Training & Development

Quint column: 10 skills to master as an entrepreneur

Quint Studer at the public input sessions for the future Studer Community Institute building. Credit: Barrett McClean.

I have worked with entrepreneurs and owners of companies of all shapes and sizes and in several industries. That experience has helped me notice common themes for what can make businesses successful.

The best ones tend to have a certain predictable skill set. They may not have every skill, but they usually have most of them. The skills they don’t have, they make a point to learn.

Here are the top 10 powerhouse skills every entrepreneur and small business owner should strive to master:

A grasp of financial management. You don’t have to be a financial wizard, but you do need to understand the basics. In particular, you need a handle on cash flow and receivables.

Solid marketing expertise. People tend to use this word as a synonym for advertising, but it’s way bigger than that. Marketing is all the decisions that go into getting your product to the consumer. All small business owners need to be heavily involved in marketing. Generally speaking, pull marketing, in which you motivate customers to seek out your brand and work to create a loyal following, is more effective than push marketing, in which you attempt to take your product directly to them and persuade them to buy.

The ability to sell. Sometimes people have great ideas but are not great at compelling others to act on them. You don’t have to be a super-talkative extrovert, but you do need to be passionate about what you’re selling and willing to talk about why. You need to be the leader of your sales team. Employees will to look to you to learn how to articulate the benefits of your product.

A bias toward execution. Strategy and innovation matter, but successful business people know when to pull the trigger and get things done already. There are lots of great ideas floating around, but if you can’t put them into motion, they’re useless.

An instinct for customer experience. Now that Amazon and other online retailers have changed the game, success is more about service than it’s ever been. Smart entrepreneurs know that if you take care of customers, and they’ll take care of you.

The leadership know-how to create an engaging culture. To compete with large companies, you need a well-run organization that people want to work for. Attracting and keeping great talent means deliberately creating a culture where people are engaged, energized and excited about their ability to make a difference. (And in a small company, a single person can make a huge impact: That’s one edge you have over big corporations.)

Smart delegation and careful time management. These are two issues that entrepreneurs definitely struggle with. You want to be involved in everything and are driven to work 24/7. However, you need to learn to work ON your business, not IN your business—and this can be done only through smart delegation and careful time management.

Problem-solving savvy. Every startup or new business has problems that pop up as it’s finding its legs. Some are small, some are bigger, and some are life-threatening. Smart leaders know how to catch problems early before they get out of control, and where to go for help finding a solution.

The right balance of “network” and “hard work.” A lot of small business people love the “grip and grin” part of networking. They like meeting people and brainstorming with them but somehow don’t get around to the deep thinking and elbow grease part of the equation. Networking is great, and necessary, but make sure you cultivate a reputation for being a hard worker and big producer.

Civic-mindedness. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who don’t focus on winning and taking all the time. They’re the ones who want to help, share and mentor other small business owners and in general make the world a better place. Reciprocity seems to be a law of the universe: Give back to the community and the community will take care of you.

No entrepreneur or small business owner starts out with all of these skills. The bottom line is this: Constantly be learning. No one is born a great business owner, knowing all there is to know. Great business owners evolve. They fail, they learn, they do better next time. This is how growth happens.