What Mountain Biking Can Teach You About Business Strategy

If you’ve ever been on a mountain bike and felt the exhilaration of barreling down some well-worn single-track, you’ve likely also felt the pain of crashing headfirst into a tree. You might’ve sat there dazed, thinking, “what went wrong?” while you picked the leaves out of your helmet. You were trying so hard to avoid hitting that tree. How could you have hit it? The answer is really kind of crazy.

The most successful mountain bikers stick to these simple words of wisdom – “look where you want to go.” For some strange reason, your brain sees you looking at something and interprets that as, ” I want.” So, your brain does its’ best to give you what you’re paying all that attention to. If you’re cruising down the road staring at a tree chanting, “please don’t hit that” under your breath, chances are, you’re going to look yourself straight into that tree. To avoid the tree, you simply have to look at the road you want to travel.

These same words of wisdom can have many applications in life, especially when it comes to your business strategy. How many times have you heard of businesses failing for one reason or another? Is it possible that the owners’ focus was not on the success of the business, but rather on the fear of failure? Did those owners “look” their businesses off of a cliff because they were so afraid of failing? Probably.

Like those successful mountain bikers, the most successful business owners focus on success and not on failure. They have a clear view of the path they want their business to take. They have a clear view of the customers they want to serve. They have a clear view of what their business is about. How do they get that focus? It’s really a three-step process.

Re-train Your Mind

As human beings, we have a natural fear of the unknown. If you’ve never done this particular business, you have very little idea of the exact plan that will make your business profitable. This is scary, no doubt. But, if you can train your mind to be ok with that unknown, you can focus your energies on the success of your business, rather than sitting in the fear of the unknown. How do you do that? Well, a good way to start is to understand when that fear starts talking to you; when the only thing going on in your head is worry. Understanding that that is fear and saying to yourself, “I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m ok with that,” can turn off the worry and allow you to focus on success.

Create Your Path

Before you start your business, and periodically after that (think one-year plans), sit down for a few hours and write about your business. What is your product or service about? Who does your product or service appeal to? Where do these people hang out? How can you reach them? Having a clear understanding of these things will help you focus your marketing energies moving forward.

Travel Your Path

Now that you’re looking towards the path of success, you can move forward. You have the time and energy to focus on the discrete marketing strategies that will make your business a success. Whether it’s shooting YouTube videos about what you do, or traveling to meet with the people that you want to serve, you have the right mindset to go about making your business a success.

Goals are Not Just for Sports

In school and at work, we are often told to create goals and to strive to reach them. After all, achieving our goals is a measure of success and a method of how to pursue our dreams. Goals are a big part of managing marketing and sales in most companies, and they are the markers of who is producing and who is not. Not everyone has the same training in hitting goals, however, nor do goals create motivation for everyone.

What Can We Learn from Goals in Sports?

The easiest way to demonstrate goal setting is to look at sports. Every sport has a goal to reach to win the game. Goals can be achieved through hitting a ball out of the park, into a net, throwing it into a basket, or even by racing to a finish line. Most of these goals are made from years of preparation, training, and study of the game they represent. No athlete achieves success without that training, no matter how easy the achievement looks to the spectator. Athletes work through injuries, bad days, failures, and practice. Achievements are the culmination of hours and hours of work.


The point of a goal is to help you achieve success even with the stumbling blocks and barriers that stand before you. A goal is a guiding light to keep you on your journey or path. Henry Ford said that “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” The obstacles will always be there to keep you from making the goal. You may not have the experience, the education, or the opportunities that your peers or competitors do, however, you can still achieve your goals if you are willing to keep working towards them.

Applying Goals to Business

Like sports, business goals can be short-term or long-term. For instance, you can have a goal of getting ten items completed by the end of your work day. That is a short-term goal. A long-term goal is establishing 100 new customer accounts by the end of the year. An even longer-term goal is becoming the top business in your category in the city by 2020. The key is establishing goals that are reachable, measurable, and trackable so that you can follow your progress as you work towards the goal.

While wanting to be the best business in the city by 2020 is possible, a more reasonable goal is to triple your income from your business by 2020. With this goal, you can create the steps that will lead to the goal, and measure your progress as you continue your journey. You will know when you hit your goal by the numbers you achieve without any arbitrary or ambiguous measurements.

How to Keep Your Goals in the Forefront of Your Mind

Weekly meetings to keep everyone on your team on track may be boring, but their function is to make sure the team members are still striving towards group goals. You can do the same with your personal business goals. Remind yourself daily what goals you are working towards and what you need to accomplish that day to move in the right direction. Remember that keeping your eyes on the goal will help to remove the obstacles.

