Baseball and small business… oh the similarities!

I’ve been a fan of baseball ever since Willie Mays roamed center field for the New York Giants. When I played Little League in Vancouver, Canada my teammates and I all had heroes who played our position in the Majors. I was a center fielder so Willie was my hero. I moved to San Francisco over 30 years ago and re-connected with my love for Giants baseball.

baseball and small business

The recent Giants World Series win (woo hoo!!) has me thinking about the similarities between playing Major League baseball and running a small business…

It takes specific skills and years of practice
A baseball player must spend years in the Minor Leagues honing his craft and developing the skills, strength and confidence to perform well. He also has to get noticed.

Similarly, in the world of small business, successful entrepreneurs are those who have had a lot of practice developing the skills relevant to their product/service. By educating yourself about your industry, doing thorough market research, working for others, and starting with a pop-up or a simple business model that can grow with time, you can set yourself up for “major” success.

Success comes from trying, failing, and trying again
An excellent batter in baseball is only successful 30% of the time. Occasionally a batter might get on base with a walk or because of someone else’s error but he has to face failure with each batting experience. It is very hard to hit a small round ball hurdling through the air from 60 feet away at 90+ miles per hour!

A small business owner won’t be able to make a sale with every customer or client interaction. Being successful means putting yourself out there and reaching out to customers and clients over and over. You may have to contact a potential client 5 to 10 times before they are convinced to “take as swing at your pitch”. Yet with every business “failure” you will gain experience and confidence.

It is a team effort of stakeholders
The pitcher needs to throw fast and get the ball over the plate, the catcher needs to catch the ball, and each infielder and outfielder needs to be ready for every pop-up, fly or ground ball. Everyone has to work in coordination to keep a runner from scoring. That coordination and synergy is central to success—both for the offensive team and those on defense.

As a small business owner, your most important asset is your team. First it starts with you as the leader. Then there are the people you hired and trained who work hard alongside you to make the business a success. Most business owners can’t do it all themselves. Even if your business is too small for employees, there are professional support people, vendors, investors, clients and customers that all have a role to play. They are all stakeholders in the business.

It requires fans
Nothing feels worse than going to a baseball game with lackluster support in the stands. The fans are the 10th “player” on the field. Their enthusiasm and encouragement (and sometimes discouragement) can make a huge difference in the course of the game.

Businesses don’t just need customers and clients, they need enthusiastic and loyal customers and clients. They need fans who will “cheer loud” and spread the word—write positive testimonials, refer the business’ products or services to friends and family, and get others excited, too. Consistent contact and positive messaging to your fan-base is needed in both baseball and in small business.

You need a great coach or advisor
Bruce Bochy is an amazing manager—coaching the Giants to three World Series in five years! As a coach, he decides who plays each position, the batting order and when the pitcher will change. His attention to detail throughout the game can affect the outcome. Players on the team also take on the role of “coach”—helping to keep their team members motivated and working together. Hunter Pence or Buster Posey play this role with their constant encouragement to their teammates.

In business, the owner is often the “coach”—training new employees, guiding staff and creating at atmosphere of trust so employees feel welcomed, supported and motivated to take risks to grow the business. But small business owners need their own coach, too. This could be a trusted business advisor or mentor or it might be peers who are grappling with similar business challenges and opportunities. (PTA plays this role for many of our clients.)

You must take a position and play to your strengths
Some baseball players have an outstanding pitching arm, others seem to always connect the bat with the ball, while others are super fast on their feet. Players must play positions best-suited to their skill-sets.

Small business owners must play to their strengths, too. First, it’s important to understand what skills are needed to run your business well. Then, to be honest with yourself about what you do well and what you don’t (and what you would rather not do). Others should be hired to fill any gaps.

There are the stars
The Giants had some real stars this season, like Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Pence. They performed well under pressure and made the magic happen.

Small business owners and managers need to be stars, too, by “performing” well in every customer and client interaction. You must know your products or services inside and out and consistently rise to every challenge, be they complaints, delivery issues, employees who quit, or other unexpected emergencies.

Support people make everything work
A baseball team can’t be made up of “starters” only, though. There must be a solid crew of players who can be counted on to play well and become utility players at times, pinch-hitting when there is a need. And we cannot forget about all the behind-the-scenes people who make each ball club function.

Successful small businesses also need support people to make everything tick. Even a one-person small business needs a bookkeeper, administrative services, legal and insurance help, and access to the banking community.

You must take breaks and time off to rest and recharge
For eight months of the year, baseball players practice, stay in shape and play hard. But it isn’t non-stop. They take breaks to recuperate and for intense positions, like pitcher, players won’t even play the entire game.

Small business owners are always go-go-go and do not usually get to work just eight months of the year—at least not right away. A fast and constant pace is often required to get and keep customers or clients and manage cash flow. But it is key to manage your time well, too, both on and off the job. Taking a break to rest and have creative time is essential.

