Some of the most confusing things about English are idioms and business English has a lot of idioms all of it's own. If your business contact from the USA or the UK started talking about 'square one' 'getting it off the ground' or a 'ballpark figure' would you know what they were talking about?
Here is a list of common business idioms and their meaning:
Ahead of the pack
To be more successful than the competition
If we want to stay ahead of the pack, we’ll have to increase our marketing budget.
Back to square one
To start something over again because a previous attempt failed
To make this software finally work, we have to go back to square one.
A very inexact estimate
To give you a ballpark figure, how much the border wall to Mexico is going to cost, I’d say about 30 million dollars.
Everything that is involved with a particular situation
Working on all these details, we have lost sight of the big picture.
By the book
To do things exactly according to the rules or the law
We told our auditors that we do everything by the book.
Corner the market
To dominate a particular market
Amazon more or less corners the online retailing market.
Very intense, aggressive, and merciless competition
Competition in the food retailing business is cut-throat.
Easy come, easy go
Something gained easily is also lost easily
I lost 500 Euros in a poker game last night, but that’s life – easy come, easy go.
A strategy or plan for achieving success
What is our game plan for dealing with our new competitor?
Get down to business
Stop making small talk and start talking about serious business topics
Now that everyone’s here, let’s get down to business and start with the presentation.
Get something off the ground
To start something (e.g. a project or a business)
Now that we have finished the planning phase, we’re eager the get the project off the ground.
Go down the drain
Something is wasted or lost
All our efforts in entering this new market went down the drain.
Go the extra mile
To do more than what people expect
To give our customers the best shopping experience, we go the extra mile.
Hands are tied
Not being free to behave in the way that you would like
I’d love to help you, but my hands are tied.
In a nutshell
Using as few words as possible
In a nutshell, we will run out of cash in three months time.
In full swing
At a stage when the level of activity is at its highest
Construction of our new production site is in full swing now.
In the driver’s seat
To be in charge or in control of a situation
Being offered the position of managing director, I’ll soon be in the driver’s seat.
Keep one’s eye on the ball
To give something one’s full attention and to not lose focus
We should not diversify our product offering too much, but rather keep our eyes on the ball.
Learn the ropes
Learn the basics of something (e.g. a job)
I’m learning the ropes in my new position.
Something that has a very low probability of happening
Winning the lottery is a long shot.
Something that is really obvious or easy
Making money working for an investment bank is a no-brainer.
No strings attached
Something is given without involving special demands or limits
They will let you try the product for free with no strings attached.
Not going to fly
Something isn’t expected to work out
This product is definitely not going to fly.
On the same page
To be in agreement about something
Let’s go over the contract details once more to make sure we’re on the same page.
Out in the open
Something that is public knowledge and not secret anymore
Our financials our out in the open anyway.
Put all one’s eggs in one basket
To rely on only one thing to bring success
It’s not smart to invest in American tech stocks only and put all one’s eggs in one basket.
Put the cart before the horse
To do or think about things in the wrong order
Trying to find an investor without having a business plan is like putting the cart before the horse.
Raise the bar
To set standards or expectations higher
The iPhone raised the bar for smartphone makers.
Official rules and processes that seem excessive and unnecessary
The new law is going to create a lot of red tape.
Rock the boat
To do or say something that will upset people or cause problems
Don’t rock the boat until the negotiations are finished.
Something that is certain to happen
It’s a safe bet that computer processor speed will more than triple within the next 10 years.
To be in the same difficult situation as someone else
None of us has any money left, so we’re all in the same boat.
See eye to eye
To agree with somebody
My boss doesn’t see eye to eye with me about our marketing campaign.
See something through
To continue until something is finished
I want to see this project through before taking on another one.
To end a relationship
We had to sever ties with several suppliers due to poor product quality.
Shoot something down
To reject something (e.g. an idea or a proposal)
You shouldn’t shoot down your co-workers ideas during a brainstorming session.
A situation where success is achieved without difficulties
Once our largest competitor went out of business, it was smooth sailing.
Stand one’s ground
To not change one’s opinion or position
They tried to cut my travel budget, but I stood my ground.
Take the bull by the horns
To directly confront a difficult situation in a brave and determined way
My mid-level managers constantly delayed projects, so I took the bull by the horns and fired several of them.
Talk someone into something
To convince someone to do something
I was reluctant to redesign our website, but my employees talked me into it.
Talk someone out of something
To convince someone not to do something
We wanted to take on more debt, but our CFO talked us out of it.
The elephant in the room
An obvious problem or controversial issue that no one wants to discuss.
We should have discussed our pending litigation, but no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.
Think outside the box
To think of creative, unconventional solutions instead of common ones.
Our current approach will get us nowhere. We have to think outside the box.
Time for something or someone has ended.
I think his time’s up as the CEO.
To make contact with someone.
I will touch base with you later today.
Twist someone’s arm
To convince someone to do something that he or she does not want to do.
My boss thought the budget was a little high, so I had to twist his arm to get him to agree to it.
Up in the air
Something is undecided or uncertain
Our international expansion plan is still up in the air.
Something that is difficult to achieve because of obstacles and difficulties
Gaining market share in this country will be an uphill battle due to tough competition.
To have more power than anyone else and so have control
Due to my experience, I had the upper had in the argument.
Word of mouth
Something is given or done by people talking about something or telling people about something
Many local stores rely on word of mouth to get new customers.
If we've missed any, please tell us in the comments!