07/02/2015 05:16 EDT | Updated 07/02/2016 05:59 EDT

What Small Businesses Can Learn From Elite Athletes

Andrejs Zemdega via Getty Images

The business world has always been a lot like the world of sports. You work as a team. You face off against competitors. You can win and you can lose. While there is no finish line or final buzzer in business, entrepreneurs require the same single-minded focus and determination to reach their goals.

On the eve of the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games, here are five tips small businesses can learn from the world's best athletes:

Specialize in what you do best

Athletes are individuals who are good at almost any physical activity, but no matter who they are, they always have one thing they're best at. Like a runner who chooses between the 100m, 200m or 400m race, an entrepreneur needs to find a niche within the industry. This doesn't only mean understanding what they do best - to achieve optimum growth, they also need to determine which customers are core to their business. Analytics can help small businesses do just that, helping them allocate limited marketing resources accordingly.

Help team members reach new heights

Just as elite athletes train together, pushing each other towards new personal heights, business owners need to make sure their team members are always bringing out the best in each other. Cloud computing is an excellent way to unlock collaboration within a team, freeing up employees to work efficiently and effectively on mobile devices from anywhere, anytime.


An athlete's ability to concentrate is often what makes the difference between a podium finish and last place. Business owners can help their employees focus by removing the barriers put up by antiquated technology. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can help streamline sales processes, so employees can spend less time looking through old excel sheets, and more time selling or serving customers. With this added focus, employees can close more deals, identify new targets, all while helping the company grow faster.

Peak at the right time

Some athletes shine under pressure while others fold. When the big moment comes, small businesses need to make sure the company is ready to deliver for clients. For businesses, a lot of this comes down to scalability. When staff is added to ramp up for busy periods or to land a new account that has them serving hundreds or thousands of additional customers, small businesses need technology that allows them to deal with the increased workflow seamlessly.


Athletes that win gold and small businesses that succeed also have a great deal of grit. University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth, who studies the topic extensively, notes that grit is "the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals." Donovan Bailey wasn't born as a world-class sprinter - he had to work incredibly hard and train thousands of hours to become a champion. It takes much more than just talent and "luck" to succeed in the world of sport and that is the same in the world of business. Just like athletes know their goals and train intensively (through all the bumps and bruises) to achieve them, small business owners need to take the same approach when building their business. They have to look forward, work incredibly hard against all odds and be the business that they dream of being.

By taking the mindset of an elite athlete and constantly asking themselves what they can do to improve, small businesses can take their performance to new heights and compete on any stage.


What Do Athletes Eat?