Running a business… On par with running a race!

28th October 2016 Nicky Cole

A friend recently commented, “I am proof that if you believe, you can achieve” and it got me thinking…

Now I don’t usually share my personal life with my business colleagues, but those of you who have seen me recently will know that this year has been life changing for me.

6 long years working every hour god sends finally took its toll and before I knew it, I found I was obese, chain smoking, stressed and drinking too much.  Not a great combination, which resulted in a 3 month long chest infection, which I honestly believe would have killed me if I were 20 years older.

In March I decided I had to change my life, not just my life style, but I also needed to address the work life balance.  At first I made a few small changes, I joined the local slimming world group, started vaping (ok not ideal, but at least I can breathe!) and I started running.  I also brought in additional staff to take over some of my book-keeping clients and employed an admin and marketing person to free me up further.   The last piece of the jigsaw was getting the kids school bus passes, so I could work regular hours, with no evenings and weekends!

It’s the running that I really wanted to talk about though.  I’d never run more than 5k before (and I only did that once).  I quickly discovered the mindset required to be able to do this, is very comparable to starting and running a small business, something I’ve become very familiar with.


When I first announced in late July that I was going to run the Great South Run in October I got a mixed reaction.  There were a great many friends that thought this was a great idea, even though I could only run 3 miles at the time, but there were also a handful that raised their eyebrows and said “Really? 10 miles, are you sure?”

When I started the business in 2000, I was so excited to sign up my first client.  I hadn’t really planned to be self employed but after being told I was “no good” by my previous employer (I’ll come back to him later…) the first opportunity that arose was freelance.

There’s something about negativity that makes me determined – if someone says I can’t do it, I just have to prove them wrong.

Setting Achievable Goals

Baby steps are key here; I never expected to earn a massive salary and own a flash car.  In fact I learned this very lesson from said previous employer, who bought out a company that had been trading for over 50 years and 18 months later the company was closed down!

I’ve always set myself goals, whether it be client numbers, turnover, new products, or even office openings.  The point is they need to be achievable and realistic.

This translates well to the running too – I didn’t expect to be able to run 10 miles in week one – but with a training plan that I mostly stuck to, I can now run 10 miles.  It’s not easy and it definitely hurts, but I can do it!

Ups and Downs

We’d had our office in Whitehill for about a year when we lost our two biggest clients in one month – together they made up over 40% of our turnover.  At that point I honestly had no idea how we were going to pay the rent, let alone the salaries.  It would have been very easy to close the door and walk away, but with the support of our amazing Practice Manager Karen, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and went out to win new business.  We recovered within 4 months and though I didn’t get paid for those months, the business suffered no long term ill effects.  The important thing is we learned a lot, not least having all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea!

With the running there were many times in the early days when I had to walk, or didn’t have the energy to complete the distance I set out to, but as I got stronger, I didn’t have to walk anymore and I could run for miles.  You just have to keep practising and believing you can do it and you will get there in the end!

The Finish Line

It would be easy to think that the business is big enough, or we’ve finished the race, so can take it easy.  I’ve certainly made that mistake with fitness in the past, but I’ve learned that you’re never really at the finishing line – simply just part way through the journey.  We never know what’s around the corner, what’s to say clients won’t move on, or that you won’t get injured?

Having too much work is a good problem to have and much simpler to solve that not having enough!

When we reach the finishing line, we need to set new goals – I’m going to do a half marathon in the new year, with regular monthly events in between to keep me on track.  I have big ambitions for my business too – I’d love to open a second office and expand our services even further.

Since I’ve started running I keep seeing similarities to the mindset required to run a successful business.  Neither are easy things to do and perhaps that’s the point – if they were, everyone would do it!

So I’ve decided, I’m not going to listen to the haters – those people that give you that little niggle of doubt in the back of your mind – I’m on the up and I now know if you believe, you can achieve!

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