We live in a 24/7 world of instant gratification where we hear about more and more businesses sprouting up, seemingly overnight, and experiencing mega success and growth (Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat, anyone?). But there’s something to be said for taking the long view, which is something the elite athletes competing in the Olympic Games know a little something about.
Right now in Sochi, we’re witnessing the impressive results from people who have most definitely taken the long-view approach to their sport. Let’s take some of the lessons from this approach and apply them to small businesses.
1. Set long-term goals. Ask yourself this: when’s the last time you sat down and wrote out where you want your business to be in one year, in five years, and in ten? This is something you should do annually at least. The Olympians we’re watching this week had their sights set on the Olympics for years.
Why this is important for small business owners: You (and your subconscious) need reminders about the big picture. The physical act of writing out your long-term goals helps. If you have employees, share these goals with them, and ask them to share their own personal goals. For example, a sales person might like to increase closings by 5 percent from this year to the next.
2. Set benchmarks for your long-term goals. The problem with long-term goals is that they sometimes don’t feel real since they’re so far away. After all, thinking about where you and your company will be in five years often feels like a dream, doesn’t it? Setting benchmarks helps make the overall goal feel more real.
Why this is important for small business owners: Think about the athletes competing in the Olympics. At one time, that was their long-term goal. To get there, they had benchmarks, such as placing in other competitions along the way or reaching a new level of expertise in their sport. As a business owner, you need to do the same thing. So if your goal is to grow your business by 25 percent in the next three years, what does that actually mean? What benchmarks would you need to hit in year one and year two in order to turn this long-term goal from dream to reality?
You can weave your benchmarks into your business plan (you have one, right?). And then you can refer to your business plan’s benchmarks when you’re creating your marketing plan every year so that you can make sure your marketing efforts are supporting the benchmarks that are building up to the long-term goal.
3. Practice, practice, practice. We can’t talk about Olympians without mentioning their dedication to their sport, and by “dedication,” we mean the commitment they make every day to practicing.
Why this is important for small business owners: Success doesn’t just happen. It takes time. It takes dedication. It takes commitment. For you, it might mean getting up early every Tuesday morning and attending a BNI meeting. Or it might mean blogging regularly in order to attract and build an audience. It might mean taking a class that will help elevate you to the top of your field. It might mean doing something out of your comfort zone, like delivering a presentation at a business expo. The key is you put in “the reps” day in and day out.
4. Pick yourself up when you fall. What’s one of the first things newbie skiers learn? How to fall and how to get up. Why? Because falling is part of learning how to become great. And you don’t stop falling even after you become great. Getting back up and at ‘em is what matters.
Why this is important for small business owners: Setbacks happen. You’ll lose customers/accounts. Great employees will leave. Life’s challenges will force you away from the office. And yes, YOU will make mistakes, some stupid, some unintentional, but mistakes nonetheless. When this sort of stuff happens, all you can do is pick yourself and move forward.
5. Get a coach/mentor (or both). All super-star athletes have coaches and mentors in their corner cheering them on. Often, an athlete’s biggest cheerleader is a parent or spouse who provides emotional support. Of course, these athletes also have coaches who excel in teaching the technical aspects of the sport and in getting the athlete to perform at his or her very best.
Why this is important for small business owners: We all need people on our sides, people to cheer us on and support us during the rough moments. We also need people who will push us, who’ll be brutally honest, and who can show us how it’s done. This isn’t one person: a small business owner needs a small army of supporters. It’s up to you to find these folks. You can find mentors within and outside of your industry. You can hire a coach. And you can learn which friends and family bolster you the most (and, likewise, you can limit your exposure to those people who suck the life out of you).
6. Know when to rest. Olympians are notorious for training hours on end. But the elite athletes also know when to rest their bodies as well, understanding that their physical bodies and their spiritual ones need time to rejuvenate.
Why this is important for small business owners: When’s the last time you’ve gone a vacation and completely unplugged—no checking email, voice mail, stock reports, etc.? If you can’t remember, then this is a problem. Downtime is essential for everyone, including small business owners. We realize that’s easier said than done. The best thing you can do is work it into your calendar now. Even if it’s one weekend off a month where you completely unplug, it’s a start. Then, work in some personal days. And be sure to book a couple of vacations each year.
Are you watching the Olympics? Which sport is your favorite? And what other business lessons can we learn from these super elite athletes? Share in the comments. (Go Team USA!)