Every four years, athletes from around the world gather to show off their physical skills and prowess. For many, the Olympics are the pinnacle of their careers. But what can business owners learn from Olympic athletes?
The idea that you have to spend years and years without a certain payoff is true of both. During the first few years after starting your own business you work long hours without making any real money. Like an Olympic athlete who trains for years on end with the primary goal of achieving success in his/her Olympic event, so too does an entrepreneur work for years with the primary aim of establishing a business and receiving the accolades for all the hard work, sweat, tears and effort.
A lot of Olympians are driven by this sort of “I’ll show you” or “I’ll prove myself” idea. As an Olympian, once you prove whatever it is you’re trying to prove and win a medal, everyone really loves you for a week. Then all the media stop calling you. And you’re left with this empty feeling.
Most true entrepreneurs are filled with ambition and have an “I’ll show you” attitude.
I want to explore the connection between small business ownership and elite athletics. How can small business owners aspire to be more like Olympic athletes than the thousands of spectators just watching from the stands?
Elite athletes learn that dedication in their training leads to physical improvement. If it takes 10 000 hours to be an expert at a sport, what is the equivalent in business? Small business owners don’t always have a roadmap of what comes next. Often entrepreneurs have no roadmap or training programme and learn as they make mistakes and take risks. A key to business success is agility. Entrepreneurs, who can figure out how to solve a problem, even when they don’t have the muscle memory, will succeed. In contrast, spectators watch problems emerge and anxiously await resolution by others.
There is a relationship between personality and performance. For an athlete, visualising success can be one of the most important aspects of their training. The belief that one can successfully perform a task, or sport-confidence, is a powerful tool. For entrepreneurs, there will always be business challenges; some may seem insurmountable. Self-confidence can work for entrepreneurs as well, to coach doubts or fear of failure. Confidence can be the difference between getting the gold and going home empty handed. Put in the effort and hard word, and then be confident in yourself, your team, and your business. Quite often, confidence is the thing that keeps entrepreneurs pushing until the next big breakthrough. It’s also infectious. Every small business owner who succeeds sets an example for those who go after them.
In the Olympics, does it matter if an athlete went to Wits or Stellenbosch University? What if they attended an international Business School and obtained an MBA? In a small business, how much does pedigree really matter? Performance is the equaliser. Olympic athletes are very familiar with the high standards set by coaches and judges. It is about their performance trajectory – where they are going, not where they started. Entrepreneurs should embrace their beginnings and move forward with performance on their side. Spectators admire winning athletes and buy their jerseys regardless of their pedigree. So remember, whether you are just only starting your own business or have been working at it for a few years, having agility, confidence and performing at your very best will ensure that you also get a place on the Podium of Business and walk away with the gold medal.