When you close a deal and win, it is oh so rewarding!
Every year baseball players go through arbitration or salary disputes. Sometimes they have long-term deals for two or three years but they still have to close the deal, perform at a higher rate and sometimes move to a different team. (We will see how Pablo Sandoval does in Boston. Sometimes your competition convinces your best people to leave.)

As a small business owner, you also have to close the deal. You have to make the sale, hire or fire the employee, open a new store, bring in a new manager, and continue to meet the complexities of the business by increasing your management, marketing and financial acumen (or finding others to help). And every time you make a sale, hire a new employee, find a new location and grow, it is incredibly rewarding.

It is a lot of fun and it is hard work
Baseball players play hard and they get to revel in a great hit, catching the ball for an out, or scoring a run. After all, it is just a game!

As a small business owner, owning a business is the hardest work you will ever do. But it is also a lot of fun—you get to follow your passion, blaze your own trail, create jobs, contribute to your community, and make a difference.

Now, if only the pay rate for small business owners was in the baseball player “ballpark”, we small business entrepreneurs would have it made!

Great Customer Service: 7 Tips

When we think of the most important issue in business, we always come back to customer service. In every consultation, workshop or class, we ask two questions and get amazingly similar results:

• What small businesses do you like to do business with?

• What small businesses do you NOT like to business with?

What is the common answer: It is good (or bad) customer service. Customers, clients, vendors and professionals all want to do business with businesses and business owners they like – that treat them well, give excellent service and follow-up and have consistent and fair policies for exchange.

customer service

Now, it is ALSO important that businesses offer excellent and effective products or the services the customer really wants, that the price is fair, that the location (retail or on-line) is convenient and the information is clear and consistent. The people providing the service must be qualified and come well recommended. BUT, to get repeat business and referrals – the business owner and staff MUST pay attention to customer service!

As business owners, we do NOT want any of the following to happen:

• A client or customer calling about a “late” delivery before you get a chance to call first

• Finding out that the “wrong” information was provided without correction for the client

• That you failed to follow-up on a request for additional information as promised

• That a client was left on hold without appropriate information of what to do or where to go next

• That the client finds that the service does not work as promised and cannot reach someone to complain or get help and support

A negative buying experience (and the results from thousands of students in classes and workshops) is almost always linked to “lousy and shoddy” customer service. Good customer service is essential for all businesses to exist for the long-term! Being able to provide it with all transactions and on a consistent basis is not just possible but must be essential for small business owners.

Here is some basic behavior we need to have as small businesses. This is directed by the owner and needs to be followed consistently if there is really going to be a commitment (by owners and managers) to customer service.

1. Commitment to quality service.

Everyone in the business is committed to creating a positive experience for the customer. The goal should always be “exceed customer’s expectations”. This should happen on every encounter – from the first point of contact and throughout the period of service. It should be included in the follow-up reminder in person, by phone or on-line.

2. Know your products and your policies.

You and everyone who works for you must know what they are doing – know about your product line or your service offerings – in order to gain and keep a customer’s trust and confidence. There should be complete clarity on what you offer, what guarantees you give and what would be done if there was any error or mistake made in the process!

3. Know your customers.

The objective of every small business is to “get and keep customers.” To do this, you need to know everything you can about your customers. Talk to people and listen to what they say so you can prepare in advance for any key issues. If there ever is a problem, get to the core of customer dissatisfaction BEFORE it happens.

4. Treat people with courtesy and respect.

Every contact with a customer — by email, phone, and letter, casual contact or face-to-face meeting — leaves an impression. The impression is often stronger than the service being offered. If you can “manage the impression”, you can affect the customer’s behavior! Always focus on how to fix any issue that “went wrong” Most customers will do business with you again if you resolve a complaint in their favor. They often become your advocate!

Customers want immediate resolution, and if you can give it to them, you’ll probably win their repeat business. Research shows that 95 percent of dissatisfied customers will do business with a company again if their complaint is resolved on the spot.

5. Always provide what you promise.

Fail to do this and you’ll lose credibility — and customers. If you guarantee a quote within 24 hours, get the quote out in a day or less. If you can’t make good on your promise, apologize to the customer and offer some type of compensation or restitution. Stay in touch and “get back to them.”

6. Focus on making customers, not making sales

Remember that keeping a customer’s business is more important than closing a sale. Research shows that it costs six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. You need to keep the client – and not always make the sale. Referrals work too!

7. Make it easy to buy.

The buying experience in your store, on your website or through your catalog should be as easy as possible. Eliminate unnecessary paperwork, help people find what they need, explain how products work, and do whatever you can to facilitate transactions. Make it an effortless and pleasant experience so that people will tell others, and will come back.


To be competitive and stay in business within these economic times, we need to treat our clients, customers and vendors with respect. They are our stakeholders and we need their loyalty, referrals and repeat business to stay and thrive in business. “At your service” is a practice without question.