Core business skills you should have

There are some skills you just can't do without, as a business owner. As you build a team, of course, these responsibilities will filter out to people who specialise in them. But you will always benefit from having a grounding in each, and it's likely that in your early years you'll be doing most of the work yourself anyway.

Grasp of finances

  • You can't escape numbers in business. You don't need to be an accountant by any means, but you do need to be able to grasp balance sheets, profit and loss sheets, and do basic bookkeeping.
  • You have to be able to understand business models and pricing if you're going to make a business work.
  • Remember you can get an accountant to do the fiddly stuff. But even with an accountant on-site, you need to know what's going on too. It's your business and you would be very foolish to leave its most vital workings entirely in someone else's hands, however much you trust them.

Communication

  • Communication covers everything from negotiating without damaging a relationship to coming up with a strong PR plan to encouraging people into your shop to boosting staff morale.
  • You need to be able to communicate effectively with suppliers, employees, customers and investors.
  • When you're starting up, you also need to communicate your business idea with passion and clarity to investors, banks, clients, customers, potential commercial partners - and anyone else you want to hear about your business.
  • A good business owner is polite and persuasive, calm and controlled, likeable and enthusiastic, without being angry. They avoid jargon and keep it short and simple.

Negotiation

  • It's not absolutely essential that you can drive a super-deal, but it'll certainly help your business' health if you're happy to have a bit of a barter.
  • The better at bargaining you are, the more profit you'll make, and the better your business will grow and thrive.
  • If you're not used to bargaining, get into the habit of asking for extra whenever you buy or order something in your day-to-day life - this may sound silly, but getting into the habit now will shape your approach to business when you start up. It'll also show you can almost always get something extra or changed to how you want it if you just ask.
  • The best bargaining is done with a smile. Charming your way to a great deal is far, far more effective than shouting resiliently. And always be polite, even when you're being firm.
  • Read more in our smartbite on how to negotiate.

Organised

  • Managing budgets stretching years ahead takes careful planning, and you need to be organised enough to handle it.
  • You also have to have a positive and efficient approach to admin - of which there will be loads.
  • Being scatterbrained about tax deadlines and bills and chasing payments is enough to kill a business. You've got to be on top of things at all times to make sure the money's coming in and out at all the right times.
  • You also need to manage stock, invoices, day-to-day tax issues, and people - whether that's staff, cleaners, suppliers or contact databases.
  • There are lots of legal and tax obligations a business must fulfil, and you need to be organised enough to deal with them to avoid fines and unnecessary complications.

Leadership

  • Most businesses aiming to grow will take on employees at some stage of their developments. That means that unless you plan to be a one-man-show forever, you need to have good leadership skills.
  • Knowing the boundary between employer and employee is crucial - you should be liked but not overly friendly, able to maintain authority but also inspiring, encouraging and understanding.
  • You need to be able to recognise people's talent and use that to the business' advantage.
  • Have regular assessments and progress-chats (at least every six months) to make sure your employee(s) are happy, and that you're enabling them to develop - people work hardest when they're happiest.
  • Read up on leadership techniques - there are hundreds of books on the subject in any mainstream bookshop or library.

IT

  • You're almost certainly going to need a grasp of IT if you run a business. People get by without, but it's easier to just learn some basic skills to speed everything up in the future than plough on doing everything on paper.
  • Using spreadsheets makes accounting and budgeting infinitely easier and more organised.
  • Having a website for your business and being able to update it can be an invaluable marketing tool.
  • You can also exploit social media to your advantage to gain more customers and build your brand.

FAQ

I'm a born entrepreneur, but I'm seriously disorganised. Can I still run a business?
Yes, but you'd be wise to look into getting an assistant and an accountant. You can get administrative help part-time or get a virtual assistant to cut costs.

I've got great ideas but I'm not hot on the maths. Is running a business right for me?
You can still make a business work - you just might have to put some time into developing your numerical skills. An accountant will be a huge help too and can show you ways to simplify everything. Using spreadsheets will also make your life easier. If you really can't get your head around the financial side of things, consider bringing in a financial director full or part-time, or partnering with someone or getting an employee you can do it instead. Read our guides on hiring an accountant and finding a financial director.

Resources

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