored by Visa Small Business. From now through August 31st 2012, visit http://www.inc.com/visa-business-of-the-olympic-games/ to learn about Team Visa Olympic athletes who are also dedicated small business owners. Visit Visa Business’s newly-launched Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/visasmallbiz) for more details, and follow @VisaSmallBiz for ways to help make your small business more efficient and successful. Discover more at http://visa.com/business.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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