How Small Businesses Use the Aggregation of Marginal Gains to Grow
many cyclists ride with fatigue during the race

Daily incremental improvements will have a profound effect on small business growth.


The famous basketball coach John Wooden once said “It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.”  A business owner can learn a great deal from both the nature of sports and in some cases certain coaches that have attained great success in their respective fields.  The ideals and triumphs that are brought forth in sports are some of the most valuable intangibles that a business owner can possess.

What is the aggregation of marginal gains? 

David Brailsford, the performance director of Great Britain‘s pro cycling team-Team Sky-transformed John Wooden’s ideology to whole other level in his performance system where he focused on the “aggregation of marginal gains”.

His system requires an individual to focus on a “1% improvement” in everything that they do on a daily basis. As a result of instilling this mentality upon the cyclers on his team, Team Sky won the Tour de France in three years (an accolade in which he expected to achieve in 5 years) from the day he was hired as performance director.

As a business owner there are many aspects of a company in which require improvements and daily focus, such as: sales & marketing, operations, and finance.  However, the hard reality in trying to improve every aspect of a business is that it takes time, and there is usually no quick fix. These drive business growth.

As a best practice business owners should focus on the little things that they can have a direct impact on each and every day, thereby emulating Coach Brailsford’s “aggregation of marginal gains”.

Sales are at the forefront

Sales and revenue are at the forefront of every business, however, business owners sometimes neglect to take the time and focus to improve upon this area, especially the micro aspects.

For professional services businesses that live and die off their ability to attain and retain clientele, business owners should set small goals such as attaining a new client each week, or making at least one new contact a day, etc…

Even remembering to always have a set of business cards on self at all times, or remembering to aggregate all business contacts information in an easily accessible and centralized area, can serve as vital 1% or marginal gains that in the long run will reduce stress and improve the business’s ability to maximize sales.

Operations serve as another pillar

Operations serve as another pillar of any business and there are countless areas that business owners can look to improve on.  However, to stay within the scope of this article a good practice is to have employees embrace the concept of marginal gains.

Employees should understand the micro aspects of their performance as well as role in the company and in turn devise a strategy to build upon those areas in which they can have a direct impact on a daily basis.

For example: 

Employees that are prone to distraction might benefit from practicing limiting their phone time to their lunch breaks or at the days end.

Another great example is organization; employees should look to eliminate any disorganization that may present itself.  Some good practices include maintaining an organized desk or work station, ensuring that filing systems and database’s are accurate and up to date, creating specific folders or files to store pertinent information throughout the day, or discarding old files and papers that have been deemed obsolete.

By focusing on the small things and consistently implementing these practices employees and business owners will be able to build upon these marginal gains continually better themselves and their business.

Accounting and Finance

Accounting and Finance is also another major area in which a business, small or large, should aspire to capitalize on marginal incremental gains.  These gains should be directed towards helping business owners answer two key questions more effectively:

How did my business do this month?

Based on this month’s results how can my business improve financially?

An incremental improvement in the accounting process could be to close out the books or complete the financials one day earlier every month.  Other strategies include: calling on delinquent customers more regularly, or implementing additional reports to help management improve and run the sales and operational functions more effectively.

Lastly, reviewing current management reports for enhancements and other improvements will also help a business improve financially over time.

All of these suggestions stated are just a small percentage of what business owners can look to implement in their attempts to induce marginal improvement.  The main point to be taken away is that by focusing on marginal gains in every aspect of your business, over time you and your business will become more efficient in the long run.

It’s sometimes hard to stick with practices that yield only marginal improvements because they don’t have an immediate effect.  However, when building and sustaining a successful business it’s important to note that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and by allotting time towards the aggregation of marginal gains you set yourself and business up for longer lasting success.

Related articles:

Small Business Revenue Growth and Success

How to Sell More Customers


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