6 Lessons Small Business Owners Can Learn From the Olympics

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Aug 2016
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Author : Pete Peranzo

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The Olympics are the talk of everyone around the world, and with good reason. Though the Games are rife with issues, they also must be praised for rousing achievement in culture, sport and business. Here are 6 lessons small business owners can learn from the Olympics.

1. Small businesses should use passion as a driver

The Olympic dream is one that comes from the heart, with the race for that finish line being about more than simply winning the gold. Win or lose, each Olympic athlete has a personal fire that propels them forward. It is not the potential endorsement deals or the potential for fame that gets a swimmer in the cold pool every morning for months. It’s the dream. And that dream inspires athletes and viewers alike.

Business is tough stuff as well, and for most of us it’s not sustainable to be driven by profits alone – we need more. There has to be passion for the process itself, not just the end goal. That gold medal winning bobsled driver doesn’t push the bobsled down the hill fifty times a day for years and hate it! If you don’t enjoy some part of what you’re doing, then you’re not going to succeed.

2. Smart licensing and partnerships work for the long and short-term

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is incredibly smart about branding. For all of the ire that the NBC Olympic coverage is getting on social media this year, the Games get a big chunk of dough from the peacock network, and for the most part it works. Coca-Cola and McDonalds might seem like the exact opposite of what athletes need in terms of nutrition, but they certainly bring in the cash that athletes need to make it all happen.

According to the official website of the Olympics, corporations pick up 40% of the amount that’s needed to fund the Games. That’s a huge number, but notice that the Olympics doesn’t lose itself in its licensing – there’s hardly a feeling that they’ve sold themselves out. Smart licensing means partnering with corporations that respect the mission. It also means long term contracts that create loyalty and synergy over years, which makes promotion that much more effective.

3. Positive PR is important

Public relations has been a challenge for the Olympics in Rio considering Zika and the crime rates, however, the IOC’s PR team still succeeded in pushing a mainly positive message.

We see that the IOC stays out in front of controversies, leveraging its tools and legacy as it keeps the Olympic dream alive. There’s this careful balancing act that the Games play, with so many moving pieces through out the whole process.

In business, there’s a similar balancing act, if on a smaller scale. Seeing potential problems on the horizon, then making every effort to mitigate them for customers and for business partners is critical to being successful.

4. Always work with integrity

We’ve seen it most sharply with the Russian doping scandal that’s been so big for the Games in Rio – integrity is important. People stay with the Olympics because we feel as though they are above reproach – there is no cheating, no underhandedness to be had. People are stripped of medals even years later if it comes out that they weren’t relying purely on their own natural skill. Scoring is beautifully impartial.

Integrity is perhaps the largest legacy and the weightiest lesson from the Olympics. Integrity in business can be difficult at times, but the importance of doing it all above board cannot be overstated. It only takes one misstep for people to lose faith in you and your ability to be what you say you are. That loss of faith can lead to serious, long term consequences for your business. Managing your small business’ reputation is crucial.

5. Be inclusive

The most beautiful lessons of the Olympics don’t take place on the track or the court, or even on the podium. The best lessons are in the selfies with a North Korean and South Korean gymnast, or as the athletes from the smallest nations or even those with no country at all are able to compete. Everyone is welcome here.

There is never a downside to reaching out as a business owner. You will always win if you’re being inclusive. Make it part of your corporate culture. Be aware of the community around you and continuously seek out opportunities for your company to make a difference.

6. Be forward thinking

Planning for the Olympics is a long process. The massive scale that we see with the Olympic Games is almost too much to think about and making it happen requires a level of advanced planning that most of us can scarcely imagine. But the IOC is doing more than just thinking about the games of 2020 or 2024; they’re thinking about what it might look like hundred years. Legacy is a critical piece of the Olympics.

For a small business, you might not be thinking about what’s going to happen with your company in a hundred years, but you might want to think about ten or twenty, or even thirty. What is the wider context of your business? What will you leave behind, for your community and for your family?

As you’re watching countries from around the world vie for the Gold, realize that while you might not be able to go swing on the parallel bars or jump in the pool to win a medal, you can still learn from the Olympic Games and take that back to your business. It’s tempting to wax philosophical about all of this, but just as an Olympic athlete has to get up every morning and head in to train for their sport, so too do you need to get up and make your business happen every day. Only you have them to look to for inspiration as to how to do it better.

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