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From Sochi to start-ups - what SMBs can learn...

06 Mar 2014

I’ve always looked to professionals from diverse backgrounds for insights into how they achieved success.

And with all of the Olympics media coverage over the last few weeks, it’s clear that the strategies and insights of world-class athletes are ones many businesses could apply to their own success.

Here are four insights I picked up from some Olympic medal winners:

Trust your instincts:

“I just had this idea in my mind all day and it ended up working out,” said Sage Kotsenburg to Transworld Snowboarding magazine after he won gold in the first ever Olympic Snowboard Slopestyle competition.

His “backside 1620 Japan” move paid off, just as bold business moves often do for entrepreneurs who step outside of their comfort zones to pursue their goals.

Push through, even when times are tough:

“I skied my heart out,” said Julia Mancuso, a free-spirited Californian and Olympic skier, who won bronze in Alpine skiing. “That was really tough. It was a really difficult slalom run. I knew I just had to give my best shot, and it sure didn’t feel good.”

There are unglamorous things about owning a small business – making a business plan, educating yourself about finances and technology, investing in employee training, and more – but being willing to do the tough stuff is what separates winners from the pack.

Build a great team – and lean on them when you need to:

“Surround yourself and choose to work with people that are the best at what they do and that are smarter than you,” said Shannon Bahrke Happe, who is both a three-time Olympian and owner of a successful coffee business.

On the slopes, this meant leaning on her brother for the inspiration and constructive criticism she needed to execute tougher jumps. In her business, this led to pulling in other business owners to establish partnerships that expanded her brand into new markets.

No entrepreneur can go it alone, and for the greatest chance at success, you shouldn’t try to. Embrace what you’re great at and leave the rest (maybe it’s your IT or your accounting, for instance) to other experts who become part of your team.

Never let the competition define who you are:

“You have a chance,” said Alex Diebold, bronze medalist in the Snowboardcross competition. “Don’t worry if there are people out there that are dominating the sport. You can come in and give it your all and come out with a result. Anything can happen.”

Diebold watched the Vancouver Winter Olympics from the sidelines as a wax technician, prepping boards for the four-man U.S. team. After four years of training, he made the Sochi team and overcame his underdog status to win bronze – a testament to his dedication and passion.

No matter the competition that exists for your business, your business success is defined by your drive and confidence in your unique strengths. With that, anything really can happen.

The sacrifice, the preparation, the ambition and risk-taking – there are many things small business owners can relate to in the stories of world-class athletes.

Who do you gain inspiration from outside the business realm?

By Cindy Bates - Vice President, Microsoft U.S. SMB group