Lessons for Business from the Snooker Table.
A long overdue indulgence of mine this year has been to watch the World Snooker Championship.
It has been years since I have felt able to give time to the many sessions that are played out over the 17-day event. Of course, I haven’t been able to see every match. Who can? But for me and from what I have seen the Betfred World Championship 2019 has been a festival of sporting excellence, drama and adventure.
There have been huge surprises too. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s loss to the Championship’s first ever amateur, James Cahill was a shock to everyone. Ronnie’s defeat in the first round, a match originally judged by many to be routine, made the result even more astonishing.
Other surprises were to include the early departure of defending World Champion, Welshman, Mark Williams in the second round. This was after the loss of the three-times Champion, Mark Selby to former taxi driver, Gary Wilson.
It was while enjoying the latter stages of the tournament that I began to see some notable similarities between what it takes to become a truly accomplished Snooker player and the steps one needs to take toward building a successful business and brand.
The differences in the character qualities of the 32 competitors have proved revealing. Clearly it isn’t as simple as the latter stage players having superior qualities to those who leave early. The early exit of five times World Champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan takes nothing from his remarkable 27-year record. The same goes for the careers of both Mark Williams and Mark Selby.
Nevertheless, as the matches become longer, ultimately to the best of 35 frames over three days, it is clear to see that patience, composure and a control over emotion under pressure are all prerequisites for success and these along with natural talent, competency, precision and skill. All can be said for the art of running a business.
As with the steps to running a successful company the business of Snooker must have a clear aim. For the Betfred World Championship 2019 finalists the hard-fought objective is obvious, namely, to lift the hugely coveted and much beloved trophy.
Both the Snooker player and the business owner have milestones along the way too. For the Snooker player it will be getting through the first round, reaching the quarters, if fortunate, the semis and eventually the final itself. The shot of the Championship, the number of century breaks scored and the Championship’s highest break, even the 147 Maximum are other important markers.
The business owner’s objective could be to build a business to sell or to develop a national brand. Perhaps growing a franchise is the aim of the game. Milestones along the way could be moving from sole trader to incorporating a company with employees or moving from working in the home to taking an office in town, or even the reverse if it’s a different work-life balance that’s wanted. For some, hitting turnover targets could be the focus. A timely milestone could be a product launch or provision of a new service.
One observation I have made about Snooker is that players who consistently reach the latter stages and win are those who have matured an all-round game. All Snooker fans love the drama of one-visit table clearances, the conquering of awkward shots for break-building, trick shots and the humour of exhibition play.
As entertaining are the safety play exchanges where one player reveals his/her knowledge of the table, angles, shot selection, cue speed, how to play with side and more. All this research and learning takes years to perfect.
For the business owner the all-round game can’t come early enough for success to happen. All too often versatility comes late, often too late, which accounts for the high proportion of businesses that fail within the first three years.
Usually, the business owner begins with a passion they have for something they make or knowledge they possess to provide a service. However, soon there’s need for efficient administration, invoicing, bookkeeping, bank account reconciliation, advertising, getting a website and running social media.
For many there’s a shock discovery in the business journey. In all the excitement of getting started there was no business plan, no market research, no marketing plan, no sales strategy or sales procedure. The journey to the all-round game for the business owner can reveal an unwelcome truth. The reason the business owner had for starting a business and the joy that once came from the product they make or the expert service they provide has been overshadowed by overwhelming responsibility.
There’s no blame to be apportioned here. Why should a person gifted in the making of a sought-after product be good at marketing, bookkeeping, selling etc.?
Nevertheless, as with the seasoned Snooker player with an all-round game, the business owner must find a way to cover all the angles.
If you’re a Snooker fan, you’ll be familiar with the way players look regularly at the scoreboard. Each pot of a ball scores a point or points. It also leaves points remaining on the table to play. The landscape of the game changes, often at great speed. Getting over the winning line is a numbers game.
