What can Olympic Athletes teach Entrepreneurs?

OLY HKW Canada United States 20140220 TOPIXIf you’re like most Canadians I know, you were up on Sunday morning watching the Olympic men’s hockey team beat Sweden and earn their gold medal. Likewise, you were probably huddled around the computer in your office on Thursday afternoon watching the women’s hockey team defeat USA and earn their back-to-back gold medal as well.

It goes without saying that both of these teams got to the podium with determination, focus and training. Of course, they’ll take their well-earned rest, but after a few days they’ll be back to honing their skills because they know that they’ll have to prove they’re still the best during their next Olympic appearance. Entrepreneurs can learn many things from Olympic athletes and apply these lessons to their business operations. Here are three key lessons I’ve picked up from Olympic athletes this year:

Olympic Athletes Never Stop Training: Just because the teams have won the gold, do you think they’re going to lose their resolve? Olympians have to make sure they never lose the edge that got them their gold in the first place, which means they’re constantly looking for ways to maintain or improve their techniques for their next Olympic appearance.
Takeaway for Entrepreneurs: There should never be a time on your entrepreneurial path where you stop maintaining or improving skills that will help your business achieve growth. Sharpening old techniques and keeping up with new trends will ensure that your business continues to prosper.

Olympic Athletes Know They Didn’t get to the Podium on Their Own: When an Olympian receives their medal and talks to the media, they never say that they made it to where they are by themselves. The support they receive from their family, friends, and coaches is instrumental to getting them onto the podium.
Takeaway for Entrepreneurs: There isn’t a single entrepreneur that’s reached their level of success on their own. Support from family, friends, and mentors have helped entrepreneurs everywhere reach levels that they never thought were possible.

Olympic Athletes Know Their Goal, and Stop at Nothing to get it: For an Olympian, the goal is obvious – go for the gold. For these athletes, there is nothing more they want than to be on the podium accepting the gold medal for their country.
Takeaway for Entrepreneurs: As an entrepreneur, you should always have the gold in your sights. You need to have goals for your business, be it fiscal or personal. Having goals will give your business something to strive for, allowing your focus and resolve to influence your team.

You may feel like your business has reached the pinnacle of success, but there is no such thing when you’re an entrepreneur. The reality is, you can constantly grow your business, constantly learn new skills, and constantly try to take your business to the next level.

Follow Your Heart to Turn Passion Into Profit

turn-passion-into-profitWhen was the last time that you asked yourself if you love what you do? You might immediately give yourself an enthusiastic “yes”, while at the same time find yourself struggling to go into the office every morning. When you love what you do, others will take note and your passion will inspire and motivate them. You can easily spot businesses that are passionate about their craft. Their care and effort shows up in their work, which excites people to work with them.

It’s no secret that I love what I do. I feel like I was born to own a business and am grateful that I’ve been able to tap into my passion to thrust my entrepreneurial endeavours to the next level. Here are a few tips that I have for entrepreneurs that can help you turn your passion into profit.

Be honest with yourself: As I mentioned, you need to ask yourself if you love what you’re doing and actually take the time to think about your answer. If you realize that you really don’t love your work, you need to figure out what it is that you love and start on your path to get there. Of course this won’t be an easy task, especially if you’re a business owner, but in the end you will get much more satisfaction from finding your passion rather than slowly becoming bitter towards your own business.

Remind yourself about your passion: No matter how much you love what you do, everyone has their off-days. Tight deadlines, lackluster sales quarters, personal struggles… Overwhelming stress can make you doubt what you’re doing and that will slowly drain your love for your work. Remind yourself why you love what you do – hang an inspirational quote or image that resonates with you, talk with your team or simply take some time to reflect so you can reignite your passion.

Ignore the cynics: If you take a brief look online, you will find various articles written by business owners who say that doing what you love is the worst decision you can make when you’re in business. They claim that “career passions are rare” and not realistic. I strongly disagree with this notion, as everyone should be doing what they love. If you’re living your life doing something you have no passion for, you need to at least try to take the steps to go after your dreams.

Don’t forget the fun: At the end of the day, you need to remember to have fun. Entrepreneurs that start a company spurred from their passion find their business fun, but they need to spread that positive energy to their team. A serious, grim and frigid work environment won’t allow your team’s creativity to fully flow, which leads to uninspired work from your company.

Do you still find passion in what you do? When was the last time seriously reflected on this topic? I would love to talk more about this topic with everyone in the comments.

Making goals is easy – Sticking to them is the challenge.

The beginning of the year can be hectic for entrepreneurs. Once the year has settled in, it becomes far too easy to lose the focus and determination you had at the beginning of January. As I mentioned in one of my recent blog posts, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, yet I still find myself being more focused at the beginning of the year. It takes dedication to keep that focus going, and it becomes more difficult as the months pass by. Anyone can stay determined for a month, but it takes a lot of strength and willpower to stay determined for an entire year.

There are many things you can do to stay focused on the goals you’ve set for yourself, and these are just a few things I do on a regular basis to stay focused.

Making sure that you have clear goals for yourself is very important, but it’s also important to be realistic about them. Instead of telling yourself “I’m going to reach a certain goal by the end of the year”, break them down to weekly or daily tasks. Doing this is an easier way to keep yourself accountable to your long-term goals, and it’s also easier to check things off when they come up instead of auditing yourself at the end of the year.

