Most entrepreneurs already have an excessive amount of enthusiasm for their businesses. This enthusiasm lends itself to developing a fair understanding of how the worlds of sales, marketing, mergers and meetings work. However, any entrepreneur would probably admit that there is some skill or talent that he or she wishes they had mastered before starting up. These areas of relative weakness, or perhaps simply less obvious skills, are the ones that aspiring entrepreneurs should give a second glance.
Below are eight of the most essential skills for entrepreneurs and explanations of why they are important. By mastering each of these skills, an entrepreneur will be further down the path of success than many of his or her less mindful peers.
1. Become a Leader
Even if an entrepreneur plans to work alone, leadership is an essential skill for anyone hoping to own and run a successful business. Leadership goes beyond telling employees what to do. It translates to inspiring those around you to do what is necessary to succeed. This includes possible investors, loan officers, community leaders and customers. Being an excellent leader means people will be willing to take a risk with you and make sacrifices or concessions in support of your vision.
If you feel you may be lacking as a leader, look to businesspeople you admire for insight and mentorship. There are hundreds of books written on the subject of leadership that may also be helpful. If you’re a sports fan, see if the coach of your favorite team has ever written a book about leadership. Convincing a group of athletes to follow a singular vision, and wrangling egos and delegating tasks according to diverse talents is a great example of leadership in action and an inspiration for emulation.
2. Learn When to Trust Your Gut
As humans, we’re are all programmed with a survival instinct, which often manifests itself in a choice between “fight” and “flight.” Depending on the level of perceived risk, this instinct compels minds and bodies to stay (fight) or leave (flight) a situation. This response was conditioned from centuries of evolution in which our ancestors faced very real, oftentimes life-threatening situations. And as a result, we, as humans, are often risk-averse.
We prefer the comfort of familiarity and look to embrace monotony in order to avoid the discomfort of the unknown. As you can imagine, these tendencies can sometimes get in the way of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Our instinct is to avoid risk, and our “gut”—that voice in our heads that tells us the risk is worth the reward—is often overridden by our instinctual risk aversion. As an entrepreneur, you must learn to determine the true root of your gut feelings. Are you hesitant to proceed because it’s truly a bad idea or investment? Or do you hesitate because your mind and body are intrinsically designed to resist change?
Out of all the skills essential to being a successful entrepreneur, this is perhaps the most difficult to master. It requires embracing change and uncertainty, and gathering enough experience for your gut to become a valuable decision-making tool.
This conditioned survival response is sometimes referred to as our “lizard brain,” and many authors, including Seth Godin, have resources to help you conquer this shortcoming.
3. Learn How to Persuade
Similar to inspiring others through your leadership skills, learning to persuade others is immensely important for entrepreneurs. The most successful persuaders don’t strong-arm or bully others into embracing a different way of thinking. Instead, they make logical or emotional arguments that leave others with no choice but to change their behavior, thinking or beliefs.
Think about the last time someone changed your mind. How did they do it? What eventually convinced you? How long did it take? Most likely, you have no idea how or why your mind was changed, but you definitely know it happened. In this same way, the best persuaders convince people that the change was their own decision and that they just needed a nudge to help them reach it. Spend some time analyzing these questions in relation to your own experiences, and you will begin to understand how to apply persuasion skills to your everyday dealings.
A great place to get started is with one of the best books ever written on the subject, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini.
4. Set Goals
As an entrepreneur, goals are the guideposts on your path. They provide you with structure, which enables you to build toward ever-greater success. Setting goals is about more than just the end result. It’s about the strategy you’re trying to support and the tactics you’ll use to complete it. But setting the right goals can be a nuanced endeavor that is often perfected through experience. If you are just getting started, reach out to your trusted network or tap your mentors for advice. It is likely they will have some valuable insights on how to solve the problems and questions rolling around in your head.
5. Learn Accountability
At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own success or failure. Embrace the ability to say, “I own this,” whether it’s a mistake or not. There will be good days and bad days. There will also be days filled with overwhelming success and underwhelming results. As an entrepreneur, you should be accountable for the consequences associated with each.
6. Embrace Creativity
Creativity can oftentimes be misunderstood in business. Many feel that those who are successful in business are not creative or are even incapable of thinking with the right side of their brains. While it may be true that business professionals spend little time waxing poetically about balancing budgets or placing supply orders, the skills and talents inherent to an artist are just as important for an entrepreneur.
Artists look at the world and challenge it; they make decisions with the sole purpose of affecting their world in some lasting way. And with respect to the expectations of their peers and audiences, they take risks. They risk being misunderstood and misinterpreted. They risk their reputation by taking a chance. As an entrepreneur, this should sound familiar. Learn to appreciate this ability, and use it to your advantage.
7. Learn to Connect
While many entrepreneurs understand the importance of networking in the business world, there is another aspect of connection that is just as important: connecting with those who are disconnected from your brand, i.e. potential customers. To make a connection with this group, your company needs to provide an offering that satisfies their needs and solves their problems. As explained by Seth Godin in an article from Entrepreneur, “The opportunity in the Connection Economy is about finding the problem,” and if you can find a way to solve that problem, a connection is made that hopefully results in a new customer.
It’s not necessarily a literal disconnect, but rather the absence of a solution that bridges your business with those who have the problem. How does your business plan or your product address this missing need? How does it connect with the disconnected? As you progress in planning your business and look to build upon your success, you’ll need to consistently ask and answer this question in order to remain viable.
8. Learn Interpersonal Skills
Without the ability to relate to and communicate with people, your success as an entrepreneur will most likely be short-lived. Building rapport, communicating effectively and relating to people from a variety of backgrounds are skills that will help fulfill your entrepreneurial vision. Therefore, the importance of these skills cannot be overstated. If you feel like you might be lacking in any of them, spend some time studying with or observing other entrepreneurs you admire. A great example is motivational speaker Tony Robbins, whose connection with his audience is immediate and often encompasses all of these talents at once.
Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but as you may have already discovered, it means more than having a good idea or a solid product. It means embodying all of the skills above, and utilizing all of your talents to effectively communicate, persuade and inspire those around you to see and understand your vision.