Demystifying Marketing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

With the existing and ever-remerging social media outlets available to us, the confusion as to how to use them can sometimes make us wish for the days when only local newspaper ads and the yellow pages were used for getting our name out there. Before you throw your hands up and invest in a sandwich sign board, let’s break down the mysteries that surround the three most popular social media platforms you can use successfully to grow your business.

Facebook is probably the first platform you think of when you hear social media. It’s not surprising, considering that, as of January of this year, it has over 1.5 billion monthly active users. For those of you marketing to millennials (15-34-year-olds), about 91% of them use Facebook, most likely without ever looking up from their phones. With numbers like this, if your business doesn’t have an active Facebook page with content that is updated daily, you’re seriously missing out.

Facebook is a fantastic place to post longer form statements and articles, with images and links to your business website, to drive traffic. Connecting with your prospects and clients through Facebook can benefit your business tremendously by building those critical relationships. Building followers on Facebook enables you to spread the news about your business by keeping your followers up to date on what your business is doing.

Every business needs to be actively present on Facebook to stay relevant.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a micro-blogging site that allows you to send short (140 characters) messages to potentially millions of individuals in real time. Some of the most compelling features of Twitter include:

– URL shorteners like TinyURL and Bitly – enable you to link to content on your own site without hogging all of your characters.

– Hashtags – these tiny miracle workers enable you to create or insert your message into a worldwide conversation, allowing you to reach individuals that aren’t necessarily following you, but are following the hashtag you are using.

– Trend watch – by looking at what’s trending on Twitter, you can easily tailor your content to the actively followed conversations (hashtags) and get in on the hype.

Businesses that can really benefit the most from this include mobile businesses such as restaurants, retail outlets, and food trucks. Imagine Tweeting out your current lunch special with coupons, or upcoming locations. Nothing says love like showing up to your location and seeing a hundred customers lined up and waiting for you!

In contrast to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is a photo-sharing app that enables you to put out rich and vibrant images to promote your business. Instagram is actually considered the single most important social network out there, so businesses that target the teen market absolutely must have an Instagram presence.

Instagram allows you to choose from a variety of filters when posting your photos. Be sure to use the same filters every time you post so that you can create your cohesive brand identity on Instagram. This will help users engage with your business. If they know it’s you, they’ll stop and like your image or make a comment.

If you’re new to Instagram, you may be associating it with a great big Selfie-Fest, but for businesses, that’s not the case. Posting aesthetically pleasing images of your products, your office, and things that may be associated with your product or service help you build your brand and show the world what you do.

Ultimately, the platform that will be most effective for your marketing efforts depends primarily on your audience, their interests, and the type of content you plan to disperse.

3 Tips to Communicate with All Types of Clients

When it comes to reaching your audience, a lot comes down to communicating with them in the language they will understand. We can learn a lot from Julia, a Pasadena ten-year-old. Julia is deaf; her new puppy, Walter, is as well. But, the two have found the ability to communicate with one another with ease. Julia has begun training the seven-month-old puppy by teaching him sign language. The dog knows the signs for sit, water, food and several others.

Julia’s mother, Chrissy, said that when her Julia was born, she couldn’t hear her mom and would smell Chrissy’s neck for comfort instead. The moment Chrissy picked up Walter, he did the same thing. “I remember just looking at him, and I knew that he was meant to be ours,” she said in a Humane Society video. Walter was the last puppy of his litter to be adopted, but the Humane Society did not give up hope.

The Pasadena Humane Society, which introduced the two, posted a video of Julia and Walter on their page. The reaction was immediate and positive. “Amazing!!” said one commenter. “This is my dog, Wyatt. He is also deaf, and he has no idea he is different.”

When we are communicating with our prospects and our customers, we can take some valuable lessons from Julia and Walter:

1. Different customers will respond to different communication.

Customers are not all the same. You will deal with Millennials and Boomers, urban and rural folks, and people from different income brackets and areas of the country. It is important to segment your marketing lists and create materials for each individual group.

2. Remember that each group does not think of itself as a segment.

Just like the dog Wyatt who thinks himself like any other dog, your customers just think of themselves as ordinary people. Talk to them directly and respectfully. Never talk down to a group. Don’t use slang that is not in keeping with your brand. This can feel false and off-putting.

3. Remember that consistent marketing is key.

Don’t just reach out to each segment once. Create follow-up emails and other remarketing opportunities. If you do direct mail, send a follow-up postcard to go out to people who did not respond to your initial offer. Just like raising puppies requires a long-term commitment, nurturing a prospect from initial contact to conversion takes patience, time and effort.

Marketing segmentation takes more time and attention than a shotgun approach. But, over time, you will find that it consistently increases your return on your marketing investment and helps you build stronger relationships with your clients.

