I recently ran (okay, mostly ran) a neighborhood 5K after many months since my last event. I’m a very experienced back-of-the-pack half-marathoner, but I tend to only run during the fall racing season, so this was my chance to get off my rear end for the first event of the year.
To keep my mind occupied on something more pleasant than the two-mile uphill climb I was trekking at the time, I started thinking about how recreational racing is similar to starting and growing a business. So after pulling over to re-tie my shoes for the second time (trying not to make it obvious that I needed a break), I brilliantly extended my resting period by noting five business lessons inspired by my 5K march.
Let’s see if they can help you along your own journey.
1. Know the Course Before the Race
Before signing up for a race, the first thing I always do is review the course. I want to be mentally ready for the steep hill climbs, the fast downslopes and the monotonous flats.
The same principle applies to growing your business. When you look ahead to the next 90 days or 12 months, what do you see? A big sales push? A new product launch? Or just staying the course with the strategy already in place?
When you take the time to envision your business a little down the road (but not too far in advance, because it’s usually hard to see around the bend), you can be thoughtful and proactive about how you spend your time and your money, as well as what you can expect the results to be. When you have a clear vision of the road ahead, you’ll be more likely to cross the finish line with an amazing sense of accomplishment.
2. Start Out Fast, Then Settle Into Your Own Pace
If you have ever run an organized race, then you know that the entire pack starts out really fast: fast enough to worry about getting trampled. When I first started racing, I used to resist the flow by staying in the “slow lane” on the right while the speedsters zoomed past me and the other slowpokes.
But now that I’ve run over 25 races, I know that it’s actually much better to start off fast for the entire first mile before settling into my own rhythm.
This same idea applies to growing your business.
Start out fast and strong every new quarter by kicking off a new marketing campaign or launching a service or product. In essence, generate massive results at least four times a year—yes, push yourself past your comfort zone—and then settle into your natural pace with all of that momentum carrying you forward.
3. Forget About Passing That Girl in the Flashy Tracksuit
Yes, she looks amazing when she speeds by in her high-end outfit, but that’s her race, not yours.
In business, your competitors are running their own races, so don’t confuse yours with theirs. Determine how your brand and its offerings are unique, and use that uniqueness to target customers who will be delighted with your products and services.
When you find yourself overly dissecting other companies’ branding and marketing strategies, you can lose focus on your own path. Getting inspired by the success stories in front of you is fantastic, but feeling threatened by them or, worse, trying to copy them is a recipe for disaster.
Besides, they may be ahead now, but it’s who makes it to the finish line first that counts!
4. When Approaching a Big Hill, Take Smaller Steps
Surprisingly enough, I actually love running hills. Not for the entire course, but I do love the powerful feeling that comes from making it to the top. A running coach once told me that, whenever I want to tackle a steep hill, I should stay focused on the road ahead and take small but steady steps.
This advice has helped me grow my business time and time again.
When you have a big project or goal with many moving parts and pressing deadlines, start by breaking it down into easier-to-manage micro-projects. It’s much easier to finish 10 small things than to make an exaggerated leap to the end. And as an added bonus, the small achievements along the way will give you a big boost of energy to finish strong.
5. Run as Fast as You Can When the Wind Is Finally Behind Your Back
So after running uphill for two miles, and since I was familiar with the course because I reviewed it in advance, I was completely ready for the last half of my race, where I could breeze downhill with a new medal in my sights.
While on your entrepreneurial journey, there will be times when everything you do feels easy and is actually fun. These are your downhill moments. This is your time to go as fast as you can to maximize the opportunities put in front of you and to accelerate towards your goals as quickly as the momentum will take you.
These exciting times can be few and far between, but when it’s your time, run like the wind and grab every medal along the way!
Pace Yourself for Success
These five lessons started out as a way for me to discreetly catch my breath, as both runners and entrepreneurs sometimes need to do. But the unintended benefit was a great reminder that the best way to win with your business is to run it with intention and do it your way. Remember that it’s mostly a marathon, but sometimes you absolutely have to sprint.