It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I don’t mean Christmas.

It’s football season, which means millions of Monday-morning quarterbacks are gearing up to contend in the annual tradition of fantasy football.

While it may seem like just a game to the casual observer, managing a fictional football team has real-world applications, especially for the small business owner.

Preseason Research & Draft

Before a single bead of digital sweat is shed on the electronic gridiron, fantasy football aficionados pore over an exhaustive amount of research to draft the right team.

This intense level of planning is akin to how small business owners start and continue on the right path.

Whether you’re a rookie or veteran, your business needs a solid business model. You need to identify your ideal customers, marketplace trends and quality employees to hire.

Your must-start players are what consistently make your business money.

Stack a Multi-Tier Roster

I know what you’re thinking. Your fantasy football roster is the same as a business’s employee roster, right? Wrong. A fantasy roster can be organized in three tiers: must-start players, midlevel players and bench players.

For small businesses, these are your products and services.

Your must-start players are what consistently make your business money. You can set ‘em and forget ‘em without questioning their role in your success. This would be, for example, clogs and backups for a plumber.

Midlevel players are the products and services that are still required for the customers who need them. For instance, you might specialize in domestic auto body repair, so you’d hire someone who can work on foreign vehicles just in case.

Lastly, bench players require a specific situation to plug into your lineup. For instance, seasonal offerings. You wouldn’t market a lawn-revitalization package in the fall just before everything dies in the winter.

You’d wait to capitalize until the time is right in the spring.

Leverage the Waiver Wire

Think of the fantasy football waiver wire as your content arsenal. When you draft players who don’t work out, you should supplant them with ones who perform better. The same goes for the content you create.

Not every ad, social post or campaign is going to be a hall-of-famer. In fact, you’ll probably fail more often than you care to, but that’s OK.

There are ways to create, recognize and reproduce lighting in a bottle.

  • Check social media metrics to see which posts got the least and most engagement. Learn from the good ones and repeat.
  • Compare separate batches of lead-generation emails and identify why open rates were higher on some versus others.
  • Discover which of your website pages people stay on most or leave quickest, then determine why.

Head-to-Head Competition

While fantasy football is played in weekly bouts, the preparation for taking down your opponent is a daily beast.

It requires comparing your lineups to your opponents’ to determine where the victories or defeats may lie. Not unlike going toe-to-toe with an actual rival business.

In both situations, you should be tracking your adversary’s every move. When they zig in the marketplace, you zag to counter them. Watch their online or traditional marketing efforts. Follow their pricing strategies. Understand their product and service capabilities.

You can even mimic a foe’s strategy to level the playing field and see who does it better.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of your competitors is a good way to gauge where you rank among your business peer set. It can even inspire you to implement new processes, services, products, marketing campaigns and more.

Bring in Expert Advice

Diligent and routine intelligence gathering is a commandment for fantasy football managers and small business owners. The game and marketplace are constantly changing.

If you’re not “keeping up with the Jones’s” — and I don’t mean the Jerry Jones family, that’s impossible — you’ll get left behind with stale, outdated market knowledge.

When you make the effort to learn from industry experts and adapt to marketplace shifts, you’ll avoid dropping too far behind the line of scrimmage.

Whether you’re a fantasy football diehard or prefer to spend your Sundays picking apples (or whatever non-football fans do in the fall; I have no idea), it’s worth it for small business owners to borrow a few fantasy football plays for their own success strategy.