An Ironman race is one of the world’s toughest endurance events. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a marathon (26.2-mile run). Ironically, growing a business and preparing yourself to become an Ironman share similarities other than the common response of “I could never do that.” Last month, I completed my fourth Ironman in two years. It was Ironman Lake Tahoe, arguably the toughest Ironman event due to a challenging course at elevation. Meanwhile, my company Shipware is in its 10th year of business. We have experienced phenomenal growth over the past few years, hiring great talent, clearing millions in revenue annually and averaging 40 percent growth year-over-year.
You certainly don’t become an Ironman overnight, nor do you wake up one day to a successful business. Both take countless hours of methodical preparation and require a vision fueled by dedication, motivation and determination. Above all, both require a disciplined, results-oriented approach. Here’s how you can make it work:
Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
Having no plan with Ironman training and business development is no different than trying to sail a rudderless ship. You may get somewhere, but there’s a strong likelihood you’ll end up shipwrecked. This is probably the single most common reason most startups fail to stay in business for longer than three years.
There are dozens of Ironman training plans and probably thousands of available business plans — what’s most important is finding one that will work for you. If you can’t work your plan, you might as well have no plan at all. Because of my multiple roles as a business owner, husband and proud father of two young kids, I had to find an Ironman training plan that I could work into my schedule, even if it meant setting a regular 4:00 a.m. alarm. Throughout my Ironman training, I had milestones that I had to hit, whether it be a 100-mile bike ride or a 60-mile ride followed by a 10-mile run.
In business, you must find a plan that you can implement and do so with measured results so you can determine whether it’s working. Start with a major goal for your business and associate it with a reasonable completion date. Imagine what the goal looks like halfway completed, and mark your calendar at the midway point with this milestone. Repeat this process at the quarter milestones. Continue breaking each segment in half until you have a very simple next step in front of you. Life happens and market conditions change, so allowing for some flexibility is also important. Don’t get derailed — just adjust accordingly.
Fuel Your Vision
My vision for my first Ironman was very clear. It was crossing that finish line and hearing: “Trevor Outman, YOU ARE an IRONMAN” over the loudspeaker. I would envision that moment when I found myself fatigued and ready to quit on the longer workouts. It gave me the strength and inspiration to soldier on and finish the grueling workout at hand.
In business, you must have a vision to help you press on through difficult times: it should inspire a deep resolve, and also motivate a hungry determination. It can be contagious within an organization; there is no better employee than the one who is inspired to work towards making a vision become reality. If your vision doesn’t evoke a passionate determination within you and your employees, then it likely needs some retooling. Once your vision becomes clear, pursue it with GRIT: “great resolve inspires triumph.”
Practice Results-Oriented Discipline
Training for an Ironman and developing a successful business are both daunting. However, as it’s been said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” The discipline to take that first step and continue to put one foot in front of the other is where the rubber meets the road. Focus on a successful day, one day at a time. It takes great discipline to set a 4:00 a.m. alarm and not hit the snooze button or turn off your alarm altogether; I won the Ironman war by winning the many smaller 4:00 a.m. battles. Having the discipline to win those daily battles is what matters.
Use your discipline to remove daily distractions so you can be more productive. Dedicate blocks of time to projects or tasks and protect that time. If the phone rings while I am working through a project, I’ll let it go to voicemail. If I need to respond to 100 emails that piled up over the previous couple hours, I might put my open-door policy on hold to ensure I respond effectively to each email. I will leave my cell phone face down off to the side of my desk and only check it between these protected blocks of time. This takes discipline, but it garners results.
Last but not least, becoming an Ironman and running a successful business both require sacrifice and support. Personally, I sacrificed sleep to complete my daily training. More importantly, my family sacrificed time away from me during those long days of training on the weekend. If I hadn’t had the support of my wife and kids, I would not be able to call myself a four-time Ironman today. It may come in a different form for you, but there’s no doubt that managing a growing company requires similar support.
Anyone with the ingredients above has the recipe to complete an Ironman or start managing a successful company. So let me encourage you to refrain from saying “never,” and rather begin with the first step. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey!