In the last blog, the first three essential skills were discussed. These are:
- Time Management
- Financial Management, and
- Relationship Building
If you haven’t read that article yet, go back and read it before going further, as it sets the stage for this discussion. This blog continues with the final two of the Top 5 Essential Skills Every Small Business Owner Should Master.
SKILL 4: Strategic Thinking
Some articles focus on critical thinking while others focus on creative thinking. Strategic thinking, however, is a combination of these skills within the context of business. It’s not just about finding solutions to problems, it’s about positioning those solutions where customers can locate them. It’s not just about hiring additional staff when you need more hands in the kitchen, it’s about selecting the right personnel to maintain your brand and sustain growth. When you develop the skill of applying strategic thinking to every activity in your business, your main concern isn’t about the immediate, but about the impact of each decision on the long term success of the business, and how activities connect with each other for efficiency.
By definition, strategic thinking is planning for the future in a way which yields practical and actionable ideas. The aim is to analyze your situation, set goals and deadlines, and put things in place to always be at the top of your game. With regular strategic thinking sessions, you’ll be able to identify weaknesses in your business processes, and develop systems to address those weaknesses. You’ll also be able to gauge whether you’re on course or if you’re drifting into treacherous waters. And most importantly, you’ll be better positioned to identify opportunities for development and growth.
Many small business owners consider strategic thinking to be a luxury, and are far more focused on what they believe is their core activity – running the business. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it keeps you focused on what’s at hand, and you’ll constantly be in a state of adapting on the fly because you didn’t see changes coming. You may also miss out on opportunities because you didn’t see them in time. The day to day activities are certainly important, but if that’s all a business owner focuses on, then the business will have no direction. A business without strategic direction moves blindly, and will not have a significant impact on its industry. It will be stuck in ‘reaction mode’ and unable to take proactive, deliberate action toward growth.
SKILL 5: Marketing and Sales
In business, money is made in two ways—investment and sales. Being wise about investment is the kind of thing keen financial management will afford you. Converting products and services into cash is what selling is all about. Sales alone isn’t enough, however. You must also consider marketing. While marketing will ultimately leads to sales, it’s more encompassing and includes the decision-making processes. At this point you might be thinking that these are two different skills, and in a sense you’re right. However, if you consider marketing the planning part of sales, then they are essentially different stages of one process—getting customers to buy your products or services, thereby increasing income. Small business owners need to be concerned with both.
Here’s how the system works. Marketing is concerned with generating leads. In order to generate leads, you would need to research customers, identify their needs, develop or modify products or services to meet those needs, and make customers aware of the products and services in ways that encourage them to investigate further. A potential customer who enquires about your product or service is a lead. Once your product or service is known to customers, the selling begins.
Selling is concerned with turning potential customers into paying customers. The target audience has already been reduced from ‘everyone’ to those who have shown interest, so there’s a more focused effort. Sales, therefore, often involves directly interacting with prospects in an effort to convince them to make the purchase.
One can generate interest and not close the sale, but there must be interest if the sale is to be a possibility at all. Marketing and sales, therefore, work hand in hand, and small business owners must demonstrate understanding of both. What do you know about your ideal customer? What have you been doing for them to notice your products or services? How have you been interacting with leads? What have you been doing to convince them to close the sale? Practical and actionable answers to those questions are necessary if you expect to generate income in your business on a continuous and increasing basis.
These are not the only important skills.
The five skills discussed in this two-part blog article are by no means the only skills required. In fact, being determined in the fact of rejections, mistakes, slow progress, and lack of focus is definitely high on the list as well. Operating a business isn’t for the faint of heart, and often requires open mindedness, and the ability to learn from and push beyond failure. Those ‘abilities’, however, are better characterized as attitudes or mindsets that must be cultivated on the road to success. Your attitude is your tendency to evaluate and approach situations in a particular way, while skills refer to your ability to apply the information you have in particular contexts. Accomplishing your goals and achieving success is dependent on the presence of both.
While everything mentioned here might seem overwhelming, take heart. What you need to keep in mind, throughout all of this, is that growth takes time and you need to be patient with yourself. If you’ve noticed deficiencies in any of the areas discussed, work on it until you’re where you need to be. If you don’t know where to begin, know that there are many support groups, mentors, and coaches out there who can help you. Find one that works for you.
Article submitted by:
Shelley-Ann Edwards-Barran is a writer, editor, writing coach, speaker, and advocate for better writing instruction. She is the CEO of WERD Coach Ltd., a company dedicated to helping writers at many levels – children, academics, authors.