Monday, May 2, 2016

From Olympic Athlete to Running Her Own Consulting Business

athlete to small business owner
Caroline Anderson competing in the 2004 Olympics 
Over the years, we have seen many examples of professional athletes who have made a successful transition from achieving high performance in the world of sport to equal achievement in the world of business. In this article, I will be speaking with an Aussie Olympian who is on her way to doing just that.

Some high profile recent examples of entrepreneurial athletes include tennis Grand Slam winner Venus Williams - who launched a lucrative clothing line business after her retirement from tennis. Boxer George Foreman launched a "lean, mean grilling machine" and several other products.

Aussies who have succeeded in business after retiring from sport

Elite level footballers, swimmers, basketballers and cyclists have found that their strong work ethic, grit and self-discipline have been qualities that enabled them to compete successfully in both worlds. In Australia, examples include ex-Ironman Guy Leech who has grown his own business in the health and fitness industry. 
Golfer Greg Norman used his celebrity status to launch golf course design and golfing apparel businesses whilst still competing as a player. 
There are many examples of retired AFL footballers such as Cameron Ling and retired cricketers such as Ian Chappell who have gone onto new careers in the media.

That’s not to say that all athletes make it as entrepreneurs or succeed in new careers. Indeed, there have been some very public examples of elite athletes that have badly “gone off the rails” after their retirement from sport. Some have made terrible financial decisions and seriously under-estimated the challenges of launching their own business.

A micro-business that's made it through start-up

small business ownerI recently met with Caroline Anderson, who runs her own consulting business as a psychologist. She is a former Olympian (2004) in the sport of Taekwondo and represented Australia at World Cups and World Championships. 

It was almost three years  ago that Caroline launched her own practice, having previously worked as a psychologist in a large metropolitan hospital. It is fair to say that she has progressed through that tenuous "start-up" stage and is now over-seeing a slow but steady growth in the development of her consulting business. Word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients help maintain this modest growth. 

At this stage, the business remains essentially reliant upon her - but this may change if the rate of growth were to escalate. Many of the practices established by health specialists (physiotherapists, chiropractors, personal trainers) begin with just the owner. Whether it expands depends upon how successful the business is in finding its niche in a competitive marketplace. It will also depend upon the drive, ambition and vision of the business owner of course.

Some businesses fail to achieve sufficient customer acceptance and never quite gain enough traction in the market to survive and meet expenses - including paying the owner a reasonable salary
There are significant numbers of budding small business owners who find the first 12 to 18 months to be a greater struggle than what they had anticipated - and they simply cannot cope with the heavy demands upon their finances, time and energy. They end up quitting. They return to the relative security and stability of being an employee in someone else's more established business. By no means should these people see themselves as failures ..... Instead, they should be proud that at least they had the courage to have a go - and they may well decide to pursue their vision at another time in the future, being wiser for the experience.

However, Caroline has survived the launch stage, and I asked her some questions about her experience so far ......

1. Caroline, would you tell us a little about your work as a Performance & Well-Being consultant?

I am a psychologist and have 15 years experience of working in mental health, both in hospital and private settings. Over the last few years I have also become interested in working with athletes, businesses and schools to assist with improving performance outcomes and personal well-being development.

I enjoy working with people through individual consultations or delivering presentations on a wide range of topics including mental health education/prevention, mindfulness, emotional regulation, resilience and improving performance in high pressure environments. 

Whether it is athletes, coaches, executives or business owners – all can benefit from learning more about how the brain works and how to focus their attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions. I find it deeply satisfying to feel that I am helping people improve their capacity to manage negative self-talk and flush out anxieties such as a fear of failure.

2. What motivated you to set up your own consulting business - as opposed to working for a consulting company?

The main reason is that I had a realization that I had skills that I was not wholly utilizing working at the hospital or seeing clients in my private practice and that I believed (and hoped!) that I had the experience and expertise to do it on my own, without needing to work for someone else.

With a young family I wanted the flexibility to choose my hours and I was worried that if I approached other consulting companies they would put time pressures on me that I wasn’t comfortable with. I just wanted the freedom and knowledge I could do it on my own, at my own pace.

3. What have been some of the major challenges you've found in running your own business? ...... What have been some of your major learnings so far?

Without a doubt the biggest challenge for me is having a young family while trying to establish myself. It is something all working mothers face and it really is a constant juggling act. I think being able to manage rejection or perceived failings is also important.

It would be all too easy to take rejection personally but when someone is really passionate about what they do, the just keep going and will find another way. Being able to talk about your ability and successes is of course an important part of marketing a business - self-promotion sits a little uncomfortably and remains a challenge for me.

I’ve learned that having an online presence is vital with a Website and Facebook page, etc - but I guess I just try and do it as authentically as possible, without it feeling fake or ‘glitzy’. This part of my career is really just starting, so I know I still have a lot to learn along the way if I am going to build a sustainable business.

4. You were a champion athlete and competed in the 2004 Olympics - what qualities can an athlete bring to the world of business?

The obvious ones, determination, hunger to succeed, and a competitive instinct (I love to win!). But also for me I think, the skills and desire to work through difficult situations and that ability to overcome setbacks is what helps me in my work.

I also know what it’s like to be under immense pressure, so I have not only a good theoretical understanding of elite performance but also personal understanding as well. It has been identified that elite athletes make great business people and the two roles share many core characterizes. In fact, even Forbes magazine has written a popular article about “Why you should fill your company with athletes”.

5. Quite a number of your clients are themselves business people, some of whom are perhaps struggling with the pressures of running a business ...... What advice do you offer to small business owners in relation to maintaining and enhancing their own well-being?

Mindfulness is one of my great passions. I see how effective it can be in helping my clients manage stress and a whole range of other health benefits.
Mindfulness is currently one of the most evidence based skills in enhancing focus, improving memory and cognitive functioning, reducing stress and anxiety, improving general well-being, productivity and performance. I love teaching mindfulness techniques to increase resilience under pressure and help individuals and teams perform more consistently.

Mindfulness interventions are effective because they help people direct their attention to the current task, while minimizing external distractions and negative self-talk. Mindfulness brings greater self-awareness and reduces reactivity to negative events, self-doubt and fear of failure.

This is just one way business owners can manage their own stress and learning about how to appropriately apply mindfulness is a great tool to have.

6. Any final comments or anything else you can share that might be of help to other health service providers contemplating whether to go out on their own?

We all know that there has never been an easier time to start your own business however, the most important thing is finding a niche.... Lots of amazing people are out there doing lots of amazing things – what do you have that is different and sets you apart from the rest?

Also, particularly in the health sector – you need to have the appropriate skills and experience. The ability to connect with people on a deep level is vital. Engagement, honesty and an authentic presence is also what people gravitate towards. I'm convinced that consumers can sense if you not heartfelt and not being true to who you are. And lastly and most importantly in order to persevere you need to love what you do, be passionate about it, and believe in yourself and what you are doing.

Thank you to Caroline, for sharing some of her experience with us.
If you're an aspiring small business owner looking for some methods to energise yourself for the journey, check out Self-motivation tips and also Mental toughness

About the interviewer
Brian CarrollBrian Carroll is the founder of the Melbourne corporate training company, Performance Development 

He is a psychologist by background and has more than 20 years experience working in the field of management development. His passion is to help people develop the mindset and skills they need to achieve their goals in business and life. .