An important part of staying focused is also making sure that you’re taking the necessary time for yourself to unwind. I’ve been talking at length in the past few weeks about how I have been unwinding with some close friends on my beer league team of the Screaming Eagles. It’s important to find a past-time that you not only find entertaining, but that also lets you completely escape and forget about the stress that was brought about from your work.

Another way to de-stress is to simply unplug yourself from your smart phone and e-mail for about an hour or so before you go to bed. While that may seem challenging to those of us who are constantly checking our e-mails, and may also seem counter intuitive to staying focused, but no one can operate on a 24/7 basis and over-working yourself is one of the traps that entrepreneurs fall victim to that makes them lose sight of their goals.

These are just a few ways that you can stay focused this month and, in reality, for the rest of the year. Now that the first month of the year has passed by, this is the time where you can prove to yourself that those goals you made for yourself weren’t just for show – now it’s time to attain them.

New Year’s Resolutions

With 2014 fast approaching, many of us are already starting to look back on the year that was. Was 2013 the year you had hoped it would be? Did you make the lasting changes you had wanted to this time last year?

I must admit, in general I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I have never made any in my lifetime and it seems to me that people who do use the date as a chance to justify putting off much needed change, such as quitting smoking, going to the gym or eating healthier. The crowded health clubs from the first week of January simmer down to the usual traffic by February 1st, and most of the people who claim to quit smoking for the new year are still puffing away come February.  In fact, I highly recommend turning many of your resolutions into goals that you can focus on during the entire year. Goal setting is much more focused, deliberate and success-driven, and that’s why I find it more effective.

But, having said that, for some strange reason I find myself much more focused this time of year, and upon further reflection I feel that resolutions do have their place. While I consider goals to be measurable accomplishments that are frequently complex and made up of many different mini-goals, resolutions are simpler, behavior-driven activities that typically do not require advanced planning. Resolutions are almost mantra-like, in that they are meant to give you motivation and encouragement as you work at bettering yourself.

For example, a business goal may be to increase profit by 5%, and includes a number of actions from attending more networking events, asking for client referrals, and launching a new marketing campaign. A resolution may be something as simple as: I will respond to all client emails within 12 hours. See the difference?

So in that vein, here are some of the top business resolutions you can make for 2014.

  1. I will think and speak positively each and every day.
  2. I will stop procrastinating and hold myself accountable.
  3. I will do something each day that will force me to get out of my comfort zone.
  4. I will focus on what’s important as opposed to what’s urgent.
  5. I will work harder AND smarter.
  6. I will visit each one of my clients at least once this calendar year.
  7. I will remember why I love what I do.

While these resolutions are meant to give you focus and motivate you for the New Year, they are too simplified to include measures for your success. But you can create goals out of any of these resolutions that truly resonate with you. It’s simply about staying focused and excited about all you’re able to achieve.

Short Term Gains = Long Term Damage

Building a successful business all starts with the relationships you establish with your customers. In a sense it is a lot like building a wall. First you lay a solid foundation of trust, and then you build upon it layer after layer after layer, ever higher up toward the sky. Some companies however, keep knocking their walls down and have to rebuild them all over again.

I am astounded sometimes by the short sighted approach of some businesses to put short term profits ahead of long term growth. You may remember the 2009 – 2011 Toyota recall disaster where corners were cut on the quality of manufacturing in order to increase their bottom line. Instead, it ended up putting the safety of their customers at risk, cost the company billions of dollars in sales, fines, and compensation; and severely damaged the reputation of their brand in the process. It was a PR nightmare, and one that I hope other businesses considering the same practices take note of.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incidence, and one that will most likely rear its ugly head from time to time. But luckily, not all businesses are so shortsighted.

I am reminded of a story about an ad executive named Jorge Heymann, whose agency had been approached by a new client that had recently built a modern seven-block riverfront shopping development on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The trouble was that the development was well off the beaten path and difficult to access, and as a result it needed a big advertising campaign to promote it. Heymann’s agency was given a clear objective: To create awareness and drive traffic to the complex. Budget: $4 million.

Now what most agencies would have done – and what the client was expecting – was to create a lavish multi-media advertising campaign. But what was unique about Heymann was that he understood exactly what he was being hired to do – to solve a problem – not to figure out a way to spend $4 million. He had gone out to inspect the site himself and found that given the inconvenient and remote location of the complex, an ad campaign wouldn’t be effective in driving the level of traffic needed.

So what did he do?

Instead of building an advertising campaign, Heymann proposed that the client instead use the budget to build a footbridge across the river making it more easily accessible to shoppers. As you might expect the client was stunned at this unexpected proposal, but nevertheless he saw the value in the bold idea and approved of it. The stunning footbridge was built and went on to become a Buenos Aires landmark, generating more publicity than any ad campaign ever could have and brought shoppers out by the thousands.

Heymann had displayed a keen understanding of his role in helping the client, he could have just taken the money, but knowing that his efforts wouldn’t really have been effective, what good would that have done him? Most likely the client would have been unhappy with the results and gone elsewhere. Instead, Heymann chose to build a long lasting relationship of trust with the client, a decision that cemented the reputation and fortunes of his agency for years to come.

As I have said before, people want to do business with people they trust. Ask yourself, how can I ensure my customers are still my customers in 10 years? Will my relationship with them lead to referrals and help build my business and its reputation?

The next time your business is faced with a short term gain at the expense of a customer, I strongly encourage you to put their needs ahead of your own. As the saying goes, it takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it.