5 Ways to Run Your Business Like an Elite Athlete and Push Through Tough Times

Learn the mindset techniques professional athletes use to maintain peak performance so you can scale your business.

By Brianna Battles

September 13, 2022

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With inflation and interest rates on the rise, announcements of mass company-wide layoffs and ongoing uncertainty around supply chain issues, many small business owners wonder how to navigate the turmoil, stay mentally strong for their teams and continue to scale amidst the volatility.

For one, it can be lonely as an entrepreneur. A 2015 study by researcher Dr. Michael Freeman found that 72% of entrepreneurs have a mental health history; a 2018 study by Cigna of 20,000 individuals found that “56% reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around them are not necessarily with them.” Couple that with a global pandemic and social distancing amidst growing widespread social tensions, entrepreneurs need to dig deep to ensure they maintain peak performance and high-end leadership for the people they serve.

Coming from my background, raised by a single mom and the first person in my family to graduate from college (with a degree in kinesiology), I didn’t have extensive business training or connections to fall back on when I launched my company. In fact, I never realized it was even an option for me. Sports provided structure, commitment, experiences and connections that helped facilitate building a business from the ground up

As a lifelong athlete and coach who currently coaches pregnant and postpartum professional athletes, Olympians and even a UFC fighter, I realized there are distinct characteristics to how athletes think and approach problem solving, which I call “athlete brain.”

High-level athletes and coaches know how to leverage their mindset, resilience, output and team to work for and with them toward the desired outcome. This mindset continually benefits my business growth and ensures we maintain strong team culture, vision and distinction. Consider these five ways mentally strong elite athletes leverage their competitiveness that will benefit your business during these times.

Related: How to Harness the Athlete’s Mindset for Business Success

1. Compete with yourself

Aim to be the best at what you do, and don’t compare or focus on anyone else. I’ve taken my competitiveness and desire to become a better, more versatile athlete into creating an impactful, team-based business and global movement. When you’re an athlete, you can apply being highly motivated to your business success.

Understand that your business has so much potential, and aim to maximize this unique potential separate from anyone or anything else. Self-awareness and understanding your unique talents, skills and role within the business will help you trailblaze on an individual level, which will carry over to how your overall business operates. Your individual growth influences business growth.

2. Be process-driven

It may sound counterintuitive, but don’t just aim for a specific result. In business, it is easy to become hyper-focused on maximizing the ROI, having a successful launch and hitting your markers or KPIs. Instead, zoom out and analyze the entirety of the process.

What went well? What could be improved? Is this sustainable? If it’s not sustainable, it will not work; you may hit your KPIs, but your team will get burned out. Similar to an athletic team, to have a successful business, all players need to perform at a sustained optimum, not just one good player grinding to the goal. Success is not just outcome-dependent — the process also determines true success.

Related: 7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Elite Athletes

3. Integrate the identity

In work and family, integrate your business so that it becomes such a part of who you are that it isn’t about work-life balance. For me, it’s less about balance and more about juggling and finding an improved rhythm over time. When you juggle vs. balance, business becomes a natural extension of who you are and what you enjoy in conjunction with everything else that is important to you.

Similar to being a professional athlete, it is a core part of your identity because of how you’ve shaped yourself over time. If I’m on an airplane en route to vacation with my family, I can draft content or an email. “Athlete brain” in business is about our work complementing our lifestyle and enjoyment, not just consuming our life to the point of it becoming a burden.

4. Play the long game

Just like being an athlete, in business, you have to play for the short-term wins with the long-term vision in mind. Being in it to win it isn’t about flash in the pan. It’s about metric-driven success, creating long-term team culture both within the business and community, and cultivating sustainable, industry-changing potential that your business can makeacross any field.

Related: Entrepreneurs Need to Train Like Elite Athletes, According to a Former Pro Badminton Player

5. Stay adaptable

Like in sports and like playing on a team, sometimes you have to be adaptive to change the game plan, change your role or modify the way you do things. We’ve all been tested the last couple of years with how we do things, which challenged many business owners. It also brought out the best in a lot of people, too.High-performing business owners can think like an athlete by cultivating the skill of adaptability moving forward. Sometimes you have to have a totally different game plan at halftime, reassess and know that failure and setbacks act as feedback.

The habits and lifestyle of an athlete are transferable to how we can lead as business owners. By applying these five principles, entrepreneurs can learn to compete with themselves, eliminating the distractions that often distract from their work. They can focus on process-driven metrics — not just set outcomes — and learn to integrate their work into their lifestyle. By playing the long game in business, we can avoid burnout and excess pressure to find success because we learn to be adaptable through the process. You don’t have to be a high-level athlete to run your business like one. These skills are transferable to how we manage ourselves, our business and our lifestyle.

My CEO Peer Advisory Group in Austin Texas will have a couple of openings in December due to members selling their businesses. One received an offer of 8x EBITA. Give me a call if the timing is right for you to be considered for one of our openings.

