It’s not everyday you meet an Olympic hero.
Organised by Essex Chambers of Commerce, this year’s Discovering Business in Essex exhibition closed with an engaging talk by guest speaker Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards.
If you remember only one athlete from the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, it’s Eddie – Britain’s first and last Olympic ski jumper.
Last year a film depicting his unlikely journey to the Olympics hit cinemas around the world. It’s an uplifting, inspiring, feel-good story, so I was excited to hear it straight from the Eagle’s mouth.
Eddie’s story is one of personal achievement, but it’s also a story of dedication, ambition and determination.
He’s also a really nice guy, cheerily posing for photographs, chatting to exhibitors, and signing autographs afterwards.
Here I’ve considered ways in which some of the lessons from his anecdotes are just as relevant to business as they are to the sporting world.
You couldn’t pay me to fling myself off a 90ft jump. But Eddie emphasises he is just as excited to strap on a pair of skis now as he was 40 years ago, when he was 13 years old.
Passion and enthusiasm are also key to running a successful business. It almost goes without saying; if you aren’t motivated to get out of bed each day, you won’t go very far.
By the 1980s, Britain had produced alpine skiers and cross-country skiers, but there weren’t any British ski jumpers. A gap in the market, thought Eddie! As the only British ski jumper, he didn’t face any home-grown competition and was truly unique in his field.
If you spot a gap in the market, jump on it. Apple did just this with the iPad in 2010. Streaming video content was gaining popularity, but mobile phone screens were too small, while laptops and computers were not as portable. Steve Jobs seized the moment, and the iPad was launched. Now we read eBooks in bed, FaceTime family on the bus, and watch movies in the bath… making Apple a substantial profit.
Coaches and mentors
As the only British ski jumper, Eddie didn’t have a coach. He took himself to European ski jumps to practice, where he met other national teams and sometimes received training from their coaches.
Whether you are an athlete or a business owner, a good coach or mentor can help propel you to new heights. They can save you valuable time and resources by offering advice and guidance that could take years to learn on your own. They also have the ability to view things from a more objective position, which could unlock new possibilities for your business.
Without funding or sponsorship, Eddie began his ski jumping career with tired, old kit. Whether it was kindness, pity, or concern for his safety, he was given better kit from the national teams he met in training. With this new kit, his jumps improved.
Help can come in many forms. In business, it could be funding or a loan, to get you started or help you grow. It could be an introduction to a key individual or referral to a new client. Or it could be outsourcing your admin to a virtual assistant to free up more of your time. Accepting help along the way will make things easier and you’ll feel less alone.
Show you’re human
Eddie was unlike other competitors. He allowed his personality to shine by having fun with the crowds. Whereas the elite athletes seemed too serious to engage with, the crowds took Eddie to their hearts because they could relate to him.
Even serious businesses can share their human side. It’s compelling and engaging. An ‘About Us’ or ‘Meet the Team’ page on your website shows that you aren’t a faceless company. A blog is a great way to show off your organisation’s personality, while social media is the perfect place to strike a more conversational tone with your audience.