With all the turbulence shaking small business over the past year, it’s fair to say we can’t wait to bid 2020 goodbye. If only the past year’s challenges could drop down into oblivion with the ball on Times Square. But for that to happen, as entrepreneurs we need to overpower the struggles with something greater. And that something is neither luck nor exciting New Year’s resolutions. In 2023 and the years ahead, it’s cultivating vital skills — both business skills and soft skills — that will determine how we rebuild during and following the crisis.
At the close of the most challenging year in recent history, we asked over 100 small business owners to name top business skills that helped them survive 2020 and the ones they’re embracing for the years ahead. Their answers are a heap of wisdom and practical insight. But it’s their question that may as well change your life:
How many of these skills (interpersonal and business) do you already own?
What are Business Skills?
Business skills refer to the abilities and knowledge necessary for successfully operating a business or working effectively within an organization. These skills can be learned and developed over time and encompass a broad range of capabilities, including communication, leadership, decision-making, problem-solving, and financial management. Mastering basic business skills can help entrepreneurs, managers, and employees achieve their professional goals and contribute to the overall success of their organizations.
Emotions are a natural answer to stress. Under their influence, we’re more prone to becoming either reckless or paralyzed in our actions. Mark Webster, Co-Founder of Authority Hacker points out the importance of not jumping to conclusions, even “when the world feels like it’s falling down around you”. Instead, start with a good look at data and facts.
“Instead of assuming your sales are going to grind to a halt, actually look at the numbers for yourself. What does the data say? What are your customers saying? What is the real, objective picture. Instead of deciding, “We need to cut back on everything. ASAP.”, think about the long-term implications of everything you do, how much things cost and how you can sensibly cut costs without sacrificing your product or service.”
Domantas Gudeliauskas, Marketing Manager of Zyro, adds that a large part of being objective is being level-headed and honest. In times of storm, never keep yourself and and your team in the dark.
“We understand that we’re working through a global crisis, but find ways to set aside anxieties and focus on work during work hours. For this, we try and make sure employees have everything they need for a comfortable office, from office equipment to furniture, while also openly communicating about the company’s financial situation to avoid rumors and misinformation.”
Everyone loves a “glass-half-full” kinda fellow, as opposed to their opposite. But in a business environment, happiness is more than a psychological hack. It’s the “cherry on the cake” that will motivate you to learn and cultivate all the other skills below. Trust that a positive mindset will pay off a thousandfold, says Chris Kaiser, Founder & CEO of Click A Tree, and you won’t be disappointed. Just like Chris wasn’t, in one of the toughest years.
“Positivity was key this year. Despite the crisis I managed to find new business opportunities, and because I’m optimistic I didn’t hesitate to reach out and discuss the potential for a cooperation. Instead of seeing all the negatives in Covid-19, I tried to see the positives. And yes, that positivity paid off: We found dozens of new partners, and my entire team still works full-time. No layoffs, no reduced hours.”
#8 COMMUNICATION & NETWORKING
If you want the business to thrive, you’ve got to be ready to talk. Talk to clients, talk to partners, talk to strangers who might be your future sponsors. We just can’t stress the importance of networking enough and neither can Career and Communication Coach Madeline Schwarz.
“Because I invested a lot of time in building a network before the pandemic, I had a network to lean on this year. It was easy to transition to online networking because I was already involved in a number of communities and accustomed to introducing myself to a room full of strangers. When you take a genuine interest in other people and focus on building relationships first, you attract people that want to help you, will tell people about your business and will hire you when they have a need.”
Inside the business itself, communication is a must-have skill needed for business. For a leader, clear communication steers the whole business ship clear of icebergs, says Jacob J. Sapochnick, Founder of Law Offices of Jacob J. Sapochnick.
“Through communication, I was able to help my employees to navigate during these times of uncertainty. That’s why I can say that communication is the most important thing in every organization.”
#7 CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP BUILDING
Whatever a business is struggling with, its customers usually share in the struggle. When the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, many customers lost their grounding with the closure of businesses while the needs of others were greatly overlooked, as entrepreneurs struggled to make it. Bill Joseph, CEO of Frontier Blades talks about the importance of actually building your trust with clients during years like this, as opposed to just focusing on your own problems.
“Our e-commerce business faced massive delays in shipment causing many customers to need to receive their orders on time. Hence, we decided to approach our customers and give them an update on the status of their product and try to give them a status on where their product is located at the given time…and ask them if they would like a refund or not. The building of customer relations helped our business significantly in 2020 as we increased in sales compared to last year even during a pandemic crisis.”
#6 BUSINESS MANAGEMENT
In business, going into sailing without a business management plan or a financial model is considered a recipe for disaster. But 2020 has shown us the importance of not just having a financial model, but coming back to it again and again, to reassess and modify expectations. Yoann Bierling, founder of International Business Consulting explains why.
“Budgeting is what allowed my business to survive this tumultuous year, which saw an overall business drop of 70% from March to November. As in any situation that has to deal with finances, budgeting properly is the best way to survive any issue that arises, as it ensures that what you spend is not affected by external influences, such as revenues drop, as you already planned not to go over what you have. I even expect to be 5% below budget by the end of the year, and I am now preparing the budget for next year.”
