How to Succeed In Business: 20 English Business Idioms That Will Improve Your Professional Communications

When you’re a non-native speaker of English, the international business world can be a bit scary. Though you may have studied English at school or even at a private academy, coping with the communicative demands of a business meeting is not only about using good grammar and big words.

If you want to succeed in a competitive professional world, you will need to understand how English speakers use the language in real life. How can you do this? Easy. By learning business idioms.

Mastering informal expressions improves communication, helps you to gain your colleagues’ trust, and more importantly, boosts your self-confidence at work meetings.

Below, you will find a list of English business idioms so that no job opportunities slip through your fingers ever again.

Top English Business Idioms

  • Ahead of the pack
  • Back to square one
  • Ballpark figure
  • Big picture
  • By the book
  • Game plan
  • Get down to business
  • Go down the drain
  • Go the extra mile
  • Hands are tied
  • In a nutshell
  • In the driver’s seat
  • Keep your eye on the ball
  • Long shot
  • Not going to fly
  • On the same page
  • Put all one’s eggs in one basket
  • Raise the bar
  • See eye to eye
  • Sever ties

1. Ahead of the pack

Meaning: Doing things more successfully than the competition

Example: Our priority is to stay ahead of the pack, so we’ll have to revolutionize the way we advertise our products.

2. Back to square one

Meaning: To start something over with no progress having been made.

Example: I think we got it all wrong from the beginning with this app. If we want it to make it work, we might have to go back to square one.

3. Ballpark figure

Meaning: An inexact numerical estimate (usually a business idiom but it can be used in other situations)

Example: Give a ballpark figure here, how many new customers did we get with the last campaign?

4. Big picture

Meaning: The most important elements in a situation.

Example: It’s all very good to focus on the details, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture, guys.

5. By the book

Meaning: To do things strictly according to the rules

Example: If we want to avoid problems with the auditors, we’ll have to make sure the safety protocols are followed by the book.

6. Game plan

Meaning: A strategy worked out in advance for achieving success

Example: Mark, have you seen the competitor’s new campaign? What’s our game plan to put them out of the market?

7. Get down to business

Meaning: Stop making small talk and start doing what has to be done

Example: Okay, maybe we can talk about Julianne’s wedding after the meeting. Why don’t we get down to business and start with the presentation?

8. Go down the drain

Meaning: Be lost or wasted

Example: That’s a very good idea, but without a great marketing campaign, all our efforts will go down the drain.


9. Go the extra mile

Meaning: To do more than is expected of you

Example: We go the extra mile to ensure our clients get the best traveling experience of their lives.

10. Hands are tied

Meaning: Not being able to act freely

Example: I’d love to help you, believe me. But my hands are tied. It’s not up to me this time.

11. In a nutshell

Meaning: One of the most useful business idioms, which means summing things up using as few words as possible

Example: In a nutshell, it’s only May and we have used all our budget.

12. In the driver’s seat

Meaning: To be in a position in which you can control what happens

Example: The person who gets the most votes will be made a leader of the project, which means they will be in the driver’s seat when it comes to making important decisions.

13. Keep your eye on the ball

Meaning: To pay attention to a person or situation and not lose focus. You can use this business idiom when people get off-topic.

Example: Diversification is all very good, but we shouldn’t give customers too much choice. It’s better to keep our eyes on the ball.

14. Long shot

Meaning: Something that is very unlikely to happen.

Example: What if we reached out to Sony and see if they’re interested in a partnership? I know it’s a long shot, but what do we have to lose?

15. Not going to fly

Meaning: Something that is unlikely to work out.

Example: I know you’re very passionate about this product, Mike. But we’ve been here before. It’s just not gonna fly.

16. On the same page

Meaning: Multiple people being in agreement about something (often used as a business idiom, but also useful to talk about relationships)

Example: Let’s go over the details of the launch event one more time to make sure we’re all on the same page.

17. Put all one’s eggs in one basket

Meaning: Not devote all efforts and resources to one thing.

Example: I think investing all our budget in Chinese tech stocks right now would be to put all our eggs in one basket. Why don’t we consider other options?

18. Raise the bar

Meaning: raise the standards and expectations which need to be met in the future.

Example: Congratulations, team. The launch was so successful that it raised the bar for everyone working in this industry.

19. See eye to eye

Meaning: To be in full agreement with somebody (both used as a business idiom and a general expression)

Example: I don’t always see eye to eye with my boss, but we surely agree on the important stuff.

20. Sever ties

Meaning: To put an end to a relationship.

Example: It hurts me to announce that we’ve decided to sever ties with Rose. Our differences made it impossible for us to continue working together, but we wish her all the best.


There you go. With these 20 English business idioms, you can demonstrate to your colleagues that you are in full command not only of English but also of business language.

Do you want to learn more about colloquial expressions and how to use them? Then read our post on American English idioms.

However, if you really want to improve your fluency so you can impress your potential business partners, we suggest you explore our English courses taught by qualified native teachers. Send us a quick inquiry and we’ll get in touch with you in no time with information about our tailor-made lesson plans.