When you step into the world of entrepreneurialism, it’s natural to spend the majority of your time focussing on the day-to-day tasks required to get your business off to a flying start. Financial planning, strategy, marketing, social media, product design…the list goes on.
But as you clear those first hurdles, begin to put processes in place, take on your first employees and inch towards feeling a bit more established, it’s time to step back and look at the bigger picture.
To succeed in business today, you need more than a good idea, clever marketing and a way with numbers. Soft skills might not seem like something you’d want to prioritise as an entrepreneur, but they’re essential for building relationships, managing millennials, shaping culture and so much more. So which of these skills are vital for entrepreneurial success?
We’ve identified six soft skills that we believe are key if you want to learn how to communicate effectively and take your growing business to the next level.
Skill 1: Values
Do you have a set of core beliefs or ideas about the way you conduct your business? Are you going for an eco friendly stance? Is treating customers fairly at the heart of everything that you do? Are you championing flexible working and staff wellbeing? Clarifying what it is you stand for and making sure you live and breathe these values will help you to identify and connect with target clients and customers who believe in what you’re doing. You’ll also be in a position to hire staff that share your values, and in so doing, creating a company culture that doesn’t just reflect but is built around these beliefs.
If you’re struggling to work out your business values, try some of the following:
Think about who inspires you and why.
Ask yourself what your proudest moment in life has been.
Describe a time or experience where you were truly happy or content.
Look at what makes you angry and why.
Create a list of values that appear in your answers to the questions above (consider the opposite values to those that come out in question four) and pick the five that resonate the most with you.
What does this have to do with effective communication? Well, knowing your values and articulating them is key to being an authentic communicator. Once you know your values, you can share them with others, and this will attract not just the right team, but also the kind of clients you want to work with, who in turn, want to work with you.
Skill 2: Passion
To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to be passionate about what you do. As the figurehead for your business, it’s your job to inspire others about the possibilities and the opportunities you’re working to create.
When you truly believe in something it’s obvious to all who hear you speak about it. You appear energised, your demeanour lifts, your eyes shine and your voice bubbles with enthusiasm. And what’s more, your listeners will lap it up. It's amazing to listen to someone who is living and breathing their vision.
Recognise your passion, take pride in it and never forget that showing this side of you is a powerful way to stimulate your audience into action. If you don’t really buy into what you are saying then people will smell it, and rarely be prepared to take risks to run with you, either as staff, clients or investors.
People invest in people as the saying goes. Revealing your passion and your values, helps you to come across as the real deal, as well as someone worth investing in.
Skill 3: Empathy
Empathy is the skill of reading people, understanding their feelings and being able to share the journey with them. It’s about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
As a leader, empathy is important. It can help you to build close and constructive relationships with your employees, to understand what might be causing poor performance and to help struggling staff improve and excel.
While not everyone is naturally empathic, it is a skill that can be learned. Start by making sure you listen attentively to what your employees are telling you and don’t let your preconceptions get in the way. Try to imagine yourself in their situation and think about how you might feel. Simply feeling heard and understood will often go a long way to improving an employee’s sense of wellbeing.
Similarly, learning to truly understand your target customers’ ambitions and pain points will allow you to develop products and services that meet their needs and market them with laser precision. Have you ever heard the famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”? In business, it’s not about what your customers think they want, but what they actually want - even if they don’t know it yet. Having empathy will help you to look at the problem you’re solving from the point of view of the people you’re solving it for. And that will take you a long way along the road towards entrepreneurial success.
Skill 4: Listening
The ability to listen to what people around you are saying - and by this we mean truly listen - with your whole being not just your ears - is extremely beneficial as an entrepreneur. From feedback about a product to customer complaints and awkward employee reviews, honing listening skills will pay dividends in the long term.
When you focus entirely on the person who is speaking, without allowing your own opinions to interrupt your thoughts, you will find there is so much more information to collect than simply the words being used. Consider body language, expression, energy levels and other emotional signals to gain a deep understanding of what the person is thinking and feeling.
Imagine a piano in a room with a guitar. When someone strums the guitar, the piano, will reverberate. If you listen in this way, with your whole body prepared to resonate to what is going on, you’ll find you get a whole lot more nuanced information than if you just listen with your ears. Hear the speaker’s breathing and pace. Do they appear relaxed? Uneasy? Excited? Consider what they’ve left unsaid. This will all come together to help you decipher what someone is really telling you.
And by feeding these learnings back into the conversation, and demonstrating the empathy we discussed above, you’ll be able to show that you have not only listened but understood. This will foster positive feelings between you and build trust in your relationship: a great foundation from which to do business.
Skill 5: Appreciation
When was the last time you said thank you to someone? Not just a polite throwaway 'thanks' but a meaningful moment of gratitude.
Appreciation can make a huge difference to team motivation and morale. And the best bit is it costs nothing and takes very little time. Try noticing the good things that are going on around you and offering positive feedback and words of thanks. We guarantee you’ll see a difference straightaway.
And you may even find that taking the time to see the good around you gives you a more positive outlook in general.
Skill 6: Growth mindset
If you’re a parent to a primary school aged child you’ve likely heard the phrase ‘growth mindset’ recently. It’s the idea that it’s good to make mistakes because it helps you do it better the next time around.
Samuel Beckett put it succinctly: “Fail, fail again, fail better.”
But the benefits go beyond simply learning from your mistakes. Getting things wrong can create an opportunity to build relationships based on trust and authenticity. Making a mistake may feel horrible at the time but the ability to take responsibility for the error and do something about it speaks volumes about your character. And it won’t go unnoticed, both within your company and externally.
If you want to foster a culture of trust and authenticity within your organisation, encouraging people to own their mistakes and learn from them will take you more than part of the way there.
It’s often said that an entrepreneur’s most valuable possession in the business world is his reputation. As we said before, people invest in people. And it’s developing soft skills like these that will have clients, investors and employees, supporting you wholeheartedly, coming back to you time and again, and even advocating for you.
So if you are an entrepreneur and have a pitch or presentation coming up, why not download our free eBook 5 Tools for Amazing Presentations below?