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Article updated: 2/16/2014 7:28 AM

How a runner's mentality can motivate small-business owners

Be sure to watch your pace when running your business. Remember, you never lose in business; you either win or you learn.

Be sure to watch your pace when running your business. Remember, you never lose in business; you either win or you learn.

 

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By Melinda Emerson, The Root

I have decided that fitness and health need to be moved up on my list of priorities. It's better for my business and my life if I am in tiptop form. So I made the decision to become a runner. I'd always believed that running wasn't for me because of my own self-limitations, convincing myself I had a form of asthma in an effort to avoid even trying to run. But now I am using the rationale that I can do anything, which I apply in business, to tackle becoming a runner. My quest has made me think about the parallels between running and growing a small business.

It all begins with the hill. I always start my power walks with this monster hill around the corner from my house; a friend of mine calls it Heartbreak Hill. The first time or two that you go up this hill, you can't breathe by the time you make it to the top. Starting a business is like this, too. The first few years are like going up a monster hill. Cash flow is always tight. You are working really long hours because you think you can't afford to hire anyone yet. You are figuring out your niche and your sales cycle -- and it's always six months longer than you thought. There are many days when you are just not sure you're going to able to make it to the top of the hill. But you can't give up.

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Then you reach a plateau. After you finally make it up Heartbreak Hill and learn all those expensive lessons in your business, you'll be just about at break-even. You are probably not collecting a regular salary yet. Your spouse or sweetie is growing tired of the small checks you are bringing home and how little time you spend together. This is where things can get tricky. You must keep your partner onboard about your dream, or he or she can derail you faster than a bad marketing plan. Your faith will really be tested at this phase. You must be careful not to start negative self-talk. You have a business plan; you've updated your plan by this point -- so work your plan!

Bump up the weight. When you are training to run, often you will add weights on your ankles and wrists, but in business your weight is employees and payroll. It's a lot of weight to take on additional monthly expenses in your operations, but your business can only grow as far as your arm can reach. At a certain point, you must hire help. You cannot spend your time doing $10 per hour work when you could be closing the next contract for $25,000.

Test your running speed. Once you get a taste of what your business is like with a professional staff person, you'll become an idea machine. You'll be freed up to work on your business and not so much in it. You'll start feeling so confident about your running, you might think you are ready to sign up for a marathon. Or you might feel like it's time to expand the business into a new niche area. Beware! You need to pace yourself. Solidify some long-term contracts in your first niche to stabilize your cash flow. As you become a stronger runner, start with a 10K race first to test yourself.

Run downhill first. If you are running uphill first, you could break your spirit or temper your love for your small business. When you start running, try running downhill first; don't make it too hard on yourself. One of the best ways to run downhill is to start your business as a side-hustle first or by partnering with a seasoned business owner. When you have 100 percent of a grape, it's just one grape, but when you get 10 percent of a watermelon, you can make a meal out of that. Look for strategic alliances and partners that have strengths that complement your business. You'll be running marathons in no time with a running buddy.

Be sure to watch your pace when running your business. Remember, you never lose in business; you either win or you learn. Having a business plan and planning your business is similar to having a planned route for running. Yes, there will be pain, but you'll gain the stamina to carry you through to your business success.

• Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, is CEO of Quintessence Multimedia. She educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business startup, business development and social media marketing. She also publishes a resource blog and is author of "Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months."

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