Ed Stillman

The 10 essentials of scalability – Marc Emmer

Marc Emmer

September 21, 2022

In my travels speaking to Vistage groups, I regularly ask members, “What is your top strategic priority?” Often the answer is scalability.

Imagine that a gourmet chef opens an independent restaurant. His talent enables him to cook every night based on instinct, without the need for recipes or measuring. But opening a second location will require written work standards (recipes) and measuring instruments (cups and spoons) for others to successfully replicate his work.

To succeed at scale requires organizations to promote independent decision-making. Scale requires structure, and process can compensate for hiring people with less talent.

Here are considerations for scaling profitably:

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Consider growth rate and life cycle

Early-stage companies have a higher cost of capital than mature companies. Mature companies have better access to financing, but interest costs can saddle cash and growth. Companies with a higher return on invested capital have a competitive advantage because they can raise capital more efficiently.

The pace of growth will dictate how you scale. In a business’s startup phase, the focal point is product.i After the product is adopted, focus shifts to gaining distribution. As an organization matures, it must create systems to sustain its growth. But a company growing at 30% has to make very different decisions than one growing at 7%. For example, it may hire people who are “good enough,” whereas a company growing moderately will leverage personal networks and be selective of every hire.

Build out your team

A highly limiting factor can be founders and CEOs who build a business entirely dependent upon them. In our experience working with Vistage members, there is a clear relationship between a company’s ability to grow and hiring qualified C-suite management. A legitimate CFO demands business analytics, secures cheaper financing, and can make the difference in a successful exit. Similar improvements are seen in other functional departments when you up-level senior management.

But perhaps even more important is building a mid-management layer. For example, accessing a new market may require new sales and operational capabilities. To grow aggressively requires building entire systems to establish a strong mid-management tier, such as leadership development programs and sharing information through reporting and analytics.

Of course, then you will need the labor.

Optimize lead to cash

Business owners are often shocked to learn that the faster they grow, the worse their cash position can be. Some industries have terms of upwards of 60-90 days, and clients often don’t pay on time. Having lengthy lead-to-cash cycles is a killer as a company is trying to grow because the need to add resources such as labor outpaces revenue growth. In such an instance, companies need to focus on business model innovation and velocity (turnaround time). Many of today’s leading technology companies, buoyed by subscription models, are getting paid before they even deliver services.

Unit economics

Reid Hoffman of the popular Masters of Scale podcast points out the need to understand unit economics. For a B2C company, that likely means mastering gross profit for products sold. For a service business, that could be knowing the units of measure you operate within. For example, a construction company opening a new branch might have a branch manager, project engineer and crews equipped with superintendents, foremen, and laborers. Understanding direct and indirect labor costs is critical.

Employee productivity

Over time, you should expect employee productivity to improve as tribal knowledge expands and a company leverages its systems. For example, as companies grow, they can hire specialists to measure quality and train at the point of attack. Some of our production clients combine those roles (training and quality) for this purpose. Utilize employee productivity KPIs such as revenue per employee.


During the key stages of growth, investment in SG&A (sales, general and administrative expenses) can teeter up and down. Overhead absorption improves as a company grows. However, management often needs to invest in people and technology, and there are periods when SG&A swells. They then realize their return over time as revenue grows, and overhead expenses flatten or decline as a percentage of revenue. This is one reason companies should have a percentage of revenue on every line of the profit and loss statement.

Leverage software and automation

At a time when everyone is attempting to reduce labor, automation projects have been difficult to implement. Companies are reliant on equipment from Eastern Europe (perhaps more susceptible to supply chain shocks) and the need for engineers, which are almost impossible to hire. All our clients with large automation projects are running behind. But software automation efficiencies should be easier to realize. For example, many members have not fully implemented Microsoft Teams. Work threads are a more effective communication tool than email (internal email should be almost entirely eliminated). I spoke to one member who has banned internal email entirely.

Integrate systems

To promote reporting and analytics, companies must have systems that seamlessly integrate data. For mid-market members, this often comes in the form of ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. Smaller Vistage members do not have the financial or management wherewithal to implement systems of this complexity.

In the past, many relied on grassroots systems built for niche industries by small, independent developers. Since the adoption of the cloud, solutions are much easier to integrate. For example, the Microsoft Suite includes Office, Teams and Power BI — a popular choice given its simple integration. Salesforce ties together CRM, marketing automation, and many other tools including those enabled by artificial intelligence (AI).


Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a quagmire for many businesses. Part of the problem is some business leaders think they need to create an end-to-end manual for every single process. While having an owner and hub for SOPs (such as a software solution) is optimal, it is often better to just chunk down the work and focus on the vital few. At a minimum, have SOPs for the critical and repeatable work processes within your business. An easier mountain to climb is demanding checklists for all repeatable processes.


To promote better independent decision-making by mid-management, companies must have a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that serve to educate and inform their team on the sausage making. Make sure you have predictive indicators in public view (physically or on an intranet). Push key metrics out to decision makers on a regular cadence and review your results in a green/yellow/red format.