The Art of the Pivot

No matter what business you’re talking about, most companies usually begin life in the same way: with an idea. You wake up one morning, have an idea for a product or service that you’re sure will be the “next big thing,” and you get to work. You fully commit yourself to building an infrastructure, developing and expanding on your idea, and eventually, you bring your product or service to market.

And then things have a habit of sometimes not going necessarily how you’d planned them.

Maybe people are using your product, but they’re not using it in the exact way that you intended. Certainly not in the way you built your strategy around. Maybe your product or service isn’t popular at all, but the underlying idea is still a solid one. In these situations, you have two options: you can pack up your ball and go home, or you could do what some of the most successful companies in the history of planet Earth have done: you pivot.

The Art of the Pivot in Action

A few years ago, an online role-playing game was founded called “Game Neverending” – you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. The premise was simple – users would travel around a digital map and find other people to buy, sell, and build items with. Included inside the game was a photo-sharing tool, which quickly became one of the most popular parts of the experience. Though the developers loved their idea, users weren’t quite so kind. People were spending less and less time on the “buying, selling, and building items” part and more on the “photo-sharing” part, causing significant problems for the company’s long-term goals.

While you’ve probably never heard of “Game Neverending,” you ARE no doubt aware of a service called Flickr – one of the most popular and widely used photo-sharing tools of the digital age. The developers behind “Game Neverending” realized that they were never going to get people to love their RPG the way they did, so they did what any entrepreneurs would do: they pivoted. They threw out everything except the proven-successful photo-sharing technology and started from scratch. One acquisition by Yahoo! later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let the Market Be Your Guide

The key takeaway from this is that you need to be willing to listen to the market and allow it to guide you through execution, even if that execution is at odds with your original intent. Remember that the market is telling you “We like this, but it would be better if it had X, Y, and Z features” is different from pivoting. If users enjoyed the RPG experience of “Game Neverending” and the developers just kept adding game-related features, we might not have Flickr today.

Instead, the market communicated loud and clear: “We don’t like this game, but we do enjoy this one thing that the game lets us do.” These are the types of moments you have to be not only willing to listen to, but also to allow them to change your idea of what your product or service could become.

Listening to the market and being willing to pivot, even if that was the furthest thing from your mind at the time, is not a bad thing. Indeed, history has proven that great things have been born out of it time and again. Because if you release a product or service and are unwilling to change based on the ideals of your users, you’ll wind up hemorrhaging users pretty quickly.

And without those users, what are you left with? Little more than a good idea in search of a purpose, which isn’t anything at all.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

Triumph Over Adversity

Many of the most successful leaders in the world have been people who have triumphed over adversity. This list of individuals includes celebrities, world leaders, and business people. Notable figures include Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before finally becoming President in South Africa and Steve Jobs who was fired from his own company. Many people fail in their lifetimes, and then go on to become successful. Failure in itself is not the end. Instead, it is a lesson that can be applied to future endeavors.

What Can Failure Teach Us?

Without learning how to fail and pick yourself up again, most people would never learn anything new or complete any task. It is an accomplishment to fail, and then go on to make something of yourself by admitting that you have failed and refusing to be deterred from your final goal. While this concept can apply to any endeavor in life, it is certainly a concept that can be easily applied to business.

Living with Failure in Business

The business world is full of failures. Companies often have products that do not do well in the marketplace among the mix of products that they sell. In fact, most sales teams figure failure into their daily routine since they know that they will have to approach a lot of leads before they can turn some of them into buying customers. Many successful salespeople use rejections to tally how well they are doing. For instance, they may decide to make enough cold calls over the phone each day to tally up to a hundred “no, thank you’s.” The reason they count those no’s is that they realize that if they receive a hundred no’s, they will also have enough yes’s in that group of phone calls to make the quota of appointments they need to have.

Failure is a Requirement for Success

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Greatness can only be achieved by someone who understands what it takes to become great. Therefore, failure is a requirement for success because it takes failure to appreciate success. While not every one of us needs to spend 27 years in prison to finally achieve our goals, the truth remains that unless we persevere towards our goals, we will not be able to achieve success in our careers or life.

Dealing with Failure in Business

As a business owner, it is very likely that you will make mistakes, disappoint staff and customers, and lose business from time to time. However, each time failure occurs, it is best to admit the failure, and then examine why it happened. By learning from our mistakes, we become better business owners and better people. Failure helps us relate to others who have experienced hard times and gives us the opportunity to connect with them as customers.

Dealing with Future Adversity

The next time you or one of your employees fails at a task, take the time to use the failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. Maybe the failure of one person can become a lesson for everyone, and it will lead to the next big success for your entire company.