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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gold Rush: The Summer Olympics Lesson for our Businesses

The opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics is just around the corner, millions of fans around the globe will be “superglued” (literally) to their TV watching all kinds of sports (some which are rarely televised – fencing, for instance) and cheering on athlete’s, some we barely heard of.
In the broadest sense, these athletes participating in the Summer Olympics are small business owners. Athletics is a business, the athlete a business brand/product and their goal is to be the best in the world. To achieve this, an athlete must manage their timetable, build their relationship with agents, coaches, sponsors and fan, still be part of the society.  
How does this differ with an entrepreneur, a business man or an investor? You may find some differences but am going to focus on some similarities here. Let us look at the lessons an investor/business person can learn from the Summer Olympic athletes. I could find these three lessons for our business from the London Olympians:
1.      Keep setting new targets
For any athlete, a personal record (PR) is not considered a static point in life. Whenever they achieve a personal record, a new one is set – almost immediately. In business, success comes from stretching your goals just beyond what you think is possible. Whenever you achieve a goal set another, immediately. Having a clearly spelt out goal keeps you focused even when things seem unstable.
2.      Be flexible and swift
An athlete’s life can be quite unpredictable. You may work so hard for something but it keeps evading you before your own eyes.
I recently talked to my wife’s friend who was a Kenyan Olympic marathon team hopeful. For all the time I have known her, she has been working hard, waking up very early in the morning to train in the cold weather in Eldoret. She has one dream - to participate in the Olympics. Her completion time just fell short of the London Olympics qualification time at Kasarani Sports grounds. She was so disappointed but was prepared to start training for the next Olympic Games. That will be four years from now, if am not wrong.  She already has a four-year plan for herself and a renewed focus on her goal.  
Athletes endure wins, losses, ups and downs all for the love of the game and the focus on nothing but winning.
In business, you must be able to adjust, be willing to take the highs and lows along the way. Being flexible and agile and adapting to changing circumstances sets successful businesses apart.
3.      Be strategic. Stop saying “yes”
An Olympic athlete’s life is quite demanding. Outside training, the demand on their time is endless: appearances, media requests, the needs of their team mates, family obligations….just to mention a few.
To go through all these, the athlete needs to weigh and prioritize. You just cannot be everywhere at the same time. Similarly, in business you can’t take on everything from everybody.
Beginners often find it hard to reject an offer. They often console themselves with the notion that “beggars can’t be choosers”. You can deliver that consignment fast, attend a charity fundraiser, and even offer our products at a discount almost equal to if not more than the profit we would make. We can do all these to earn your business. However, this is business; you have invested something in it. You should build a good relationship with your clients for its growth. But, again, you do not want that same process to distract you from achieving your financial goals.
Saying “yes” is in itself not a bad thing. However, you need to think of how accepting the request will help you achieve your business goals. Is filling that request a strategic step in achieving your desired goal? Or will it be a distraction?

It is no surprise that most Olympic Athletes are successful business owners and investors outside their sports. The vital skills in athletics also serve them well when it comes to business. You may not be a gold contender in the upcoming Summer Olympics in London but you can at least take some lessons from these athletes to help you propel your business to a world-class level.

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