As every business is different, you will have to craft your own formula. But a combination of these activities will enable your company to scale.

Austin Business Owners: Small business confidence posts largest gain in 18 months [WSJ/Vistage Aug 2022]

small business confidence cover

We are approaching 20,000 members in the United States and over 1700 are in Texas. As an Austin business owner, CEO or president of a small to mid size business enterprise is now the time to investigate the added value of being in a peer advisory group? You don’t have to go it alone. We provide you a safe, open, honest monthly opportunity in sharpening your saw as a leader with a private coaching session and a full day with a dozen or more like-minded leaders working on being a better leader making better decisions.

Anne Petrik

September 7, 2022

While inflationary pressures persist, small businesses report that the supply chain is improving, and their hiring plans remain stable. All of these things lead to a more favorable view of the economy, which was evidenced by the improvement in small business confidence in August. In fact, the 6.9% increase in WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index was the largest gain in 18 months. The most significant driver in the increase of the Index was improving sentiment about the future of the U.S. economy among small businesses, which improved 33% from last month despite persistent inflationary pressures.

WSJ Vistage Aug 2022 Slide 1

Inflation persists while the supply chain continues to ease

Inflationary pressures are not easing. In fact, the numbers rose incrementally from last month with wages and compensation continuing to be the top impact small businesses are facing. The easing of the supply chain may be a key driver as the improving trend continues from last month with 50% of small businesses reporting that the supply chain is slowly getting better, a 5-point increase from July. More significant is the proportion of small businesses reporting that their supply chain is worsening, which posted a 7-point decline, dropping to just 13%.

WSJ Vistage Aug 2022 Slide 5

Hiring remains critical for operations

As all eyes are on hiring based on the importance of the labor market to keep the U.S. out of a recession, small businesses continue to show optimism. With 315,000 jobs added in August, small businesses were among those adding to that figure with more than half (52%) planning to increase their workforce in the next 12 months, the same percentage as last month. The economy has impacted hiring plans for very few, with the majority of small businesses hiring the same number as planned at the beginning of the year (70%) and some hiring more than originally planned (13%). Just 17% of small businesses are hiring less than planned, and only 7% are planning to decrease the size of their workforce in the next 12 months.

Filling job openings still presents a challenge for small businesses. Currently, 57% of small businesses report operational challenges as a result of a talent shortage. While that is an improvement from 72% in January, this is the foundation for why hiring plans remain strong.

When asked about whether it was easier or more difficult to fill openings than at the beginning of the year, 56% report no change. Because hiring was a challenge at the beginning of the year, the “no change” response indicates that it remains challenging. Adding to that, 27% of small businesses report that it is harder to fill job openings than at the beginning of the year. With the latest jobs report indicating a slowdown in jobs created and more people entering the workforce, small businesses may soon find it easier to fill roles.

Flexible scheduling options are a key part of hiring strategies

Small businesses continue to innovate how they approach hiring as the workforce revolution has put employees in the driver’s seat. While small businesses continue to boost wages (77%) and add benefits (39%) to remain competitive, small businesses look to other components to differentiate themselves as well. Flexible work options remain a carrot, with 62% offering flexible hours and schedules and 60% offering remote work options. In fact, over the past 3 months, 18% of small businesses have increased flexible scheduling and 16% increased remote working. Other strategies were shared in a recent roundtable where Vistage members shared their hiring best practices.

WSJ Vistage Aug 2022 Slide 10

Overall the increase of optimism among the small businesses surveyed monthly through the WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index survey is likely an indicator that we can expect to see improving sentiment from the larger population of small and midsize businesses. Opinions collected in Q3 Vistage CEO Confidence Index will reflect a greater scope of how this vital sector of the economy feels and may be a harbinger of improvements ahead.

August Highlights:

WSJ Vistage Aug 2022 Slide 2
WSJ Vistage Aug 2022 Slide 6
  • Inflationary pressures persist with incremental gains from last month.
  • The WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index grew 6.9%, the highest increase in 18 months.
  • Economic sentiment improves; 23% improvement in the perception of the current economy and 33% improvement in the future economic conditions.

Download the August report for complete data and analysis

For a complete dataset and analysis of the August WSJ/Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey from the University of Michigan’s Dr. Richard Curtin, download the report and infographic:



About the WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Survey

Interactive data from WSJ/Vistage Small Business survey

The August WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO survey was conducted August 8-15, 2022, and gathered 566 responses from CEOs and leaders of small businesses with revenues between $1 million and $20 million. Our next survey will be in the field September 7-14, 2022.

Related Resources 

The CEO Pulse: Hiring Resource Center

The CEO Pulse: Inflation Resource Center


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Category: Economic / Future Trends

Tags:  Hiring and RetentioninflationWSJ Vistage Small Business CEO Survey

About the Author: Anne Petrik

As Vice President of Research for Vistage, Anne Petrik is instrumental in the creation of original thought leadership designed to inform the decision-making of CEOs of small and midsize businesses.