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Why business competitions are like swimming events

You might have noticed we entered a business competition. I hope you didn’t feel we sent you too many messages pleading for votes but we wanted to give it our best shot. Voting closed yesterday and unfortunately we didn’t get through to the next round, but it has been an interesting experience – and with some parallels to open water swimming.
When I first looked at the Pitch to Rich competition I thought it would be a huge amount of work with very little chance of winning, so I wondered if we should even bother. But I forgot something important. It was a huge amount of work, and we didn’t win, but just as in swimming, the taking part and the journey are as important as the outcome. I only realised this part way through when we started receiving messages of support from readers. That in itself made it worth the effort. Good things happen just because you try.
Initially it was hard to know how we were doing against the other participants. Random checks on other entrants’ pitches suggested we were doing reasonably well but then we discovered a website that listed all the entrants and their votes and found out we were way down the list. While we were on 300 votes, some were on 3000.
This might have been cause to give up, but in fact inspired us to try harder. It was a bit like watching an elite swimmer. You know you can never catch them, but you can learn things from observing how they swim to improve your own performance. We looked at what the leaders were doing and doubled our efforts to bring in the votes. Because of that we overtook lots of other entrants and moved up the leaderboard. Frustratingly, problems with the voting site meant many of you couldn’t vote – whether that cost us the votes needed to progress to the next round we will never know, but it brings me onto the next point.
Again as in swimming (especially open water swimming), external factors and luck came into play. The weather turned against us – metaphorically at least. The voting website was effectively out of action for most of the last day. You could say that the conditions were the same for everyone but it had the effect of protecting those entrants that had already accumulated a lot of votes against those (like us) who were making late surges. You could make the comparison to an open water race where participants are set off in waves. The conditions might be worse (or better) for those at the end of the day than the beginning but everyone is ranked as if conditions were equivalent. Some things are simply out of your hands and you have to accept that.
Finally, no swim is a solo effort (especially not a solo Channel swim) and nor was this little business competition. I put my name on the marketing emails just as a swimmer’s name goes on a certificate, but we all know that any venture depends on support and contributions from many people – starting with our families who tolerate us either training or working when we could be spending time with them. Big thanks are due to so many people who shared and retweeted our messages or harassed their friends into voting that I’m scared to list them in case I miss a few out. You know who you are.
It is absolutely fantastic that so many of you voted from all around the world and signalled to us that you care about what we do. That makes it worthwhile. We thank you all for your support.
We have learned of course that leaving chasing your votes until the last minute isn’t a good idea and if this competition runs again next year we’ll be sure to start earlier – just like we should do when preparing for a swim.