While the debate rages on as to whether entrepreneurs are born or made, one thing can’t be disputed: polishing certain skills can help you be a better entrepreneur. Whether you’re already great at the following skills or could use a few pointers, these are the areas you should focus on for success.
1. Communication. When you’re a solopreneur, you may think communication is less of an issue, since you don’t have staff to interact with. But you’ve still got to maintain clear lines of communication with your customers via email and phone, as well as ensure that the message you send through your website and social-media profiles is the one you want.
If you do have staff, communication is even more important. After all, poor communication skills can lead to decreased productivity with your staff, as well as low morale and opportunity for them to make more mistakes if they don’t understand your instructions.
Tips for improvement: Even if you’re not a skilled communicator, paying attention to how people react to you can clue you in to how well (or not) you’re reaching them. Getting puzzled looks whenever you speak? Ask the person you’re talking to if what you said makes sense, and give them the opportunity to ask for clarification.
2. Branding (personal and business). Whether you’re striving to brand your business or looking to establish yourself as an expert in your industry, knowing how to do so online is essential to your success.
Branding starts with being active on social media, and is shaped through content publication, whether on or off your website. Be aware, though, that poor content can lead to negative branding. It’s important to know how to deliver content and resources that your target audience wants and will find valuable.
Tips for improvement: Not a born writer, or feel like social media is too difficult? Take it in bite-sized portions. Start by writing one blog post a week, or hire a writer to do it for you. Ramp up as you gain confidence, and you’ll boost your following and web traffic. These articles provide fantastic resources, as well: “5 Ways to Build Your Brand in Short Chunks of Time” and “The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.”
3. Sales. You may not identify with salespeople, but the fact is, if you run a business, you’re involved in sales. You might have a sales team that handles all of your company’s sales, but every time you deliver your elevator pitch about your business, negotiate with a vendor, or even just persuade anyone to do anything, you’re tapping into sales skills.
Tips for improvement: There are plenty of strategies for selling without selling. Think about conversations you have with potential customers. The ones that resulted in a sale probably weren’t really hard pitches to get them to buy from you. They probably centered around helping the potential customer find a solution to a problem.
If you focus on helping, rather than selling, you’ll feel more confident about the sales process, and make more sales, too.
4. Strategy. It’s easy to think about the “right-now” aspect of your business, because the results are easy to see. But what about the bigger picture, long-term challenges and goals? How often are you thinking about those?
Without a constant eye on your business’ strategy and skilled assessment of that strategy relative to the industry and your competition, you can’t hope to grow it over time and remain competitive in the marketplace.
Tips for improvement: Dedicate time to simply dreaming about what you want for your business. Where would you like to take it? What’s your vision for it? Now, how can you get there from here?
Set your goals, then develop an actionable plan to make them a reality. Then, don’t forget about those goals. Keep them front and center to everything you do.
5. Finance. While you don’t need to be a CPA to run a successful business, you should still have a decent understanding of your finances, profit margins, cash flow and funding. The more comfortable you are with all of these numbers, the more confident you’ll be, and the better decisions you’ll make.
If you have an accountant to handle all the number crunching, that’s great, but don’t use them as a crutch to keep you from digging in and really understanding where your money’s going. It’s your duty to rein in costs, optimize efficiency and find ways to grow revenue.
Tips for improvement: Start by spending some time in your accounting system. You can learn a lot about your profit and loss, average client revenue and expenses from reports. A tool that helps you visualize your revenue and costs is especially helpful (I use Godaddy Bookkeeping and find it very useful).