The Definitive Guide to Business

7 things playing in the NFL taught Terrell Owens about being successful in business

Terrell Owens
Getty Images | Gabriel Olsen
Terrell Owens

Terrell Owens never thought he'd be a football player. So when he first started, he didn't understand what it took to be successful. "I was just going with the flow," he says, speaking at Collision Conference in New Orleans last week.

But eventually Owens came to understand the value of high performance. "I started to realize … it's all about consistency," says Owens.

According to Owens, who launched clothing line Prototype 81 last year and is working on a partnership with wearable tech company Celf, success on the field has taught him a lot about being an entrepreneur. Here's what he learned.

1. Be 100 percent in

Over the last decade, Terrell Owens has had some financial trouble: He reportedly lost millions in the real estate crash; a friend embezzled money from him; his financial advisor (recommended by his former agent) made bad investments allegedly costing him $6.5 million; and he had tax troubles.

Though Owens dished out a lot of blame, he's come to accept the role he played. It was an expensive lesson.

"I have to go do my due diligence," says Owens, on stage at Collision Conference. "When I wasn't as knowledgeable, when I put a lot of trust in the people that I hired, those are the ones that burned me, when I wasn't really 100 percent in.

"I allowed them to take control of the wheel," he says. These days, Owens carefully vets everything himself. "Now I'm in the [driver's] seat with them."

2. Know your stuff

People know Terrell Owens as a sometimes-trouble-making football player. So Owens realizes there will be instances in which he needs to prove himself as an entrepreneur.

"I like to be taken seriously," says Owens about walking into a business meeting. "I think being knowledgeable about whatever that meeting is about … speaks volumes.

"I go in and I present myself as a business and not just a football player," he says.

Terrell Owens as #81 on the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game
Getty Images | Joe Robbins
Terrell Owens as #81 on the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game

3. Make sure everything you do is the right fit

When Owens is deciding on a project, "It has to make sense and it has to be in the wheelhouse of what I embody," he says, because consumers and fans are getting smarter.

Playing football, Owens became an expert on things like nutrition, fitness and wellness. "That's why after football I began to do some of the things like fashion, talk about nutritional and fitness products that are out there," he says.

"I figured I would try to merge the fashion and fitness, which is a business that's really booming right now," Owens says about Protoype 81. "I would try to find my niche into the market."

4. Control what you can

Playing in the big leagues — whether it's the NFL or the business world — there will be a lot of things out of your control. But not everything.

For example, "Football is physical," explains Owens. "Those are things I can control: I had to take care of my body."

Another thing you can control? Your own reactions. It's not about the ups and downs, says Owens, "that's to be expected with any business. It's all about how you respond to those obstacles."

5. Know your value

According to Owens, after making $80 million during his time in the NFL, thanks to fraud and his own missteps, he had very little to show for it. So when he got into business, he focused on what did have: name recognition and a reputation for high performance.

"I was really able to take advantage of the name and the brand that I established by being successful and being consistent on the football field," says Owens. "People know who Terrell Owens is.

"Some guys they have money and they can fund things — that's equity," he continues. "With me, I have brand equity. It means a lot."

6. Be willing to go next-level

Owens learned a lot about success in the NFL: "I understood that in order to succeed and become the best at what I did, I had to do things that other people didn't do," he says. "Put yourself in the best possible situation to perform at the highest level."

7. Find the right partners

Despite some bad experiences with advisers in the past, playing a team sport like football showed Owens that no one can do everything alone, including business. "Think of all the successful CEOs — they have a team of people," says Owens. "Really take advantage of the people with experience around you."

According to Owens, there are three keys to finding the right partners, particularly when looking for investors: Look for someone who is committed to the cause and passionate about it, not just in it for the money, he says. Also, make sure those you work with are loyal. And finally, says Owens, you want partners who are driven.

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