Setting up your own business and successfully growing it is an exciting venture – but there’s little doubt it can also be tough and call on your personal resilience significantly. Any new enterprise is effectively a step into the unknown – you are launching into unchartered waters and unsure if you’re going to be able to make a success of things. On top of that, it’s a time when there are a lot of pressures – financial, emotional and practical – for you to try and deal with. Your time is not your own. You are having to turn your hand to new things all the time, and all without any guarantee of a reward. While it’s true that some people may naturally possess more of the qualities and personality traits to enable them to be a successful business leader, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn them if you aren’t naturally strong in these areas. Most things can be developed with practice and patience. Being able to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important, because it allows you to understand where you may need extra learning, development and support. So what are the personal skills that an effective business leader would do well to cultivate?
A business is made or broken on its financials. Obviously, you are a business and you need to make a profit – in order to support yourself and any staff you may hire in the future. Your business model needs to be sustainable and profitable in order to have legs. Even a social enterprise will require sound financial management skills. This means getting involved in the details, ensuring that your cost base and committed expenses are kept as low as possible, and finding the right pricing so that your business generates revenue while still remaining profitable. At any given time, you should know roughly what the balance is and what you need to do to maintain it. Systems like QuickBooks can be enormously helpful by keeping a track of your business finances, automatically issuing invoices and payment reminders, and allowing you access your finance system from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. You should also aim to negotiate with suppliers to get the best deals on things you must purchase and avoid any unnecessary large overheads to begin with – for example, signing up to a flexible office hub is a far better choice than leasing your own premises when you’re getting started. The things you do need to invest in are upskilling, new client acquisition and any relevant software or tools which are essential. All the rest can come later on, when the business is out of it’s critical first year.
You have a great company. But you need to spread the word and connect with potential customers. Marketing is your method for doing that, but there are so many different channels you can take and it can quickly feel like a lot if you aren’t a specialist. Using social media platforms effectively is a great, cost-effective way to connect with an audience, but you have to make sure you’re using them in the right way. Remember that social media is not a soapbox. You need to involve yourself in relevant topics and discussions and share great content but refrain from being overly sales-focused. These channels are about connecting, building a following and nurturing engagement, not pushing a list of products and services on people. Building a great website is another absolute must, ensuring that all the structure and content are optimized for search engines and will be visible. It’s definitely worth investing in support from a web development agency with this if you can. If you have to maintain a site yourself, using WordPress is a great option, as it has lots of plug-ins which you can use to learn more about optimizing the site. Your marketing can build up slowly, and you don’t have to spend vast sums to begin with. Be clever about understanding your audience and show up where they are with a relevant message. If you really need a lot of development in this area, consider a move such as taking an online MBA with an institution like Suffolk Online to develop your understanding.
The time pressures involved in running your own business can be extreme. Most entrepreneurs have to begin as a jack-of-all-trades, turning their hand to everything from running the social media to pitching for new clients to chasing up invoices. That’s on top of the core offering of your business! It can feel never-ending sometimes, so developing your time management skills is essential. Learning about good inbox management, time blocking and tools such as the Pareto Principle or using a prioritization matrix to structure your working day can make a huge difference and stop you from getting overwhelmed. A fair few people start their own enterprises because they want to be more in control of their own time, or better able to achieve a work-life balance, but there is a lot of upfront work involved in launching a business. In order to make it work, you have to set strict boundaries on your time and have all the tools in place to ensure the important business gets done, while protecting yourself from burnout. Strict time management is the only way to keep things on track, so make sure you brush up your skills in this area!
No business is an island and from winning new clients to negotiating with suppliers for a better deal or finding mutually beneficial arrangements with business peers, networking is highly important. If you don’t have networking skills, a quick online course is one way to learn the basics, as well as finding local networking events or online industry exhibitions to attend. If you’re genuinely engaged and have interest in what people say, you can’t go too far wrong. The connections you make in this sphere are important and can bring great opportunities with them, so don’t let networking take a backseat.
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