5 Business Lessons Learned on the Hardwood
Long before I fell in love with entrepreneurship or graphic design, I loved one thing and one thing only. Basketball. It’s no secret that basketball is serious business in Kentucky, and that holds true for this eastern Kentucky girl. I learned many lessons spending the better part of my childhood and teenage years on the court. Here are the top five that continue to ring true in my day-to-day life as a business owner.
I grew up a Lady Comet. To most that doesn’t mean much, but during the 1990s in the 16th Region of Kentucky it meant a lot. It meant tradition, sisterhood, domination and living by one mantra — “Winning Isn’t Everything, but Wanting to Is.” Technically that mantra is attributed to Vince Lombardi, but as far as Lady Comets were concerned it belonged to John “Hop” Brown. This mantra was ingrained into our subconscious. It lived on the locker room wall, on T-shirts and posters. We heard it repeated in locker room speeches, pep talks and radio commentary. It was a constant reminder that if you wanted to make it to the “big dance,” you had to WANT it. You had to WORK for it. You had to EARN it.
Today, as an entrepreneur it reminds me it isn’t enough to just cash a check. I have to WANT to win that new account every day. I have to WORK to be the best at what I do every day. I have to EARN those paychecks — every single day.
Leaving it All on the Floor
A high school basketball game is 32 minutes long. How do I remember this? Because I was reminded in every pre-game pep talk the next 32 minutes had no do-overs. But if I left every ounce of energy and effort on the floor, I would walk off a winner despite what the scoreboard said. Accepting the fact that sometimes we would lose despite our best efforts sounds dismal, but it was just the opposite. It inspired us to push ourselves beyond what we thought our limits were, because having to look in the mirror and know we didn’t give 150 percent was much more difficult than losing to an opposing team.
Those locker room speeches taught integrity. In life, but especially as a small business owner, integrity defines you. It is much easier to blame poor officiating for a loss than admitting you didn’t play your best because you stayed up too late the night before. And it is much easier to claim a client is difficult than to step back and admit maybe you are communicating poorly. Integrity is being honest with clients and yourself, following through with what you promised and owning mistakes when they happen (because they will happen).
You Can’t Win Without a Plan
Pre-game planning. This was one part of the game I enjoyed more than most. I spent hours watching opponents’ game tapes (on VHS in those days) and meticulously taking notes on key players’ moves, standard plays and go-to strategies. Next, I studied cheat sheets, which helped each player learn the opposition’s playbook inside and out. We planned the defense, we planned the offense, we planned the WIN. I took pride in recognizing the names of set-ups when they were called and knowing exactly where each player was going.
Today, I still love planning and use that passion to help clients plan successful brand strategies. Nothing makes me happier than empowering clients by guiding them through a branding process, complete with their own cheat sheets. Back at the office, I use my planning skills to keep things on track by mapping out current projects and future goals.
Winning the 16th Region Tournament my junior year of high school was by far one of the most memorable events of my childhood. It was the fulfillment of a goal our group had worked tirelessly for since elementary school. When the buzzer sounded at the end of double overtime WE CELEBRATED. Parents cried with pride and we threw our heads back and yelled like warriors after winning a hard-fought battle. We dutifully sang along to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” about a thousand times. Upon returning home, our bus was met and led into town by fire trucks and our tiny town’s only diner hosted everyone with free cheeseburgers.
Owning a small business is hard. Trying to find a work/life balance is extra hard. If entrepreneurship is in your blood, you don’t really know what the hours 9 to 5 mean. Somewhere in the back of your mind there is always a business plan, opportunity, obstacle or goal that is working itself out. (For example, the idea for this post came while I was dozing off to sleep around 10:30 p.m. It was too good to not get and up write.) That 1996 celebration reminds me to stop and enjoy the wins — not just the long-term goal wins, but the day-to-day wins. It reminds me to stop and unplug, stop and feed my soul, and just enjoy life a little.
Work Your Ass Off
We took the mantra of “championships are won in the offseason” to a whole new level. When my friends were lounging by the pool and perfecting their tans during summer break, my teammates and I were sweating through two practices a day, patching up blistered feet at camps and surprising teams across the state in tournaments. Now I have to say, these things weren’t required, but there was a collective, defined mission and that was to bring home the 16th Region trophy. As a team, our goal was to out-work, out-plan and out-play the competition, and that all started on summer break. I compare those practice sessions to bootcamp for the way they broke us down as individuals physically and mentally — only to put us back together as a more cohesive unit.
I have carried that work ethic and doggedness with me. While working full-time and building my business several years ago, I tapped into that determination and mental perseverance to push myself past exhaustion, obstacles and self-doubt. It took several years of working nights, weekends, holidays and lunch breaks to build my business to the point that I could leave my full-time gig. My defined mission was quitting the day job that wasn’t fulfilling me, and my off-season was the time before launching my full-time business.
I can now say this: Doing what I love every day and running my own business — that is so much better than any childhood trophy.