From Wall Street to Main Street, business idioms are absolutely everywhere.
Hey, we live in a time of internet start-ups, instant millions, big business deals and social media marketing.
Business is a strong part of our culture and our language.
It makes total sense that business idioms are even found in casual, everyday English.
Beyond Wall Street: 6 English Business Idioms You’ll Find Everywhere
As you read the descriptions and uses of these idioms, use your imagination and make mental pictures. This is a particularly effective method for helping you remember the idioms. Luckily, many of these idioms can be easily visualized.
1. To get a business off the ground
As the famous philosopher Laozi once said, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” With a great idea and boundless energy, the budding entrepreneur (independent businessperson) must take the first step to self-employment.
Think of an airplane at the airport racing along the runway while gaining speed. It’s bumpy at first, but once it’s going fast enough for takeoff, the wheels lift off the ground, and then it’s in the air.
The image can apply to the business as well: the business has been registered with its own name, the employees are hired and the product or service is ready to be offered to the public. In other words, the owner got his or her business off the ground.
After finding the right investors and securing enough capital (money to start with), we finally got our business off the ground and opened our first store in Toronto.
This idiom can apply to projects or any other endeavor (task) as well. For example, at school, you could get a group presentation off the ground by arranging a time to meet and discuss some ideas. If you are interested in renovating (improving) your bathroom, you could get the project off the ground by deciding on the color of the tiles or the style of the faucet.
2. To go the extra mile
Okay, so the business is off the ground. Now what? The real work starts. How are the business owners going to get new customers coming and keep them coming back? One way is to go the extra mile.
Business owners are going to do whatever it takes to make their customers happy. The inside of their store will be shinier and cleaner than ever. The attention they lavish (give generously) on their customers will make them feel like they are royalty — indeed, in Japan, the customer is “king.” Employees of the company will work 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to address any complaints (comments about problems) their customers may have and deal with them quickly, even at an expense for the company.
This idiom connects the idea of running with the idea of doing more than what is expected. A marathon is officially 26.2 miles long — but, at the finish line, although exhausted, the intrepid (adventurous) business owners will feel it in them to run another mile, another 1.6 km, to show to everyone that they’re willing to make the extra effort.
Even though the laptop screen was not covered under warranty, the manager went the extra mile by replacing the whole laptop with a brand new one.
Note: For countries that use the metric system (i.e., outside the United States), the “mile” still applies, so if you say that your favorite business is going the extra “kilometer”, you will only get some strange looks.
This idiom could also be used in everyday situations. For example, a person could go the extra mile for his sick friend not only by calling to check his condition but also by dropping in to bring some medicine and nice hot chicken soup.
3. Word of mouth
The next step for the owners is to grow their business. They could spend money on advertising, but how would they know people are actually reading the ads online or listening to the commercials on radio or television?
These days, commercials are everywhere. Among all the clamor for attention, how can businesses stand out (get attention)? One crucial question is: did they go the extra mile for their customers? If so, then through word of mouth, businesses won’t have to rely on expensive advertising campaigns.
When new clients realize that a business is offering amazing customer service and going the extra mile, what do they do? They tell their friends and family. Words of praise will be coming out of their mouths. And when those friends and family of the clients wondered how they ever survived so long without knowing about the business, the business has the potential to grow exponentially (at a fast rate).
The local hardware store didn’t spend a dime on advertising. The owners relied mostly on word of mouth.
Are there any businesses that were highly recommended to you by a friend or family member? If so, then you heard it through word of mouth and, in the end, the recommendation benefited you, the happy customer and the business itself in increased revenue (profit).
4. To generate buzz
So now people are saying great things about the business. It has a website and a Facebook page that people are following and liking. The entrepreneur (business owner), however, is not completely satisfied (content) with the sales and still looking for more.
He or she decides to spend some money on research and development, working day and night on a product that no one has ever seen before, something so innovative (new and exciting) that he or she must keep it a secret until the day it is revealed (shown) to the world.
The customers are curious and talking about what will be offered. They write posts on their Facebook pages, they talk about it at work and they read about some theories (guesses) that are reported in newspapers and blogs. In other words, the secret new product is generating a lot of buzz.
A buzz is the sound of the beating wings of an insect like a bee. When you have a lot of bees in the same place, the buzz becomes almost deafening, or so loud it’s hard to hear anything else. Similarly, when thousands of people talk about a company, they are buzzing like bees. When people talk, there’s a better chance that they will go check out what all the buzz is about.
Before its summer release, the movie was already generating a lot of buzz in the media.
Check your social media accounts. What are people posting about these days? A new product that just came out? An event, such as a war or natural disaster, that is taking place somewhere around the world? A celebrity doing something he or she shouldn’t be doing? They’re all examples of news items that generate buzz.
5. To corner the market
The new product that the business developed was a huge success. It had rave (great) reviews on many websites, and there is a huge following of people who love what they’re doing.
According to independent research, the product is now better than any other and is in first place in the market. Within the industry, more than 50% of what people have purchased was made by the company! In summary, it has cornered the market.
Think of this business now as a boxer in the ring (event space for boxers). It’s got its opponent in the corner, who can’t move out of the way. The business throws a right jab and then a left hook (jab and hook are types of punches). Its opponent can only put their gloves up in defense. They are cornered, just like the competitors of the company.
In only a short time, the company has been able to corner the high-definition television market.
6. Smooth sailing
The business is firmly established. The CEO is now in charge of a highly (very) successful international company that has penetrated the market and whose name is as common as Coca-cola. It has fended off (beat) its closest competitors who now try to play catch up (try to be as good as) with its latest innovation. The company projections (estimates of future profit) are looking up and there are possible expansions for them to make in other industries and markets. It looks like smooth sailing for the foreseeable future.
Can you imagine it? Think of the business as a sailboat. The skies are blue and the water is calm. There’s a cool breeze coming from behind. The breeze fills the sails and takes the company to its next destination wherever that might be.
Once the company overcame the country’s bureaucracy, it was smooth sailing from then on.
Like many common idioms, this idiom can also be applied to other situations.
For example, at school, after David completed the more difficult courses in the first term, it was smooth sailing for him to finish his degree because the rest of the required courses were easy for him. Or, after all the trouble David had in getting qualified for the job and years of looking for work, it was finally smooth sailing for him when he was hired by an international firm.
So there you have it, six business idioms that can be used both in business as well as everyday life. If you go the extra mile in studying these idioms, you’ll be one step closer to achieving fluency. The journey begins with that one step.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.