This column is part of a series formed from a partnership between Entrepreneur and NFL Players Inc. Click here to see the other columns.
In the NFL, adapting to different positions, coaching styles and the strategies of opposing teams is imperative to staying in the game. And in business, adaptability is similarly crucial to your longevity.
The average career of an NFL player lasts 3.3 years. A coach once told me that if a player lasts 10 years in the league, he will have been a huge success. From that very moment, I set a goal to play in the NFL for at least 10 years.
My long-term goal required that my short-term goals be flexible -- adjusting on an almost-constant basis. My first job was on the practice squad in 2003. Then, I earned a position on special teams. In 2005, I was brought in for third downs, and I finally landed a spot as a full-time starter in 2009.
At each level, I needed to adapt physically and mentally to changing opportunities. For instance, one adjustment meant playing tackle and gaining weight until I was 315 pounds. Shortly thereafter, I had to lose all that weight to drop to a lean 260 pounds. If I had not been able to adapt every step along the way, there's no way I would have seen an 11-year career.
In business, circumstances also change, and not recognizing when adjustments are necessary can lead to your company’s demise. Here are four areas to always keep top of mind:
What is your competition doing? Are competitors offering something that you aren't? Has a new player entered the market? What differentiates your business from others? It's imperative to study the competition so that you know the adjustments that are necessary to outperform them.
Are you connecting with your customers? Are you interactive and responsive? Now, more than ever, the communication cycle has a direct effect on your ability to stay on top of current conditions impacting your niche -- allowing you to get a feel for where the market is headed and what your target audience is consuming.
Are you keeping up with technology? Do you frequently look for new ways to streamline what you do? Technology trends can reveal new markets or merchandising opportunities, but they can also introduce new methods to give your business a winning edge.
4. The Plan
Are you regularly reviewing short- and long-term goals to identify any corrections that need to be made? Draw out the big picture for your business -- but know that this is merely a starting point that is bound to evolve. A business plan is like a football game plan in that, sometimes, the strategy must change mid-game to adjust to what the competition is doing.
To this end, small, incremental changes may be the most effective. Other times, however, a major transformation is in order. Either way, stay nimble so you can navigate toward your end goal.
Our launch of Athlitacomics Sports Heroes, a line of merchandise that merges professional athletics with super-heroic mythology, exemplifies an instance where my team and I discovered that, to be more timely and cost efficient, we would need to modifiy our original plan and alter one of our short-term goals.
By making a slight adjustment, our introduction of Sports Heroes to the marketplace was accelerated and some fantastic partnerships were formed. If we had resisted taking Sports Heroes in this direction, we would have missed a great opportunity for profitability. Just as I had learned to do in the NFL, I adapted as a small business owner, embracing change to make it work to my benefit.
It's a skill that will help you stay on top of your game -- so always be ready to call an audible when new opportunities are identified.