Another aspect of business management is self-organization. Many businesses are short on time and staff, which means you have to hire employees whose top assets are good organization skills. As Brandon Monaghan, Co-Founder of Miracle Brand points out:
“I like to break up my schedule by category. I time batch all of my meetings back to back to eliminate unnecessary distractions and breaks. Once I’m finished with my meetings, I move onto my tasks for the day. It’s vital to keep pushing each project along instead of getting caught up on just one.”
Business is basically thought of as action. That’s why being patient with ourselves is probably the toughest part of business — patience is not exactly an act, it’s a state of being. Jordan Smyth, CEO & Founder of Gleamin talks about the importance of patience and mindfulness in order to avoid the icebergs of entrepreneurship.
“Throughout my career I’ve made a few little mistakes which have caused large problems. I have learned the importance of slowing down, making decisions wisely and thinking about the long-term. Additionally, my ability to say no to opportunities that aren’t serving me or are taking away from my immediate focus has also been largely beneficial this year. It has allowed for me to stay structured, focused, and organized.”
#4 EMPATHY AND EQ
Over recent years, EQ or emotional intelligence has become a business skill as important, if not more important, than IQ. It’s no longer about being smart, but about being attentive. As Laura Fuentes of Infinity Dish explains, that’s because only a leader who is sensitive to the needs of others can make decisions that will make long-term business impact.
“When I was younger […] I was a reliable and consistent employee, and I would have little patience for people who called out or didn’t work at my level. As I grew older, became a mother, and started listening to other people’s stories, I developed a deep level of empathy for others. […] Those feelings carried through into my becoming a business owner, and being able to access that empathy this year really helped as I made accommodations to schedules, pay, locations, etc.”
Beyond your team, empathy is the superpower that will resonate with everyone you communicate with. As Lynn Power, Co-Founder & CEO of MASAMI adds:
“It’s so critical to understand what your consumers, your partners, your peers are going through. And really listening and relating to them on a human level. [Empathy is] the skill that has been most useful this year to not just survive but thrive.”
Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. In the long run, it’s perseverance that makes a difference between someone “successful” and everyone else. In any field of life whatsoever, but especially in entrepreneurship, the sooner you adopt perseverance as your motto, the sooner you’ll rethink your idea of “fear”, says Casey Halloran Co-Founder & CEO of Costa Rican Vacations Travel Agency.
“Because I wasn’t allowed to quit or weasel out of hard moments growing up, I’ve never shied away from hard work or difficult moments. While I complained plenty about my parents’ unique style as a kid, it has served me well in business, particularly in the past year of unprecedented challenge and stress. Some people can find this level of stress unbearable…I certainly have had moments of fear & loathing. But in general, I find these moments in business and life to be THRILLING.”
#2 DIGITAL SKILLS
If it weren’t for digital innovation, most of us wouldn’t be able to make it through 2020. Digital has made it possible for us to work from home, attend school from home, keep in touch with relatives and friends thousands of miles away. It’s also what kept small businesses alive.
Yet in addition to embracing evolving technologies as a whole, entrepreneurs like Brian Robben, CEO of Robben Media, suggest taking a look at particular digital skills. For example, digital marketing and SEO became a turning point for many small business owners this year.
“Search engine optimization, the art of showing up when prospects are looking for our exact offer, helped us achieve a record year. We’re a digital marketing company, so ranking first on Google for keywords like website design, SEO agency, Facebook Ads agency, etc. has driven insane ROI. Organic traffic is super profitable because prospects are actively looking for what we’re selling, and then finding our website to schedule a sales call. No wonder we close so many deals from this.”
Flexibility, adaptability, being ready to pivot: every successful entrepreneur has their own synonym for the world’s most important business skill. And that’s because this superpower is one older than business and older than human civilization itself. As Mike Falahee, Owner of Marygrove Awnings points out, adaptability is a force of nature. That’s why it’s also the force of business.
“Possessing this trait is exactly how humanity has evolved to where we are now. Being able to embrace changes, and roll with the punches creates a person that is impossible to knock down. Bruce Lee says to be like water. I’d take his word for it. Rigid things shatter. Sharpen this skill, learn how to see opportunity in adversity, and you can overcome anything. As for adapting my company, we have had to implement no contact curbside quotes, let office employees work remotely, help them draw the line between work and home, and implement new strategies for keeping our manufacturing facility safe.”
Skills Needed for Business: Review
Mastering the skills needed for business is essential for individuals aiming to thrive in today’s competitive market. As highlighted through the business skills examples, success in the business world is often determined by a combination of effective communication & networking, objectivity, optimism, customer relationship building, business management, patience, empathy and emotional intelligence, perseverance, digital skills, and adaptability
By focusing on developing and refining these essential business skills, you will be better equipped to overcome challenges, seize opportunities, and achieve professional success. As you progress in your career, continually assess and improve your skillset to stay ahead of the curve and become a valuable asset to any organization or venture you are involved in.