Business success: a marathon not a sprint

Long before I started my own business, I knew that it would be hard work. And I knew that success wouldn’t come overnight. But I truly believed that once I was on the path and generally moving in the direction of my goals, it would be smooth sailing all the way to the finish line… A bit like a sprint.

My experience couldn’t be more different. I’ve learned that business success requires constant focus and consistent hard work. The path isn’t always straight and clear, and staying on it isn’t all that easy. In fact, it’s more like running a marathon.

A sprint is all about speed and power and getting a good kick-start. While a good kick-start in business is ideal, running a business (like a marathon) requires preparation, endurance and stamina. So it’s not hard to see that applying the following marathon training tips can help you build an enduring, successful business.

Before you start running

1. Be aware of your limits

You wouldn’t consider running a marathon without first deciding whether it’s even realistic based on your fitness level. And so it is with business. Be realistic. Ask yourself if you really are prepared to take this journey. Read my 10 questions to ask yourself before you start a business.

2. Start planning early

It is recommended that aspiring marathoners run consistent base mileage for at least a year before embarking on a marathon training program. Building weekly mileage too soon, too fast can cause injury. And starting a business without the appropriate research and planning is just as likely to cause injury.

3. Start small

A lot of business owners I know have grand plans. While ambitious goals can be great motivators, growing the business in an uncontrolled fashion can also be your undoing. Start small, set achievable goals and then build on them over time. In marathon speak, this is like running a few shorter races to prepare physically and mentally for your first marathon.

Choosing your first marathon

A lot of businesses start up without much of a game plan. While this is not advisable, some of them seem to do OK for a little while. But if you haven’t properly contemplated what kind of business it is that you are going to run, then you may as well not start. By this I mean asking yourself questions like:

  • What is it I want to build? What’s my medium and long term vision?
  • What is my product/service?
  • Who is my target market and why would they buy from me?
  • How am I planning to sell my product/service – online, shopfront, B2B?

I like to call these “business 101 decisions”. They are akin to deciding what type of marathon to run, e.g. a quiet, low-key race on back-country roads or a spectator-lined urban race with thousands of runners. You won’t know how to prepare properly if you haven’t decided what you want your business to be.

Training for your marathon

According to REI, the primary elements of marathon training are:

  • Base mileage. Build your weekly mileage over time, running three-to-five times per week.
  • The long run. Do a long run every 7–10 days so your body can adjust gradually to long distances.
  • Speed work. Practice intervals and tempo runs to increase your cardio capacity.
  • Rest and recovery. Adequate rest helps prevent injuries and mental burnout.

This is all about getting educated, trying things out and building up slowly over time. I’ve long been an advocate of educating yourself as a business owner. In my article on small business success and failure, I suggest that all business owners, especially new ones, must sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of all the areas of running a business that they are unsure about or where they have knowledge gaps.

It’s also a good idea to test your business ideas, whether it be testing new products/services with clients and prospects or running your ideas by a trusted colleague or business expert.

Running your marathon

1. Stay hydrated and “fuelled up”

It’s pretty obvious – businesses run by people who take care of their health and well-being last longer. Do whatever it takes to avoid burnout and loss of motivation – get efficient, prioritise, get help and stay healthy and sane.

2. Start slowly

It’s easy to get caught up in race-day adrenaline, but starting too fast is a big rookie mistake. There will be plenty of miles over which to pick up your pace if you’re feeling great.

3. Stay focussed on the finish line

In business, your finish line is your business goals and objectives. And if the finish line is a long way away, then set yourself a shorter term goal, e.g. 1km, 5km, the next landmark, etc. Vision and/or mission statements are great at helping you stay on course and motivating you to stick at it. Read more about how to define your vision and mission here.

4. Get yourself a cheer squad

Having friends to cheer you on as you run is a huge boost. In business, this includes experts that are “on your side” in areas such as legal, tax, financial advice, insurance, etc. And sometimes, it’s not an expert you need but just a sounding board, a peer or buddy to bounce ideas with and to challenge you in some of your thinking and the way you do things. Make relationships with other business owners who have succeeded, meet regularly and use each other to help steer you in the right direction and keep you on track.

* Image sourced from Unsplash.

Peer-Business-Consulting-Angeline-Zaghloul-5What did you think of this article? Post your comments and questions below. And if you found this useful, please share with your networks.

About the Author: Angeline Zaghloul is an expert in business strategy, client management and business processes, and is the Principal of Peer Business Consulting, a Sydney-based consultancy providing strategy and operations support to startups and SMEs. Angeline also publishes a regular blog which provides research, advice and tips on key issues facing businesses.

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