Putting Together a Winning Game Plan for Your Small Business
Turning lessons learned on the football field into small business success
By Drew Bledsoe
The average career span for NFL players is less than four years, making “retirement” and career changes at a young age inevitable, and leading many into the business world. I was lucky enough to beat the odds, playing 14 years in the NFL before retiring in 2007, when I was in my mid-30s. At that time, while my career on the football field ended, I had already begun a new one as the small business owner after buying a piece of vineyard land several years earlier in hopes of one day opening a winery.
My wife Maura and I have had a passion for wine for many years, so when planning for “retirement” became a reality in my early-30s, the wine business became a very attractive choice.
We knew it would be a long and involved process (actually we barely knew the half of it), but with a lot of effort, patience and time, our dream is coming true, and we are now the proud owners of a Doubleback Winery in my old hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. After seven long years of work, our first wine was finally released in January 2010, and we are now preparing to release our third vintage.
Starting a new business can be very challenging. I am learning new things almost every day. That is one of the reasons I have teamed up with FedEx to share my small business game plan. Even though I still feel like I’m a rookie in business, I have found that there are many important principles that carry over from my previous career to my new one. Here are a few.
Football teams spend months leading up to the season planning; they pick players, make coaching changes, design offenses and defenses and so on. The teams then spend each week during the season preparing for the upcoming game.
The same approach applies to any good business. You have to plan for the big picture, pick a talented team, anticipate challenges and work together to outline the day-to-day steps that will lead to success. The process of planning gives you a frame of reference for guidance and also makes things easier when it’s time to adapt.
The process of taking an idea from concept to reality takes patience and perseverance. It took a full seven years from the time we planted our vineyards until the first bottle of Doubleback wine was produced. In football and in business, your character will be tested along the way as you face setbacks, experience delays, suffer losses and sometimes make bad decisions. Getting knocked down is part of it. If you don’t persevere, you will get tossed by the wayside.
You can be the best quarterback ever to play the game, but if you don’t have some big guys to block and some receivers you trust, you have no chance at winning. The same holds true in the business world. Without the right team, even the best idea, product or service in the world can easily fall short.
The “head coach and quarterback” of the Doubleback Winery team is my winemaker Chris Figgins. Chris knows wine, and I trust him to make the thousands of day-to-day decisions required to produce the very best wine we can. I also have a great team to handle all of the logistics of reporting, budgeting, customer service, and fulfillment. I even consider FedEx part of the team since delivering our wine to the customer safely and on time is a top priority.
As an entrepreneur, it is your job to build the right team and to lead that team effectively by setting a positive tone and knowing when to get involved and when to step out of the way.
If you start with a solid plan, react to challenges in a positive way, maintain a long-term outlook when times are tough and surround yourself with a great team, your business has a good chance of thriving.
This year, I’m working with FedEx to help support small business owners who are working hard every day to succeed. Visit FedEx.com/SmallBusiness for more advice, including videos, from former NFL pros like myself, and learn how your small business could win $5,000 and the chance to go to the Super Bowl as part of the FedEx Small Business of the Week program.
In September, 2011, Drew Bledsoe was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame after a 13-season career in the NFL. Today, Drew and wife Maura live in Oregon with their four children. To find out more about Doubleback Winery, visit www.doubleback.com
Full attribution for this article is given to Drew Bledsoe and the Doubleback Winery