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What a Small Business Can Learn from Opening Day

Who doesn’t like spring? Spring is when we say goodbye to cold, wet and gloomy weather and say hello to bright, warm and happy-go-lucky weather. Spring is when we get our shorts and sandals out of the closet. Spring is when we get to enjoy our cold beers and head out to the ballpark.

I got the idea for this post from the book written by famous sportswriter, Tom Boswell—“Why Time Begins on Opening Day”.   As I was re-reading the book, it  dawned on me that there a several really import “take-aways” for a small business owner when you think about all the things that Opening Day represents.

Just like Spring,  Opening Day is a time for new beginnings and a fresh start.  It’s a hopeful time when your team has a new season ahead and anything is possible.  People have looked forward to new baseball seasons ever since the founding of the National League in 1876  This week in 30 cities across the USA, MLB teams and the legions of fans who follow the “boys of summer” will start an 8 month journey that could bring them to the Fall Classic better known as the World Series.  Unlike other sports who have bowed to the power of night games for better viewer ship, the home opener is a day game.  In fact, it is more than a game; it is a day long celebration in every MLB city.

Once known as the greatest event in sports, the seven-game World Service brings two team that survived all the ups and downs of a 162 game schedule and won multiple playoff games for the chance to be crowned World Champion. The “grand old game” has lost some of its luster with labor disputes, $15 beers, and three and a half hour games.  In many ways the NFL and video games have become America’s major sport. But nothing can really compare to baseball’s Opening Day as it brings a powerful blend of history, tradition and hope that no other sport or a video game can create.

All 30 MLB teams are playing to win the World Series. Small business owners are also playing to win their own personal world series but that will have continuous revenue growth and increased annual net profits. So, let’s look at how small business owners can learn from Opening Day.

Lesson #1: Think long term.

It is a long season but you have to take it “one game at a time”.   A pitcher can give up 10 runs one day and throw a no-hitter in his next outing. Each day is a fresh start, a new opportunity to put another check mark in the WIN column.

In both baseball and business, plans have to be flexible. If something isn’t working, you don’t stick with it just because it’s written in your business plan or on your lineup card. Players get hurt or have slumps or sometimes just don’t perform how you expected. Sales stagnate or market conditions change. Adjusting your plan to the current reality is the only way to stay on top, whether you’re trying to win baseball games or run a business.

Lesson #2: Build your team.

To have a winning team, the GM and the manager have to assemble a group of players with different skills to play different positions and be able to work together and win enough games to put them into the World Series.  Not too different in business, as the business owner has to seek out the right employees to complete the various functions and tasks of the business to have it successfully operate and generate a profit. I am thinking that Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, would have been a great baseball GM. (If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it.)

Managers don’t have to just figure out who’s on the team. They have to come up with batting orders and pitching rotations, bench players and scheduling matchups. It requires a lot of planning to assess your team and determine the best way to use it.  Having a harmonies group of players or employees does not just happen, it takes a lot of work and it’s the business owners challenge to create a “winning environment” or company culture that will grow your bottom line.

Lesson #3: It’s all about the customers.

In baseball, the fans attending the home games are the customers. Every MLB team plays 162 games in the season, which means 81 home games worth of seats to fill. Baseball team owners are like the owners of any other business — they have to give their customers value. But since they’re not in control of the outcome of the game, value means creating an experience.

How is this like your business? You can’t just think about your product or service.  You need to think about how it is delivered?  You need to follow up with your customers. The experience your customer has with your company can make or break their overall view of you and your products. Filling the seats isn’t enough. You want those seats filled by people who are happy and will want to come back.

Lesson #4: The power of the pitch.

You must have a well-developed unique selling proposition to explain why a customer should buy from you.  It is just like the pitcher who has a well-developed curve ball that he can use when he needs a strike out.  The legendary baseball manager known as the “Ol Perfessor”, Casey Stengel  once said, “Good pitching will stop good hitting everyday”.  Not much more to say about it. As a small business owner, it is  important to have  a great pitch for your business. You  should be able to describe their business quickly, succinctly, and most of all, passion and excitement.


Lesson #5: You gotta believe.

It is a long season and you have to have faith that the team will perform up to their maximum capabilities and the manager will be able to get the most out of each player. The game is nine innings and you have to play them all, an unexpected home run can win a game and create the team momentum and win games, just ask Bobby Thompson, Bucky Dent,  Carlton Fish, Kirk Gibson or Joe Carter.  (If you recognize these names you are a real baseball fan).  In business, you need a “glass is half full” mindset to show up every day because you know you know you have a chance.

PLAY BALL!!!

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