A marathon never meant anything to me until my friend returned from an over 40 kilometers race to tell his story, and how small business owners can learn from it.

His story reminded me of what Brian Tracy says,

“To be successful in life, it is good to engage in some form of athletic competition in order to develop a competitive mind.”

Let me tell you how the story impacts my life as a small business owner.

Being his first time in a marathon, my friend prepared extra-hard to win the N2 million (about $14, 000) prize for the winner.

He competed with over a thousand people running through hills and valleys, rough and smooth roads, straight and winding paths with one purpose – to win the prize. From the very start, he was determined to give it all it would take.

Unfortunately, he did not win the prize, but he returned with the following timeless tips for small business owners.Picture of Marathoners

1. Be Wary Of the Atmosphere Around You

The most important lesson my friend learned was ‘the power of association’ – the people you associate with generally.

About 28 kilometers into the race, he got exhausted. The only thing that kept him in the race was the people around him.

These people formed a reference group for him, helping him define the meaning of success – whether it means just partaking in the competition, getting close to the finish line or actually winning the prize.

As a small business owner, beware of the people you regularly talk to and share ideas with. Online freelancers should beware of the blogs they read and the forums they visit.

These people or places that you associate with on a daily basis will eventually form your reference group, subconsciously helping you determine how your future will be.

2. Carefully Select Who You Discuss With

I’ll call this the ‘power of communication’. This is closely related to the first lesson. While your atmosphere forms your reference group, your confidants shape your thinking.

There was a time my friend was discussing with and jogging alongside a former champion, and he was advancing excellently.

Later, he slowed down his pace and began to jog beside another guy. They got talking, and the guy proposed that they walk instead of jogging in order not to get tired in time.

My friend agreed, and they began to stroll down to unwind.

Fortunately, an old friend whom he had left behind 2 hours ago caught up with them and motivated him to ‘jog slow and steady’. Then, he began to make a little more progress.

Small business owners need to pay attention to the people they regularly communicate with. Sometimes, they are the ones interested in you, but you must learn where to draw the line.

It is always better to learn from top performers than from a newbie if you are not planning to go at their pace.

3. Have a Personal Strategy

It doesn’t matter how you started, or where you are now; what matters is how you end.

My friend found out that some of the people he left behind at the outset of the marathon eventually overtook him. Similarly, he also overtook many of the people who shot ahead of him at the start of the competition.

So, develop your own strategy and follow it through.

4. People are Nice

This was an amazing discovery for the two of us as he told his story. When people see that you are working hard enough, oftentimes they are very willing to help.

People around – spectators, passersby, retailers and others – offered him free drinks, fruits etc throughout the marathon. Even when he attempted to pay for something, the seller asked him not to bother.

So worry less, keep doing what you know how to do very well, and help will come for you. Don’t let your business get caught with its pants down.

5. Be Warned, Distractions Will Come

This is where most startups miss it. The ‘power of focus’ should never be underestimated.

You will always find 1001 things that are also profitable or even more profitable than your business. Keep going, don’t stop.

My friend said, many people were constantly distracted by one or two things on their path. There was a man who was trying to crack coconut and eat before continuing the competition. Most of the competitors that came last or couldn’t finish the race were the ones who branched off to do something entirely different.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the other hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done.” – Steve Jobs

So, select your niche very carefully, and make unflinching focus your watchword.

6. Never Underestimate Anybody

People will always surprise you. Avoid underestimating people because of their background, religion or age.

My friend started the competition side-by-side with an old fat woman; and just like the story of tortoise and the hare, the woman left him far behind eventually.

7. Pain Does Not Last

Just after the competition, the fatigue that made my friend lose the prize of the marathon vanished after a good bath.

When you set goals, you only have to pay the price to achieve them and no more. No matter how difficult it is to achieve a set goal within a time frame, the joy that follows achieving the goal is often incomparable to the pain.

In the end, my friend finished at 52nd position but returned with these 7 critical lessons for small business owners.

What have you learned from nature or everyday occurrences? Share with us in the comments.