Jeff Beagle talked me into doing a triathlon a few years ago without saying a thing.
Jeff is a personal trainer who had a client larger than me that he was training for the Clarklake Triathlon, a 0.5 mile swim, 14 mile bike, 4 mile run event. I figured if that guy could do it, so could I, even though I hadn't run 4 miles collectively in the past 8 years.
I love to swim. I like biking. But running is my Achilles Heel figuratively and literally.
In the two months prior to the event I swam daily, biked a few times a week and ran when I could. Sure enough, on the day of the event I finished 17th... ...in the swim portion. Overall I came in 396th out of 400 who completed the race. I was dead last in the 4 mile run. Two little old ladies watching the race passed me with their lawn chairs in hand I was so slow.
But I finished.
Talking to Beagle afterwards about training for the following year, he gave me great advice. "Phil, I know swimming is your favorite, but put the swimming away and spend all your energy on running. A 10% improvement in your running will have far greater impact than a 10% improvement on your swim."
How true, how true.
Business owners can learn a lesson from this.
Like a triathlon, we have three elements of our business in which we must perform: Product, Finances, and Marketing. The best businesses are strong in all three. Most businesses are strong in only one or two. And most business owners are only good at one or two, and usually only passionate about one of those three. Thus we spend our time and energy on our passion, improving only slightly, instead of focusing on the weakest, least fun aspect where the most room for improvement lies.
As you make your plans for 2009, do your business a favor. Evaluate which part of your business needs the most help. (Here's a hint. It's probably the part you like the least.) Then put all of your focus on improving that area.
A 10% improvement in my swim would have moved me up to 394th. A 10% improvement in the run gets me to 356th.
If marketing is your weakness, sign up for Roy William's Monday Morning Memo and go to the bookstore and buy his "Wizard of Ads" trilogy. You'll learn more about advertising than you can imagine and a few things that will help your business in other ways, too.
If finances are your weakness, set up an appointment with your accountant (get one if you don't have one already) and start going over the numbers. You can't manage what you don't measure and you can't measure what you don't know. Have your accountant teach you or hire a business financial coach. A good coach will pay for himself or herself many ways over.
Chances are, the product is your passion. That's how most people get into business. You know your products. You know what's selling. But do your employees? Is your training program getting the results you want? Also, do you have a good inventory management system? Do you have a solid Open to Buy program that keeps your inventory in line and cash flow moving?
Think like a triathlete. Work on your weakness. That's where the big results take place.
The following year I moved up to 367th. Time to work on the bike:-)