Running a business can feel overwhelming and confusing to an entrepreneur who’s just starting out, and the inherent difficulty in maintaining good oversight is one of the most important reasons that so many startups fail in their first few years.

The key to understanding where your focus belongs can be found by examining another competitive arena: sport.

businessman on holiday

Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry

  • It’s vital to understand the relationships between different aspects of your business, so that you can determine what tasks need to be prioritised
  • Some parts of your business are critical success factors, and have farther-reaching impacts than others. They need to be identified and prioritised
  • Some major factors to identify as a startup might be financing, teamwork, and product development
  • Mastery of these basics makes it possible for businesses to focus and build toward bigger goals to become industry leaders.

Read on: Business is like sport – master the basics, and success will follow
[Estimated reading time: 5 minutes]

Juggling all the different responsibilities that come with running a business is a monumental task. The first thing any successful business owner needs to do is to understand how every aspect, from finance to purchasing, to production, to marketing, to sales, to distribution works together to create a functioning system. This is essentially parallel to studying and understanding the rules of the game you’re trying to play.

Find your critical success factors

In rugby, the biggest factors in winning the game are maintaining possession, and controlling territory. Focusing on those two issues is the top priority, because without them you probably won’t be able to achieve your purpose, which is scoring points.

In business we can similarly narrow our focus. Not every business has the same critical success factors, but three that an entrepreneur might identify for their startup are financing, teamwork, and service development.


Securing solid financing in business is key to starting a reliably functioning business. Most small businesses don’t start out with massive amounts of excess capital that can be used to absorb natural fluctuations in revenue throughout the year.

Getting proper financing is like turning an amateur sports team into a professional one. Professional athletes can devote their full attention to becoming the best at what they do. Similarly, having a serviceable line of credit means your business can make purchases and continue to operate effectively during slow months, or while waiting for late payments to be made. This ensures a stable work environment and gives your team the freedom to fully focus on their work.


In the same way that entrepreneurs need to understand how the business operates as a whole to do your job as a business owner, employees need to understand how their own job fits in with those of the people they work with.

That includes understanding and respecting what co-workers do, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. In short, they need to work as a team. Good teamwork allows athletes as well as your employees to effectively delegate tasks to each other and compensate for each other’s weaknesses to create a more effective whole. In business, as in sports, this allows them to operate more flexibly and with less top-down micromanagement

At first that might sound like a luxury, but it’s a critical factor because it’s essential to freeing time and focus for you to deal with higher-level tasks.

Product/service development

In sport, it’s essential to develop new tactics, train, and push the envelope to take the sport to a new level. Relying on old plays and the same old ideas is the surest way to be left behind by the competition.

Achieving long-term success in business is the same. It’s only possible if your business is always committed to innovation and optimisation to ensure that it’s the best option available to your customers. As in sports, this is best done by analysing the competition, improving on it with your own ideas, and creating something new and better. The engine of progress is always running, and you have to find a way to be a part of it to avoid being left behind.

What’s Next?

Once you’ve prioritised and given the proper attention to those critical success factors, everything else will become much easier. It’s much easier to score if you already have possession of the ball, and control of the field. Furthermore, once the basics are covered, you can focus on developing more intricate plays and interesting tactics that wouldn’t have any chance of being executed properly otherwise.

When your business’ critical success factors are being properly managed, you will be able to spend more time working to close new clients, building relationships, managing growth, and setting goals for your business that’ll help to turn it into an industry leader.