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Figure Skating's Lessons for Small-Business Success

figure-skating.jpgEvery Olympics, one of the big highlights for me is watching the figure-skating competitions with my family. This year, I find myself not just enjoying the amazing lifts and jumps, but thinking on the many ways in which these amazing athletes' achievements can provide inspiration for small-business owners.

Here's some tips for business success I gleaned from watching figure skating:

1. Be willing to invest a lot of effort before expecting a payoff. These athletes train for four long years for their Olympic moment, spending hundreds of hours of time practicing without any recognition whatever. Sometimes, as with this year's gold-medal pairs skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China, they have an injury and can't compete, and then they train for four more years for another shot.

In our instant-gratification society, the skaters' commitment reminds us that sometimes it's a long slog before your hard work will be recognized. Everyone dreams of instant business success, but great businesses are usually built slowly, over many years. If you hang in there, one day you might find an opportunity to create something truly amazing, that could take your business to a whole new level.

2. Give it your best, no matter what. Despite all their training, sometimes things go wrong in a skating program and a skater falls. It's a total disaster that usually spells the end of their medal hopes. Then something amazing happens--they pop right up and keep on going, giving their absolute all for the rest of their program. I always think I'd just sit there on the ice and cry, but these skaters are absolutely unstoppable. Nothing is going to rob them of a single positive moment they can wring from their Olympic experience. Sometimes, that persistence really pays off--everybody falls and one of those indomitable skaters ends up the winner after all.

Businesses have setbacks too. It's up to you whether this derails you, or whether you view your missteps simply as bumps along your business's road to eventual achievement.

3. Keep going through the hurt. Sometimes it's painfully hard to keep your business going--for many, that's true in this economy. Victory sometimes lies just in continuing, despite the agony and the risks. That was the case for Canadian pair Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, who didn't have a stellar Olympic outing, but earned a spot in Vancouver despite having to take all of 2008 off because Langlois broke her ankle and needed two surgeries--the right ankle, the one she lands on for jumps. 

Bottom line: They can tell the grandkids, "I skated in the Olympics." Just like you can tell yours, "I had my own business." In tough times, just keeping a business going can be an achievement in itself.

4. Be gracious to your competitors. It's a lonely world out there without the camaraderie of others who are involved in the same endeavor. Skating competitors often find themselves head to head with skaters they train with on the same ice, and rooting for each other. Think of this like the businesses in your neighborhood. In this tough economy, you should be pulling for each other.

5. Be ready to grab opportunity. Watching skating, I often find myself feeling grateful that my success as a writer isn't dependent on what I will do in less than five minutes on one single day out of a four-year period. The pressure is incredible. But those who can conquer their jitters can open the door to a whole new level of earnings as they're rewarded with ice-show contracts and endorsement deals.

In business, too, big opportunities can pop up with a fairly short window in which to commit. Like Olympic champions, the best business owners are working at it every day, building their skills, so they're ready to grab their chance to grow.

Have you found inspiration for your business from the Olympics? Share your story below.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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