This article was first published on the is4profit small business blog in September 2012
Cast your mind back to just a few weeks ago and recall the London Olympics 2012. Look at the current buzz surrounding the Paralympics 2012.
From the spectacle of the opening ceremony to the Olympic venues, the crowds, the medal table and this little island country punching well above its weight…
London 2012 and the Paralympics have been touted by some as “the People’s Games” and in other places to have been “the greatest games ever”. The Olympic Committee has promised a lasting legacy, even setting up the London Legacy Development Corporation to handle the handover and the future of the event’s assets.
But really, what’s in it for small businesses?
Aside from the headlines of a “lasting legacy” and the crowds not materialising on local streets to boost trade, forgetting the manouevre to say that we must now look at the long-term result of the games to see an uptick, when all previous Olympics have resulted in a net loss, what are the real tangible benefits that small businesses can capitalise on?
Best of British
It’s been a big year for the Union Jack – From flags and bunting to cupcakes and cars, so many items have been adorned with Great Britain’s colours. The Jubilee year has also seen an upturn in the amount of royally-connected designs too.
If this “nationalistic” branding is a fad or a fashion, then we might not see it again next season, but small businesses can capitalise on the whole “British thing”. The games focused the eyes of the world onto this country so pushing the British connection may help if you’re doing business overseas.
At home, the national pride is something else to tap into, so promoting your homegrown products and services should appeal to those businesses and consumers who passionately care about about and support local jobs & local people.
Britain’s athletes didn’t win gold by sitting on their laurels – the stories of how hard they’d trained and how long they’d planned for being in these games are testimony to the work ethic and the dedication of the sports’ men and women.
If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success then you’ll have heard about his theorising on the “10,000 hour rule” – People tend to become excellent at some skill when they’ve spent around ten thousand hours perfecting it.
Taking together the dedication of both Britain’s Olympic athletes and Gladwell’s outliers, you have a formula for business success by committing to continuously learning, improving and ultimately being excellent at what you do.
Best Customer Service
Despite my own personal reservations about the games (The security debacle, fast food sponsorship and empty seats, to name just a few) I actually found the events enjoyable and very well organised.
But what really stood out was the welcome – All the staff and volunteers at the events I attended (The women’s football medal matches in Coventry and Wembley) were absolutely brilliant – The officials we encountered were all extremely helpful and friendly.
Learning from that experience, small businesses that are accessible, approachable and attentive will succeed in not only keeping their current customers but will surely gain new business from their reputation as friendly and customer-led enterprises.
As a designer myself, the Olympic logo and typeface filled me with horror when I first saw them. And for another few years afterwards I treated them will equal dread and bewilderment, as I’m sure did many others.
But when the games came around, the logo came into its own. That typeface, that looks like it was constructed from strips of electrical tape, whilst still not totally aesthetically pleasing, worked on t-shirts, the side of boats, hoardings, posters etc. as did that logo in all its forms.
I’m still not totally enamoured with their design aspects but that logo and typeface did, in the context of the games, eventually work. I’m not saying that every small business should rush out and commission quite the same types of designs, but the lesson here is that UK SMEs can be bold and brassy and go get business and create a buzz by standing out.
The Bulldog Spirit
We saw how the big corporate sponsors hogged the limelight at London 2012 – The world’s biggest fast food joint at the Olympic Park, only one manufacturer supplying all the support vehicles, “sugar water” and chocolate brands and the jaw-dropping £4.50 for a 330ml bottle of lager! (I didn’t buy that lager in the end, I refused to pay over the odds for mass produced alcohol when I’m a discerning real ale drinker)
Britain’s small businesses can take away from this that they need to start to step up and get out there and make themselves known. Our SMEs won’t be able to go toe-to-toe with the big money sponsorship that the corporates have but they can push themselves in new ways by, for example, appealing to their audiences as alternatives to the big brands, by being local not global, putting money back into local pockets not centralised HQs & shareholders outside their communities.
The lesson here is that underdogs don’t lie down and roll over, they fight and the more tenacious small businesses are (in the nicest way possible) then the more successful they will be.
Will You Be the Legacy?
The Olympic legacy so far is that 6 of the 8 Olympic Park venues already have new owners and will be put to use soon after. Thousands of new homes (and construction jobs) around the park have been promised and David Cameron himself has stated that there is to be an expected £13bn worth of economic benefits over the next 4 years.
Politicians and the organisers of the Olympics will take credit for the successes and will hopefully admit and then learn from their mistakes. But we can not bank on the promises made and have to make our own realities. Small businesses need to expect no official help from anywhere else both right now and in the future and anything that does “come their way” should be considered a bonus.
In the meantime, it shouldn’t be “business as usual” – it should be new business, new ways of thinking, new ideas, new customers, new markets and by being excellent, like our athletes were, Britain’s 4.8 million private small businesses must now work harder and smarter and attempt to forge their own lasting legacies.
UPDATE: 19th September 2012 – There is a tangible benefit for small businesses that can be gleaned from the Olympics and that’s Team GB cycling supremo, Dave Brailsford’s approach to his squad’s gold medal haul. Brailsford’s cyclists won a whole host of events by splitting down every process and making everything 1% better. You can read all about it in the blog post The Business Benefits of Marginal Gains