Landscape business owners are not unlike elite athletes.

Owners have the agility to solve problems, track their performance and work with coaches to become the best in their fields and industries. They train and compete day in and day out. They rally around victories and analyze defeats. They are always trying to be better, to reach that next milestone.

In sports, the margin of victory can be very small. “For example, the winner of a 100 meter world championship swimming event beat his competitor to the finish by 4.7 millimeters, a tiny 0.0047 percent margin of victory,” says Mark Riffey of Visa Small Business. “If your business passed a competitor grossing $100,000 in sales by 0.0047 percent, you’d sell an extra $4.70.”

This may not seem like a meaningful variance until it means the difference between winning or losing a contract. “Like a 4.7 millimeter lead, that meaningless difference might be traced back to one little thing,” Riffey says, listing examples: one missed phone call vs. one call answered on the first ring, or one ignored email vs. one personal email response.

“Even though businesses don’t measure performance in the same way athletes do,” Riffey says, “the strategies athletes use to advance their performance and overcome obstacles also make sense for small business owners.”

It’s mental

Before a competition, elite athletes envision themselves winning. The repetition of seeing themselves win builds a mental fortitude that is conducive to winning. They see themselves winning and begin to mentally strengthen themselves.

Riffey draws the same comparison to business owners. “Likewise, the visualization and practice of a sales call or trade show presentation are essential mental workouts for the business owner,” he says. “They’re essential to maintain the focus, composure and discipline needed to perform at their highest-ever levels, particularly when faced with world-class competition.”

But business owners must take mental preparation to the next level of physical work to benefit from this. Being mentally prepared, like practicing the winning sales pitch before making the call, can lead to preparation that can turn an ordinary sales call into an extraordinary call.

Don’t quit

For the ordinary person, quitting can be the easiest thing when times get tough. But “a professional’s perseverance is rooted in the strength developed through mental preparation and is the difference between being prepared to quit vs. being prepared to continue,” Riffey explains.

High achieving athletes and business owners deal with diversity by being prepared in advance.

Endurance sports athletes practice extreme situations in their everyday training. Being prepared for the extreme will help both the athlete and business owner take obstacles in stride, or even avoid them, rather than being tripped up.

“Business owners can prepare for obstacles by cross-training their staff, building redundancy into critical systems, testing disaster plans, having alternative inventory providers and keeping their legal, insurance and finance systems up to date,” Riffey suggests. “They should ask, ‘What if?’ ‘What is possible?’ and ‘How do we prepare?’ long before adversity arises.”

Get a coach

Evaluating each performance and breaking down conclusions to gain steady self-improvements can often be done by self-evaluation. But athletes don’t stop there; they get coaching.

A good coach can observe and analyze many aspects of an athlete’s form from a perspective an athlete can’t see him or herself. Even a coach’s small suggestions can make substantial improvements in the athlete’s final performance.

“A business coach can have the same level of impact,” Riffey says. “Like the athlete’s coach, they make observations from an external perspective, seeing things the business owner can’t see or doesn’t see the same way. It isn’t that the business owner is less competent or observant, the coach simply benefits from a different perspective. The coach sees beyond ‘We’ve always done it this way’ and can ignore the internal politics or ‘baggage’ that might blind the business owner to what later seems obvious.”

Most professional athletes have a coach. As a business owner, shouldn’t you?

Attitude adjustment

Everyone feels some disappointment when they lose.

But many elite athletes, especially when they lose by only a small distance or a tiny percentage of time, instead feel they boosted their performance to a new level. In a sense, they have not “lost,” but rather upped their game.

A landscape business owner might feel the same way at the conclusion of a good sales call. While he or she may not win every client, for both athletes and business owners the real victory comes at outdoing one’s best each and every time. Then, one naturally increases the odds of winning.

Ready to show the world your victory dance?

Nicole Wisniewski is a 15-year green industry veteran and award-winning journalism and marketing professional. She is a senior project manager in The Davey Tree Expert Co.’s marketing/corporate communications department. Follow her on Twitter at or reach her at [email protected].