Five Lessons Ironman Triathlons Can Teach Us About Owning a Business

ironman triathlon sign
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Note: This is an post from 2009. The PointBlank blogger of those days was not Dave Choate, but he still had good advice. It follows.

On July 26th your PointBlank blogger will be competing in Ironman Lake Placid for the 2nd time.  The Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run and has been called the toughest single day endurance event.

Before joining Direct Capital, I started and owned a couple of businesses which gave me a first hand understanding of the challenges involved with such a venture.  Much like the Ironman, you need to have great endurance to handle the ups and downs of owning your own business. Having spent many hours on the road training, my mind has many times reflected on the similarities between these two situations. I decided to put “pen to paper” and share with you five lessons I learned while training for Ironman that are just as applicable to the business owner.

1. Have a goal

For a lot of people their goal is their “why”.  It’s why you take on the risks and challenges you do. It’s why you get up every morning.  Whether your business is struggling in our current economy, or you’ve found a way to thrive, what is it that drives you to push forward? Signing up for the Ironman (or probably any type of endurance event) crystallized this effect for me.  With a full work week in addition to a family at home, finding time to train for an event like this is challenging, but not impossible. It means getting up at 4 AM most mornings to fit my training in so I can be at the office by 8 AM.  I can almost guarantee that if I didn’t have the goal of finishing the Ironman, I wouldn’t have been up at 4 AM.

If you haven’t already done so, develop your business goals. Once they are defined, it is inevitable that they will help get you out of bed on those tough mornings.

2. Be passionate about what you do

I’m passionate about triathlons. Some combination of characteristics drew me into the sport.  There is something about the business you built that you are passionate about. Identify what that is.  Is it the industry? Your customers? Your products? What your products do for your customers? Once you have developed a goal, identify what inspired you in the first place and why you are passionate about it. Being passionate about a clear goal is an unstoppable combination.

3. Be Disciplined

I remember when completing a 5k road race seemed like a huge challenge to me. My perspective has changed and I believe that virtually anyone can complete an Ironman.  Whether you are old, young, able-bodied or disabled, everyone that chooses to attempt the event can find out the basic principles of what it takes to finish the race. Once you know the principles then all it takes is the discipline to execute. The secrets to becoming a successful business owner are not all that secret.  Once you have your idea, the principles of sales, marketing, financial management, etc. are well documented. Just like training for Ironman, what makes the difference is the discipline to follow the plan. Attention for our time is constantly being pulled in several directions.  Discipline is what keeps us moving in the right direction.

4. Have flexibility

Even though I’m pretty strict about my triathlon training plan, there have been several occasions in which the pool was closed, the weather kept me from a bike ride or a family obligation took priority.  Just because I had to miss a workout or shorten a training session, the goal of finishing the Ironman never changed. I made adjustments and kept moving forward.  If you are currently a business owner, you probably already understand that adjustments are virtually always required even with the most well thought out plans.  Business owners need the discipline just mentioned to keep focused on the end goal and the flexibility to adjust to the roadblocks and challenges that inevitably will get in the way.

5. Build a team around you

My idea of endurance sports before the triathlon was 5k road races, meaning, when I signed up for Ironman, I didn’t have any idea how I was going to do it but knew I needed help.  So, I went out and got a coach.  There are several examples of people who excel, or are the best in their field, and still have coaches and teams supporting their efforts.  Even if you are a 1-person business you may already have a team around you in the form of an accountant, lawyer, etc.

Our Finance Managers are part of their clients’ teams.  Before recommending one of our financing, capital and credit products, or setting up a vendor financing program for a customer we first have a conversation about their business and base our advice on what will serve them best.

What business lessons have you learned from your latest athletic endeavor?