Avoiding Headwinds on the Road to Business Success Lessons gleaned from the Race Across America about gathering data can be readily applied to the entrepreneur's landscape.
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Somewhere on the hot, hard road from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md., a thought struck me. Running a successful entrepreneurial business is like competing in an endurance cycling race. I was behind the wheel of a support vehicle for Team Bob McEnaney in this year's nonstop Race Across America and hours into the 3,000-mile journey, so forgive the analogy.
But it's true. Both athlete and entrepreneur face the same challenges: Sudden headwinds, deadlines, heavy competition and any number of mishaps can send a cyclist careering off the road to success.
Here's a second thought: Entrepreneurs could learn a lot from endurance athletes. The meticulous planning and consideration of variables for the long haul and all the constant adjustments to performance along the way could bring a form of science to the gutsy but otherwise unstructured world of entrepreneurial business management.
Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Take Away From the Tour de France
Keep your eyes on the road, not the horizon.
When I pulled the vehicle onto the road in Oceanside on June 16 at the start of the trip, I noticed one thing: The competition was racing off toward a distant finish line. That's a common pitfall for businesses: focusing on growth or sales targets to the detriment of tending to immediate concerns and needs.
It's important to strike a balance between short-term objectives (like surviving the Arizona desert) and the long-term goal (crossing the finish line): Bikers should keep their eyes down and pay attention to the journey as well as the ultimate end prize. Likewise, the changing demands of staffing, resource management and client or customer service should always be within an entrepreneur's sights. By doing this, the business will be better equipped to tackle a sudden, uphill climb or steer more smoothly along a sharp turn in the road.
Collect data to design a long-term plan.
Daily data collected and analyzed over time can build an incredibly useful long-term picture of business operations. This is all part of a science called business intelligence and a tool that I applied to the athletes' progress during Race Across America.
By charting speed, pace, weather, terrain and performance by time of day, my team could make adjustments to the race strategy to keep McEnaney at a pace for maximum efficiency. It's the same process for any company: An effectively implemented business-intelligence program measuring the right data points can identify operational weaknesses and inefficiencies while pinpointing an early need for a midcourse correction.
Practice a new kind of sustainability.
Many endurance athletes prefer whole foods to nutritional supplements, but it's impossible to consume 10,000 calories daily for 10 days from sandwiches and granola bars. It became critical for the team to design a balanced program that gave the athlete what he or she needed in the moment to deal with challenges as well as what was best for long-term nutrition. That's really the basis of resource management fueled by business intelligence.
When implemented correctly, a business-intelligence program can provide two critical outputs to help sustain profitability: quality data about the multiple aspects of an enterprise and simple, effective visualizations so that the information can be accessed anywhere by anyone and understood instantly. In this information age, data is power.
Related: How Small Businesses Can Embrace Big Data
Chart the competition for success.
Every rider in Race Across America carries a GPS transponder so he or she can be tracked by organizers of the event. My team found a second use for that technology in tracking the daily progress of the athlete against his or her competitors.
Analyzing the overall competition in terms of speed, pace and distance covered made it possible to benchmark Team Bob McEnaney's progress and assess strategy. Monitoring the movements of particular competitors (such as Joe Barr of Ireland) helped motivate McEnaney's efforts.
By setting correct data points for competitive analysis such as revenue, customer-audience share and growth, a company can paint a detailed picture of the landscape and motivate its team.
In cycling, some things cannot be predicted such as roadside customization of cycling shoes or new chiropractic concerns. Likewise, in a company, dramatic changes in the business climate can't be foreseen. It's a given for entrepreneurs that flexibility is part of the game plan. But having a complete data picture of a business, integrating this into operations and using it to analyze the landscape can help the entrepreneur keep the wheels effectively turning on the road to success.
Related: Market Research Has Lost Its Mojo. But Here's How It Can Get It Back.