When you look at the attributes of a world class athlete and compare them to a successful entrepreneur, they may have far more in common than you think. There are in fact many core skills that a top athlete has that any budding entrepreneur can learn from, and one of these is focus.
It’s often said that diversification is the key to being successful, but for an entrepreneur hoping to make a success, this could spell disaster. Here’s why.
Focus like an athlete
When a top athlete trains for a major competition or event they will never take their eyes off the prize. They understand their strengths and their weaknesses and will work on them constantly. They will train relentlessly, honing and perfecting their skills until finally, they are at the peak of their fitness and the best that they can be. All the time never losing focus on the end goal.
Similarly, a successful entrepreneur will fully understand their core business and will have the ability to focus on this. They have a vision of where they want their business to go and have the ability to share that vision with the rest of the team. Everything that they do is centred around the core business and they will not deviate from this in order to achieve their goals.
Sounds simple right? Well not quite.
Diversification might be tempting
You see, many entrepreneurs want to take the easy route. It’s fair to say that most entrepreneurs tend to be ‘ideas’ people and as a result are constantly looking for the next best thing or the next big idea, that will change lives and make them a lot of money in the process.
The trouble is that doing this could be disastrous for a fledgling business. It’s far easier to channel energies into a new and exciting project than it is to laser focus on improving an existing business, and in this respect many entrepreneurs will take the easy way out by trying to diversify. By taking their eyes off the prize and losing focus on the job of improving their core business, they lose an edge. Once that happens there is only one likely outcome… failure!
You could say that this is akin to a coach entering their world class 100 and 200 metre sprinter into a 800 or 1 500 metre race. Clearly, different disciplines are needed and also differing training regimes. A sprinter for instance is more likely to focus on explosive starts and aerobic energy, whereas for a longer distance runner, it’s all about timing and stamina.
All the training that they have focused on and worked so hard to perfect will be wasted through diversification and although not impossible, there is a strong chance that the athlete wouldn’t be equipped enough to able to compete with those who are already established in this discipline. This is undoubtedly the same in the business world.
The reality is that the key to any successful business involves finding a real need, having the solution to that need, and providing a service to that need that is slicker, sweeter and greater than any of your competition. This takes real focus and if you are able to laser focus on what you and your team do really well and work hard to perfect those skills then you will be successful in business.
A case in point
Apple is a truly successful company that have modelled themselves on designing and manufacturing products that are not only aesthetically beautiful, but are also innately functional at the same time. Founder and CEO Steve Jobs knew that his core business lay in producing ground breaking products and as a result, he pursued this vision relentlessly. For the most part, the company never deviated from this and remained laser focussed to produce some truly inspired products. However, when they did diversify they didn’t always get it right (remember MobileMe!). As a result of Job’s vision, Apple is now one of the largest companies in theUS, yet if you took the company’s entire product range, it would easily fit on the average dining room table.
Talent vs. hard work
The key factors to take from this are that however tempting it might be to aim for additional goals it could be detrimental to your business. In fact all winners know that true success is 10% talent and 90% sheer hard work. If as an entrepreneur you can laser focus and hone in on the core skills that make your company stand head and shoulders above all the rest, and if you can keep striving for perfection time after time, then just like a world class athlete, you can and will be truly successful.
Build Solid Back-Room Basics For Business Success
What do South African entrepreneurs really know about what goes on behind the scenes building of businesses?
South Africa has a vibrant start-up culture with great ideas starting out with a bang, but closing down with a whimper because entrepreneurs picture the glory at the destination, but not the nitty gritty of the journey to get there.
Be smart about scale
When I started out, I literally did everything myself. I negotiated and signed leases, I arranged the furnishing for our apartments and managed the interior décor process. When guests started using our apartments, I signed them in at reception, and then carried their bags.
At that stage, there was no money in my business to pay for attorneys, interior designers and decorators and there certainly wasn’t enough money for porters.
However, when we got to 70 apartments, it didn’t make sense for me to be a porter any longer, so I hired someone to do that job, explaining clearly what I expected of him. Before I did that, though, I spent time designing incentives for him so that he would be more affordable for me, and so that he could earn as much money as possible.
Related: Training Is A Two-Way Trick
Know your talents – and your limitations
There are certain things I’m really good at, but I know without a doubt that sales isn’t one of them – and without sales, you don’t have a business. I couldn’t afford a top-flight salesperson, but I knew that I could attract the right talent with the right business model. I set some high targets for Pamela Niemand, but offered her one third of the business if she met them. We both won: she earned a share in a successful, trend-setting business, and my trend-setting business became successful!
Use your skills – but know when to hand over
My background in corporate finance meant that I had all the accounting skills I needed when we first started out, but I knew that the time would come when I would need someone focused on that side of the business full time. Doing it all myself first meant that I could brief my first full-time accountant clearly and with a deep understanding of what would be required – and that I could help that person find and fix any challenges based on my experience.
