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Business Is Like A Decathlon: Be Decent At These 10 Things & You’ll Win The Gold!

I’d love to see your face on a box of Wheaties.

The Olympic decathlon — a combined event of 10 different track and field races — is a perfect metaphor for business.

Bruce Jenner didn't have to win every one of the 10 races in the Olympic decathlon to win the gold.

You can actually win the decathlon without being the best at any of the 10 races.

In fact, Bruce Jenner (winner of the 1976 Olympic Decathlon and pictured on the Wheaties box) averaged the equivalent of a little better than 3rd place in each race — and he still won the decathlon by a substantial margin.

Inspired by the decathlon metaphor, here is a 10-item checklist for succeeding in business…if you train to place in these 10 business races, you can win the business gold.

1) Vision

As I wrote in 3 Tips On How To Write A Good Vision Statement, a vision statement is key to starting your business.

It helps you and your team answer the question:

“Am I working on what’s right for the organization?”

Don’t you think the Ben & Jerry’s team has a clear idea of how to delight customers when they read their terrific vision:

“Making the best possible ice cream, in the nicest possible way”

Go check out 40 more of my favorite vision statement examples (some are mission statements/taglines) for inspiration for your own vision.

2) Business Model

You have to gain mastery of your business model to successfully start a new business.

I know one entrepreneur who has 3 million unique visitors to his Web site each month but makes not money…and he’s in panic mode.

You might say that you’d love to be in that situation (after-all, can’t the guy just sell his Web site?) — well, it’s not that easy when you have overhead (his salary and contract fees for a few others and hosting fees) to pay and you’re losing money every month.

As Warren Buffett says:

“Rule number one in business: never lose money.”

“Rule number two: never forget rule number one.”

Check out Skill #2 in The 5 Core Skills Every CEO Should Have or How Much To Pay For A Customer or 5 Steps To Inevitability Thinking (How To Make It Inevitable That You’ll Generate $20K Per Mo. In Ad Revenue) to get some ideas on mastering your business model.

Even if you’re giving away some or all of your product for free, you should have mastery over the Freemium business model as I wrote about in It’s The Freeconomy, Stupid: Free As A $300B Business Model.

3) Mobilizing Resources

You must be above average at mobilizing resources to succeed in business. Examples of things you should be able to do in the early days of a business include:

  • Talk a couple of people into working on your new business for free
  • Talk your law firm into deferring all of your startup legal expenses
  • Talk your wealthy family & friends into giving you some seed money
  • Talk other Web sites into linking to you
  • Talk friends or colleagues into introducing you to the very best experts at the 10 things I list in this article! (i.e. you need to be hanging around the best in order for you to be above average)

A key part of mobilizing resources is networking (one of my favorite things!) as I write about in these articles on business networking.

4) Connecting Things

I was thrilled when Harvard Business Review included “Connecting” (aka Associating) in its list of top criteria that every business innovator should have.

Building a successful business (or product) is about connecting things. Here’s an example I gave of Steve Jobs connecting from How To Innovate: 5 Tips From The Top Innovators:

Indeed it’s Mr. Jobs who illustrates my favorite example of Associating/Connecting.

Jobs made between the demand for music on the internet (as witnessed by the explosive growth of the use of the Napster Music service on the Web) with the trend of greater storage in mobile devices (specifically, the minimization of hard drives to enable 1,000 songs to fit on a drive the size of a pack of gum).

Thus the iPod was born.

What are 2 or 3 things that you are uniquely qualified to connect to produce the next iPod!?

5) Marketing

If you aren’t actively thinking about the following questions, you’re not yet an above-average marketer or entrepreneur:

  • What problem are you solving (Facebook allows friends to more easily share stuff)?
  • What opportunity are you presenting (e.g. typing out 140 characters of text to friends and strangers (Twitter))?
  • What makes for a good advertisement?
  • What makes for a good headline? (learn this in 5 minutes by reading 10 Easy Tips On How To Write Better Headlines)
  • What makes for a good name (whether for a product, project or company)?

6) Selling

I don’t care how good your business idea is, if you can’t sell it you’re toast.

You don’t have to be “salesy” like a real estate agent or used car salesman…but you have to be able to ask for (and take) the order!

For a 5-minute lesson on what’s important in selling, go read How To Sell Better: The Simple 4-Step Spin-Selling Approach.

And this starts with yourself — when you’re first starting a business, the most important thing you will need to sell is you!

7) Psychology (Especially Empathy)

Building a business always comes down to humans…either humans you’re managing or humans you’re trying to market or sell to or humans you’re partnering with…I think you get it.

A good entrepreneur needs to put themselves in another human’s shoes…understand their psyche.

In short, you need to be good at empathy.

Read my Psychology articles or some of the mental models like Incentives, Parkinson’s Law, Pavlovian Association, Scarcity or Self-Interest in Charlie Munger’s Mental Models to get some primers on psychology.

8) Communication

It’s cliche: you gotta be good at communication to succeed in business.

Well, some cliches are indeed true!

But let’s break down where you need to be strong:

  • Writing — You should be able to write succinctly (e.g. in an email, your subject line is clear and the body of your message is well structured with a clear call to action/response at the end). Check out How To Write An Effective Email or 7 Tips For Writing Like Warren Buffett.
  • Speaking — You need to be a decent public speaker (whether it’s in front of potential recruits, your team, potential customers, etc.) — I recommend Toastmasters or other public speaking to everyone
  • Listening — “He who listens most, wins,” as paraphrased from Art of War.

If you want to dig deep into how to communicate better in business, check out my articles on Communication.

9) Speed & Iteration

Just like the 100 meter run decathletes must run, a good entrepreneur needs to be quick/fast.

But that doesn’t mean you have to rush things. As a hero of mine John Wooden liked to day:

“Be quick, but don’t rush.”

To grow your business you need to move super-fast in creating things, examine the results and then iterate.

There are numerous tips to increasing your speed: one is using the Daily Huddle in your business meetings; another is to chunk down your goals as I wrote about in The 10 Maniacal Steps I Use To Set Goals.

10) Patience & Longevity

While being quick (#9 above) is key to a successful business, don’t forget the main message of Aesop’s tale of the tortoise and hare:

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

I’m fortunate: my dad and Buffett have been constant reminders to me of this. As Buffett says:

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

Ninety percent of startups fail and my unscientific opinion is that the vast majority of them do so because they run out of time/money.

Always ask yourself: “How can I buy my business more time?”

With time, comes additional opportunity.

It took 9 years before my startup Mojam was sold (and part of the reason we were able to sell it was because we just stuck around).

The great Google is known to value longevity too.

Just ask anyone who has run a Web site for more than a couple of years…they’ll tell you that there comes a point where you don’t even have to do much updating to your site (e.g. a blog) and Google will send you additional traffic (because longevity is part of Google’s algorithm).

Two key ways to buy yourself more time and execute a long-term business:

If you can be above average at these 10 business races, your chances for starting and succeeding in business greatly improve.

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