It’s all about the numbers for business owners too. Cashflow is often the greatest concern. A watchful eye with restraint on spending with the ability to obtain capital when needed will make or break a business. A regular check of the business scoreboard is essential.
Snooker is unlike most other sports. Team games are about players competing together. Though singles Tennis is also a one-on-one sport, each player makes a shot-by-shot response. For Boxers it’s a blow-by-blow to victory. In the world of Snooker, however, players are sometimes forced to remain in their chairs for long periods. In full view of the audience they helplessly watch their opponents pot ball after ball, scoring point after point, while they wait for their turn. Family and friends are present, especially during the final stages, but they are far from the player’s chair. Commentators sometimes remark on how lonely a Snooker player’s place is in theatre.
Running a business can be a lonely activity too. Decisions need to be made and like the Snooker player, who’s shot selection can lead to winning or losing a frame, match or even a championship, decisions are made by business owners daily.
Like John Higgins’ unconventional use of the Rest to pot an awkwardly placed red ball in this year’s Championship final, business owner’s occasionally take risks. Loneliness in times like these can be acute and can lead to poor choices or even difficulty in making critical decisions. If the shot is missed or the wrong decision is made it’s down to the Snooker player or the business owner to take responsibility and to move forward with the consequences.
To some extent Snooker players draw support and encouragement from their coach who will have been working tirelessly with them in the practice room.
A business coach can be an advantage for business owners too. At the very least it is good to have at least one person from whom a business owner can draw support, encouragement and be accountable.
Sometimes, even with our patience, composure, our control over our emotions under pressure, our natural talent, competency, precision and skill and with all the best will in the world things go wrong. Whether on the baize or in business the unexpected turns up.
Snooker commentators refer to ‘the run of the ball’. If a player has the run of the ball, they will have a little luck on their side. This can be a fluke, or perhaps the table has been re-clothed resulting in the surface and cushions being more or less responsive. Cushions with more bounce can render both positive and negative outcomes. In this year’s Championship we saw Gary Wilson blaming the table for playing a part in his semi-final defeat.
Despite one’s performance and one’s character qualities there will always be external forces at play. None of us can be in control of everything. Running a business can be fun. The thrill of the chase, the closing of the deal, sending out an invoice for work done can be truly satisfying. However, adversity will come our way.
All businesses are vulnerable to change regardless of their size or how long they have been trading. Like the Snooker greats who went out of this year’s Snooker World Championship early, household brands that have been on the high street and in the minds of shoppers for generations have recently disappeared.
When it comes to running a small business, however, there’s another lesson that can be drawn from the Betfred World Championship 2019. In interview, following his shock defeat, Ronnie O’Sullivan was visibly exhausted. He complained of his body and limbs hurting. It is testament to his natural talent, skill and endurance that he still won 8 frames of the eighteen played. We will never know but I suspect were Ronnie fully on form James Cahill would not have enjoyed the success he did, albeit well deserved.
In business our health and well being must come first. This is a challenge for some. There’s just that last task of the day to complete. If I work this weekend, the following week will be much easier. If I do some work in the evenings when my family are asleep then I’m sure to get ahead.
There’s a limit to how much and how far we can push ourselves. Even in the pursuit of a good and healthy business there must be balance with a good diet, exercise and interests that divert our attention, even for just a short time.
So, Snooker has a new Champion. A dream has been realised. Judd Trump beat John Higgins effortlessly in this year’s final.
It's all a million miles away from the efforts I made in my twenties. Nevertheless, I will never forget the sense of delight and the excitement I experienced when potting a difficult ball or getting that seemingly impossible long shot.
When interviewed in front of a crowd full of praise and heightened emotion Higgins congratulated Trump. Trump spoke warmly of Higgins remarking on his best game being, in part, due to the high level of play from Higgins, whom he clearly admires.
Business is more than performance and about getting ahead. It’s about how we do business, how we are as business owners, how we interact, network, support and encourage. Good business owners will also congratulate.
Congratulations to Judd Trump, Snooker Champion of the World, 2019!
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