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James Haskell on rugby and running a small business

The excitement is already palpable among sports fans as next month sees the start of the biggest tournament in English rugby history. What better time to explore the similarities between rugby and small business? They’re both about hard work, keeping your eye on the ball, and… wearing special shoes. Ok, the last one is just rugby. Unless you run some kind of fancy dress shop.

Enough messing around. To see if small businesses really can learn anything from professional rugby, we were lucky enough to grab some time with the mighty James Haskell – England flanker, Wasps Captain and small business owner. Get ready for some fantastic small business insight from an England rugby star:

What prompted you to start your first business?

A lot of that initial drive came from my old man. He’s always pushing me to do things outside of my rugby career and I’ve always tried to be prepared for what I was going to do in my retirement. You want to keep your mind busy and active and I think finding a work/life balance helps your performance on the field, provided you get that balance right. It can be a tricky medium to find but once you get it, it’s good. We’ve tried a few different things and we currently have a fitness business and a shooting business.

“When my training day finishes my work day starts.”

Given the relatively short career of sporting professionals, do most players have an eye on retirement?

I think we’re getting better at it. Through the RPA (Rugby Players’ Association), there are people going around the various clubs, encouraging players to find areas of focus outside of rugby and build their portfolio. Some guys obviously aren’t as focused on that, but they’re the ones who invariably panic in the later stages of their careers as they try to work out what they’re going to do. I’m personally quite keen on what I’ll be doing when I’m finished. I enjoy being creative and getting things done, as opposed to just sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

Would you say your drive has helped you in business in the same way it has in rugby?

Yeah I think so. I’ve always been determined to be the best I can be fitness-wise, both physically and mentally, and I think the same goes for my business. I love hard work and being committed, and obviously there’s an element of being financially driven, and that all suits my personality. If you get an opportunity you have to maximise it, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do. When one door closes you’ve got to find and open another pretty quickly.

When starting a business is it best to pursue something you’re really passionate about?

Absolutely, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt since starting a business is to simply find something you’re passionate about and know inside out. If you are trying to get into an area you don’t have much knowledge of, partner up with someone. It’s better to have half of a hundred million than it is all of ten million. It’s also very easy to set up a business now online, especially using social media, but take the time to plan your strategies, how you’re going to implement them, who’s going to manage your business, how you’ll brand it and where you’re going to source your product if it’s product-based. Also, seek advice: the Government have schemes to help people set up new businesses, otherwise you come up with an idea, rush off at a hundred miles an hour then have to readjust and you start to make mistakes. The best advice I can offer is to persevere; every multimillionaire has undoubtedly had twenty failures for every one success.

“If you get an opportunity you have to maximise it, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do.”

It sounds like you’re really taken with the business world, are you ready to hang up your boots?

To be honest with you, I’m really enjoying my rugby at the moment so I don’t want my career to end just yet. It’s really rare to find a job in which you’re doing something you love on a regular basis, especially a job where you’re wearing the rose and people cheer you on, which makes a massive difference. I can’t imagine there’ll be many people cheering me on in the business arena, but I think if you get a business to a point where it’s making money while you sleep then that’s the ideal scenario. Personally, I’d like to go into TV and radio, and have businesses on the side as something I can always go back to.

Do you have any techniques for keeping your businesses running while you’re training and playing?

I have my dad to thank for taking the brunt of the business for me while I’m away, if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be able to operate. You’ve got to keep things simple, that’s the key, and it’s somewhere we’ve gone wrong a few times. Find a few things you can do really well and remember that even the simplest idea with only a few of you can take up a lot of your time. Deliver where you can really well and make sure you leave time for a review period. I think sometimes you can get blinded by golden opportunities, and it’s important to stay grounded and to focus on doing the simple things really well.


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