Entrepreneurship requires many skills, from financial planning to human resource management, and it’s at times both intimidating and frustrating. Fortunately, if you’ve got a good idea and the commitment to making it work, most of these skills can be picked up along the way. Throughout the course of your business ownership, you’ll make mistakes, learn valuable lessons, and gain experience that teaches you these skills over time.
Unfortunately, this style of learning can sometimes come too late. Some skills need to be learned early on, or else their absence could spell a tragic fate for your business.
If you’re planning on becoming an entrepreneur, or if you’ve just entered the world of business ownership, learn these five skills as early as possible:
Research is an important skill in the planning, launch and ongoing running a business. You’ll have to research the market, your competitors and problems as they come up. Even research your employees and clients to ensure they’re a good fit for your business. Researching is both an art and a science, as there are practical rules to follow but also an instinctual element to success. Proper research can solve -- or prevent -- almost any common problem in the earliest courses of your business development.
Related: Why Market Research Matters
Focus is as much a personality trait as it is a skill, but I list it as a skill because it can be initiated, developed and honed over time. Focus does come naturally to some people. If you’re one of those people, more power to you but for most of us, focus is difficult to achieve. Without focus you can’t prioritize or maximize your productivity, making it next-to-impossible to get any real work done in your new business. Learn which environments and habits maximize your focus, and work on refining that ability as quickly as possible.
3. Cash management.
Cash management is vital for the first few years of any startup. Profitability is important. Earning more than you’re spending in ongoing operations sets the groundwork for a successful company. However, even profitable companies can fall victim to poor cash management, and poor cash management almost always leads to bankruptcy.
As the entrepreneur, you’re responsible for ensuring that you have enough free cash to cover all your operating expenses, including payroll, utilities, rent, and other operational costs. To do that, you’ll have to cut unnecessary costs, watch carefully for due dates, and follow up on invoices diligently to ensure timely payment. It’s not something you can bluff your way through. This is a skill you can't afford to learn too late.
Communication is a foundational skill that applies to every area of entrepreneurship. You’ll need to communicate with investors and partners to ensure the business is on the right track, with clients and customers to sell your idea and build relationships and with your employees to establish direction and delegate responsibilities. You’ll even need to establish cross-communication channels within your organization to ensure there aren’t any hiccups.
Without a stable framework of communication, any business is destined to fail. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to “teach” communication skills. The only way to get better is to practice, and the only way to practice is with other people. Attend networking events and hone on your interpersonal communication skills by working closely in a team setting.
Learning itself is a skill, and it’s almost impossible to learn directly. Learning effectively takes practice to master the techniques that work best for you and to discern which resources are the most valuable in the acquisition of new information and skills.
Mentors are a major source of learning for new entrepreneurs, since they’ve done it all before. If you don’t have access to a mentor directly, there are hundreds of alternative resources where you can develop yourself as a business leader. Attend networking events and public seminars, webinars, and take free online courses whenever you can. Read widely, including the news and nonfiction books. Commit yourself to a constant, uninterrupted stream of learning. If you can learn effectively and consistently, you’ll have no problem building the other skills you’ll need as an entrepreneur.
Without these five skills, you’ll have a tough time succeeding as an entrepreneur. Try to learn them well in advance of beginning your entrepreneurial journey, but if you’re already in the thick of things, simply prioritize them to make up for lost time you have lost. The remaining skills you’ll need as an entrepreneur can develop naturally over time, so stay optimistic in the face of challenges and stay patient for your own growth.