Like the majority of Americans, I don’t know much about soccer, but, as I was watching the England vs. USA match at the 2010 FIFA World Cup this past Saturday, it dawned on me just how much like soccer players small business owners are. What can your small business learn from the global sport of soccer? Check out these five soccer metaphors that can help your small business strategy.
Everyone likes an underdog and wants to see them win. America was considered to be such an underdog in the match with England that the New York Post wrote (with some hubris) the following headline: “USA wins 1-1: Greatest Tie Against the British Since Bunker Hill.” It’s an old story and an old theme that has been perennially replayed: David vs. Goliath, America vs. England, the small start-up vs. the large chain/big corporation.
The other side is bigger and supposedly better than you. They’ve got a larger marketing and advertising budget with a pretty face attached (let’s say, David Beckham?). They’ve got the money to spend on resources and talent (five of the top 20 highest paid soccer players in the world are English; one is David Beckham and none are American). They’ve got an actual machine-like giant who could crush you with his bare hands (e.g. striker Wayne Rooney). You have none of those things. Yet, as a small business, you have the speed of communication and action to get things done. You have camaraderie and teamwork, and, more importantly, you understand the game. And, like Clint Dempsey who scored the lone goal for USA from 25-yards out, you’re willing to take risks that pay off. You know, it’s the kind of stuff that earns you the label of “resilient” in all the papers.
The Level Playing Field
Soccer is known as the world’s sport, and it’d be foolish of Americans to simply write it off as uninteresting or inferior to American sports without giving it a chance. During England vs. USA game I noticed British sportscasters reiterating their praise of Americans becoming “well-educated” about soccer over the past few years, which brings me to the next point. To win or even to tie with the big guys, you need to level the playing field, which is getting increasingly easier for small businesses to do. One key way to level the playing field is to be just as informed as (if not more than) your big competitors.
Stephan Groschupf of Forbes explains how cloud computing services, such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, GoGrid, Rackspace and Slicehost are making it easy for small businesses to access big data analytics that can help with their overall business strategies. Additionally, Twitter and other social media sites offer tons of free data; even the World Bank posts stats on Twitter. These types of data used to be accessible only to the big companies who shelled out big bucks. As a small business owner, you’d be wise to take advantage of what’s on the Web.
The Open Window
Whether you like it or not, soccer is a low-scoring game. But, part of the reason it’s called “the beautiful game” is that it takes so much effort and hard work to actually score that the goals become romanticized and glorified, along with the scorers. Soccer is about timing, precision, patience and creating the right circumstances that allow you to maintain control of the ball and the field. Sound familiar? Being an entrepreneur is all about looking for the rare open shot, the opportunity to achieve success and exponential growth. It’s about taking risks, yes, but it’s also about being patient. It’s about getting that long-tail. It’s about preparation meeting opportunity to create the “luck” that everyone else thinks you have.
Tons of people have great ideas that they believe they can build a business on, but it’s what you do after the initial idea that counts the most. It’s the business plan, the goals, the research, the organizing and the team behind you that can help put you in a position to score later on. Without the proper preparation and support, you can’t succeed. The metaphorical soccer field is just too big.
In the crazy world of soccer, both the players and the clock keep running. There are no time outs; there are no breaks. Similarly, running a small business gives you little time for R&R. Especially in small start-ups, you and your employees can end up working 10-hour days and rushing to meet orders and customer demands. Like soccer players, you’ve got to think and problem-solve on the fly. However, unlike them, you can get relief from the demanding schedule your business requires.
If you find yourself constantly running and spreading yourself thin, pass the ball to your employees and interns. Set up the right processes for them to follow and spend some time training them, so that you can give them more autonomy and responsibilities. Additionally, you could utilize tools to help you automate rote tasks to free up more of your time to work on the big picture things. (See 4 Ways to Automate Your Business).
Whatever else may have happened during the England vs. USA game, to many people it came down to the goalkeepers. American goalkeeper Tim Howard deflected goal after goal from the magnificent English striker Rooney and was treated like a hero in the press. Conversely, English goalkeeper Robert Green–who let Clint Dempsey’s ball slip right out of his hands–will be forever known as the guy who handed over the lone goal (and England’s reputation) to the Yanks.
When it comes to your business, a strong defense and a good risk management plan can go a long way. Many business pundits have lamented that small businesses don’t pay nearly enough attention to risk management or planning. Don’t be caught off-guard when disaster strikes; come up with a plan that will help you survive any disaster and thrive for years to come. (See 7 Savvy Ways to Stay in Business Longer than Everyone Else)