In summary, my simple advice to anyone starting out would be to bootstrap your business yourself without investors or staff for as long as you can, but don’t over-extend yourself. Know when to delegate tasks away so that you can focus on what you’re really good at – but don’t do it before you have a solid understanding of what’s required. Know what you’ll never be able to do, and bring in that resource from the beginning – but do it based on performance-based incentives, so that your fledgling business doesn’t lose out if your early hires don’t perform.
The Myth About The Relationship Between Entrepreneurs And Taking Risks
This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
“I can’t be an entrepreneur or start a business. I don’t have the appetite for risk.” This line is spoken regularly to brave few that leave the perceived safety of a job, take the plunge and venture into the unknown world of being an entrepreneur. However, there is a gross misunderstanding in the appetite for risk that entrepreneurs are believed to have innately inside of them.
The little-known truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs don’t like taking risks and according to Luca Rigotti and Mathew Ryan in their paper that explores a model for quantifying risk and its translation into enterprising action, the results were very interesting.
Risk is explained by these theorists as taking action where the outcomes are unpredictable as well the factors leading to that outcome are unknown. One of the theorists in this area, Saraswati, who coined the term “tolerance for ambiguity” has a more accurate description of what the outside world deems taking a risk.
In simple terms, entrepreneurs don’t go head-first into the shark infested water because they like the idea of danger and potentially being eaten alive; or the thrill of being able to say that they survived whilst others perished in a pool of maimed flesh. They carefully calculate that the sharks have been fed recently, some of the sharks are ragged tooth sharks that whilst looking like they are set to devour a human being, are actually incapable of opening their jaws wide enough to bite. For those sharks that still have space or who smell blood and can’t resist the urge to kill, the entrepreneur has a cage set up that he can retreat into quickly and a knife with which to protect himself.
Tolerance for ambiguity is the careful evaluation of what is known at the moment where a decision must be made and an open-mindedness for what is not known. This, coupled with the agility to change course when new information is presented, has earned the label of high risk appetite. The appetite is not for the risk, but it is the ability to move down a path, when all the information is not known.
I likened it to a person moving around in the dark holding a candle. The candle casts a light that illuminates a limited parameter around the person holding the candle. What is beyond the light that the candle casts, is unknown and potentially a risk. But as the person moves forward, the light reveals what was unknown and in the shadows. As the light reveals new information and new challenges added to what they have already learnt, the person can make better informed decisions. The tolerance is in not knowing what lies in the shadows yet to be illuminated by the candle and then the confidence in his or her own ability to act on what new information is discovered.
None of this behaviour is risky or irresponsible. There is careful consideration for what is known and a tolerance for what is unknown. And once there is more information available, a calculated next step is taken and more information is assimilated into what is now known. This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
7 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs To Adopt Today
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
For some people, becoming an entrepreneur is as easy as stepping off a bus. They have a big idea, they bring it to life, they hire employees and the next thing they are in a building smothered in branding and living the business dream. For others, the idea and the passion are there but they are unsure as to how they can make these into a sustainable reality. Entrepreneurial spirit isn’t like instant coffee – you don’t add ideas and suddenly get all the skills you need to thrive.
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
1. Believable vision
Make sure that your vision is believable and achievable. It has to live in the realms of possibility, not as a blue-sky idea that looks good on paper but wouldn’t work in reality. You need to be able to live this vision so make it realistic and achievable. This will not only keep you on track, but your employees as well.
2. Be inclusive
You need to ensure that every person who works with you feels as if they are part of your vision and understand it. They need to relate to where the business is going and how it plans to get there. Many leaders don’t understand why employees are not engaged with their business and it’s because many of them don’t actually understand what the business does.
3. Communication is critical
If you don’t have fantastic communication skills, then now is the time to hone them. When it comes to building employee morale, commitment and engagement, nothing works as effectively as constant communication. The same applies to client relationships. You need to repeat the vision and ethos of the company at every opportunity and you need to be part of the team that does this communication.
4. Be visible and transparent
You are communicating, now you need to make that communication genuine by being both open and clear. People respond incredibly well to transparency. They feel as if they are part of something that recognises their value and contribution and it fosters a more inclusive company culture. Often toxic cultures come about thanks to a lack of communication and visibility. People know when things are being kept secret and react negatively to it, regardless of whether they’re an employee, a customer or a manager.
5. Be practical
You aren’t going to build an empire in a fortnight so focus on a realistic and practical business strategy that has clear benchmarks and even clearer goals. Communicate these with the company and keep everybody on the same page. Practical and achievable means long-term success.
6. Build opportunities
As people become immersed in your company and part of its growth they will also need opportunities to grow. You need to tie their careers to the business and create opportunities for them.
7. Be human
It takes people to build a culture, a company and a future. It’s essential that you are human in your interactions and your treatment of others. The impact that a down to earth and authentic attitude can have on a company is extraordinary.
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