Soft Skills are Critical Skills

I had an interesting conversation with someone I admire a great deal.  We were discussing the skills needed to create and run your own business.  The discussion focused on necessary skills not specifically related to the business product. He referred to these as ‘soft skills’.  I was surprised because we differed so much about what constitutes critical skills.   I left our meeting deep in thought and realized how different our thoughts were on what it takes to be successful – especially as an entrepreneur.

Running your own business is truly a full-time job.  You are everything to everybody until you grow large enough to hire staff.  In this economy that may take a very long time.  If you are interested in success you must examine what it takes to achieve your goals.  For me, technical skills are critical.  I must constantly read and stay abreast of changes in my field of expertise.  Staying on top of my technical game is not enough.  It is not enough for any business.   What else is critical to success?

1.  Sales 101:  Step away from the computer.  Dust off your business plan and read it.  What?  You do not have a business plan?  Stop everything and do it now.  Before you can sell your services, you must know who you plan to sell to.  A solid business plan defines the goals for your business, but it does not bring you customers.  You must do that.

2.  Your office:  Like many entrepreneurs, you may start out working from home.  Are you guilty of roaming through the house and lamenting about all the ‘personal’ things you need to accomplish?  Recapture that energy for your business.  It’s time to create your office.  Create a place that is conducive to work and away from temptations.  This is your place of employment.  Do not be tempted to watch TV, do the laundry or make a few personal calls.

3.  Time management:  An entrepreneur’s day must be scheduled just like any other business person’s day.  Create a work schedule and stick to it.  As an entrepreneur you will need to dedicate more than 8 hours a day to your business for a long time to come.

4.  Negotiation skills:  You signed your first customer.  Great!  Do not be tempted to jump in head first and get the work done without having the paperwork signed.  Your contracts should be in place and your prices and deliverables should be well-defined.  It’s time to enforce boundaries.  You have a quality product that you believe in.  Do not negotiate yourself out of business.

5.  Presentation skills:  Presentation skills get rusty if you are not using them frequently.  Join Toastmasters.  Watch powerful speakers.  Practice in front of the mirror.  Polish your image — can you engage a client?  Clients want to be heard.  Are you a good listener?

Being a business owner carries with it a lot of responsibility.  Everything falls on your shoulders.  I am not sure any skill can be considered ‘soft’.  Ultimately, the success or failure of your business falls on your shoulders.  Everything is critical.