Get automatic updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Connect with Steve Sipress


A Double Dose Of March Madness


This past Sunday, millions of Americans watched their 67th college basketball game in two weeks, as the number of teams was whittled down to The Final Four.

Later that night, millions watched the fifth season premiere of the television series Mad Men.

Small business owners can learn important lessons from both:

David vs. Goliath

This year’s NCAA Tournament has been filled with upsets – even more than usual. In the same way, small business owners who focus on executing the right strategies can often out-perform their competitors who relax and take their battle lightly – even if those competitors are big and well-established.

Lesson: In business, just as in sports, an “underdog” can often defeat a “favorite” – no matter what “the experts” think or say. However, if you feel entitled to success but fail to give it everything you’ve got at all times, you may find yourself “knocked out of the tournament,” even (or especially) if you thought it was going to be easy to beat your competition.

Advertising Victims

If you do any kind of advertising for your business, watching Mad Men can give you an excellent glimpse into how the game works from the perspective of the advertising agency. You’ll see how the ad salesperson’s job is much more about convincing the advertiser that his or her idea makes sense than about creating an ad that convinces prospects to do business with the advertiser.

Lesson: Advertising salespeople are heavily trained in how to sell, and know very little – if anything – about effective advertising or marketing. Your advertising sales rep is not “working with you,” but instead has his or her own self-interest in mind – and often that self-interest is extremely short-term (as in making as much commission as they possibly can every time they talk to you, instead of helping you build a solid, sustainable, long-term successful business).

The Only Constant Is Change

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus made that observation over 2500 years ago, and it has never been more true than today.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen the meteoric rise of several startups becoming some of the most powerful and well-recognized companies in the world, including Google, Amazon and Facebook. We’ve also seen the disappearance and bankruptcy filings of many former giants of the business world, including Bethlehem Steel, TWA, Arthur Anderson, Polaroid, Enron, Worldcom, Lehman Brothers, Woolworth’s, Chrysler, GM and Chicago’s own Tribune Group, just to name a few. Oh – and there’s that little issue about the United States of America’s credit rating being downgraded for the first time ever.

Five years ago, Mad Men had yet to make its television debut. Since then, it’s taken the television world by storm, winning the Emmy for Best Drama Series in each of its first four years of existence (the only basic cable show ever to win it even once). Similarly, no college basketball player in this year’s tournament was there five years ago.

In fact, these days the top players only make a one-year pit stop in college on their way to the pros, thanks to a 2006 NBA rule change. Because of this “revolving door” rule, next year’s tournament will feature an almost entirely new crop of stars, many virtually unheard of today.

Lesson: All business owners must constantly be rethinking and reinventing what their business is all about. As the world’s #1 small business expert, Dan Kennedy, says, “If you seek to be in the same business three to five years from now, doing business as you do it now, you won’t be in business…. In short, you need to be looking for change, not waiting for change.”

I’ve consulted with thousands of small business owners over the past decade – around 1200 or so since the economy took a drastic turn for the worse nearly four years ago. Most of these are good, honest people who provided excellent products and services for many years. But the majority of them refuse to make necessary adjustments, choosing instead to simply blame “the economy” or “the government” – or any other available scapegoat – for their own negligence as their businesses struggle, if not collapse entirely. They continue to associate with the wrong people and get the wrong advice, mainly because that’s just so much easier than squarely facing the fact that all of us must constantly make fundamental changes in our businesses.

Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if things would just stay the same and not change much? But as small business owners, we must recognize that such a fantasy world just doesn’t exist. It didn’t in Heraclitus’ time 25 centuries ago, it doesn’t in the world of television or college basketball. And it certainly never will in the world of business.

The only question is: How will you handle this fact in your business? Will you embrace it, and “March” ahead towards prosperity? Or will you ignore it, and descend into financial “Madness”?

2 Responses to A Double Dose Of March Madness

  1. Heather Reply

    March 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Good stuff, Steve. “Change” is the only constant entrepreneurs need to worry about!

  2. Robb Reply

    March 28, 2012 at 10:35 am

    To the point!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *