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Lessons from football: How to hit the back of the net in business

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I’ve been in business since I was 33 and a loyal Newcastle United fan, for my sins, since I was seven. They’re a really tough club to follow and always cause me a lot of heartache, but over the years my blind faith and love of the game has lead me to consider the lessons I can draw from the sport when it comes to business.

My son was born down south and despite my efforts to coax him into a different team, somehow he’s ended up by my side at every Newcastle United game as well. But that’s the thing with football, no matter who you support, real fans will tell you that they were born into their team, so didn’t have any choice in who they follow – and ultimately, it’s this loyalty that makes the game so special. 

In business, it can be much easier to change sides, but when you own and run your own company, your heart and soul is invested in what you do in the same way as your passion for your team.

Like in football, the biggest thing that any business needs to be sustainable and long-lasting, is customer loyalty. So much like the beautiful game, businesses need fans too. There are a few people who have written about the importance of fans in business, but a loyal fan base will proudly promote and support your product through the good times and the bad.

Take a look at Virgin for example – it is the Manchester United of business. Whatever sector Richard Branson expands into, the product or service sells. It’s not because of the price, or the USP, but it’s the whole package that counts. He is the Alex Ferguson of Virgin, someone who has vision and believes in those around him to enthuse them into believing in the brand. 

Branson stands for something people can believe in and this is what attracts his fans and breeds success. Another seriously loyal following can be seen around Apple. No matter what it releases, people will stand and queue for hours to get their hands on the product, simply because they know what the brand stands for. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and even Bristol Rovers (winners of the Vanarama Football Conference) all get people to believe and buy into not just the style of play, but the whole club.

So what can we learn from these teams in terms of creating our own fans? It might all start with a great product but it’s the details that follow that make a real difference – from the way you price your products to the support that you offer once you’ve sold it – if you offer a great service and nurture the relationships that you’ve built with your customers, you’ll soon see your customers turning into fans. 

We see in non-league football, everyone is valued, from the kit man to the tea lady. If you can start with making your own members of staff your biggest fans, they will sell your service for you and help you grow. If you treat your groundsman with equal respect as your top goalscorer, you’re doing something right. Make the people you employ feel valued and that they are part of a “club” and they’ll pay you back with immeasurable loyalty that provides you with a solid foundation to build.  

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These are lessons that we’ve really tried to place at the heart of Vanarama, as ideas like our “Van Hero” project help to build a connection with our brand and show our customers and franchisees that we care. Being a Van Hero allows our customers to share their success stories which we reward with a prize pack. We also turn their stories into testimonials for Vanarama, which in turn help them promote their own business. It’s a win-win campaign for everyone that encourages the “we are all in this together” football club mentality.

As most people will know, the image of the white van man has negative connotations – but if you look at our customers and what’s happening to the economy, the biggest growth sector is construction. You talk to any tradesman and they’ll tell you that not only are they building more housing, they’re employing people too, which at the end of the day means they’re paying more VAT and more taxes, which makes them heroes of the economy if you ask me. Championing their cause, and what they do, shows our customers that we’re not just interested in selling you a van, but we are also invested in your business because if you’re successful then we are too.

However we all know that it’s not always plain sailing in business and football alike, and no matter what the score reads when the final whistle blows, the important things with fans is that when times are tough more people stick by their side and show their support for the long-term. If you can harness the power of a losing team into a business, you’re more than certainly in for a win.   

I’m really proud of our connection with non-league football and that’s reflective of the business we are – supporting people on a grass roots level. Our business is modelled around people and that’s the most crucial part of any winning team – the people. If you value your staff and your customers you won’t go far wrong. Just please don’t ask me to take the Newcastle United managers job!

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