How a sporting mentality can assist you in the business world

Sports stars turned small business owners have revealed how a sporting mentality can help give an edge in the business world.

Familiar faces from football, rugby and weightlifting claim the 'marginal gains mindset' - a sports psychology term that refers to incremental improvements that build to significantly boost performance - keeps their companies thriving. 

Former Aston Villa striker, pundit and property auction business owner Dion Dublin, said a sporting marginal gains mentality helped him implement small hacks, like focusing on teamwork and employee motivation, to create continuous improvement that has led to his business flourishing.

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Wales and Ospreys Rugby star George North explained how adapting to modern technology and dealing with pressure has made the difference in his motorcycle café venture. Sheli McCoy, a Scottish weightlifting champion, believes small, but consistent goal setting across personal development and business growth helps keep her business moving in the right direction

The stars have teamed up with Smart Energy GB to create a digital guide and show other small business owners how making little changes can add up across all areas of the business and help them feel more in control. 

George North says being able to handle the pressure has been a big help in sustaining businessGeorge North says being able to handle the pressure has been a big help in sustaining business
George North says being able to handle the pressure has been a big help in sustaining business | SEGB

Tangible benefits

The Small Hacks for Small Businesses, follows research of 640 small business owners, which found 90 per cent were interested in marginal gains thinking, and nine in 10 of the 84 per cent who already applied this approach reported seeing tangible benefits.

Some of the top marginal gains improvements they’d be likely to try were around small but achievable performance targets (28 per cent), a greater focus on motivation (25 per cent) and using technology for better data analysis (23 per cent).

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But this wasn't the only similarity owners found between sport and business, with teamwork, leadership and management, overcoming setbacks and clear end-goals other examples of the synergy between the two.

It also emerged 69 per cent want to make changes to the way they run their business but aren’t sure where to start.

Dion Dublin, who runs LOT9 Auction House, said: “Setting small, but consistent goals for my team of eight works well, as they’re achievable and keep everyone motivated. Team communication is pivotal to the success of my business, it means that everyone understands the goal, and is onboard with what we are trying to achieve.

“What I learnt in sport has really helped me in my business and it’s why I wanted to be part of sharing tips with others. I know how tough it can be running a small business.”

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Dion Dublin says setting goals comes in handy when working with his teamDion Dublin says setting goals comes in handy when working with his team
Dion Dublin says setting goals comes in handy when working with his team | SEGB

Managing cashflow

The study also found that when it comes to making changes to benefit their businesses, saving money and being more diligent with budgets were named as an area owners thought marginal gain hacks were mostly likely to help improve. It comes as 58 per cent said they are more concerned about energy costs this winter compared to last year, with 86 per cent claiming they can't afford to waste energy.

However, while 75 per cent said they have a smart meter at home, only 67 per cent were aware that they’re eligible for one at their business premises too, according to the OnePoll data. Accurate billing and no more estimated bills were seen as key benefits of getting a smart meter, as well as the fact that they can help identify where cost savings can be made.

Victoria Bacon, from Smart Energy GB, said: “The concept of marginal gains shows even small, inexpensive changes can make a big difference. Our research shows that energy bills are still a concern for many this winter, and that small business owners are mindful of energy waste and its impact on their bottom line. 

"One small thing they can do is get a smart meter installed, which can help give small business owners more visibility and control over their energy use - a great help with financial planning and managing cashflow.”

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George North, who now runs café and retail space Baffle Haus, believes a marginal gains approach works perfectly for SMEs. He said: “At the café, sometimes small steps can be as simple as making sure the lights are completely switched off at night, or we’re only running the dishwashers once they are full.

"In sport, you learn to work well and perform under pressure, and I’ve taken that skill with me in running the café. I am also a big fan of tech when it comes to monitoring and assisting in my performance both in sport and business.” 

Tips from sports stars turned small business owners

Use your resources wisely - Dion Dublin

When I was captain of Cambridge United, we didn’t have huge amounts to spend on players, so we used what we had on things like training and equipment to improve our team. In small business, you also need to think about where your money is going and how it’s being spent. That’s why we’ve got a smart meter at Lot9 – it tracks our energy usage in near real-time so we only pay for the energy we use – a real help with managing cashflow.

Don’t be afraid to do things differently - George North

There is no blueprint for success. Don't be afraid to try things outside of your comfort zone. This is something I’ve definitely kept in mind throughout my rugby career. I've been lucky enough to win the Six Nations on three occasions, and each time we had a different strategy. If you stay at the same level, you're moving behind as everyone else is catching up. In business, it’s the same - you have to keep things fresh and exciting for your customers too - whether that’s a new menu item, or an even elevation of customer service.

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Quarterly goal setting  - Sheli McCoy

Goal setting is ingrained in your mindset very early on in sports. The same should go for your business. Setting small, manageable goals helps you stay focused on making progress which will lead to more noticeable improvements. Slowly increasing the opening hours at Sweatbox let the team acclimatise to the changes and ease them into the new rota. We were then able to add more classes to the timetable, and by the end of the quarter membership had increased by 5 per cent.

 Top areas small business think marginal gains could help

  1. Being more diligent with budgets, spend and savings
  2. Improving employee productivity
  3. Improving employee wellbeing
  4. Optimising logistics
  5. Product development
  6. Quality control
  7. Using new technology to track performance
  8. Time management
  9. Adopting latest technology to improve performance
  10. Safety

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