No one can confidently say that they have nothing to learn. Technology is advancing rapidly, and we don’t yet know what the future of work will look like or what skills we’ll need to stay competitive and relevant. Our best defence against uncertainty is to ensure that we’re always learning something new.
Learning can take one of two forms:
- Learning for intellectual edification, where you go where your attention takes you, like reading books or listening to podcasts on topics that interest you; and
- Learning to acquire practical competence in something new. This is deliberate skills development with the aim of gaining a functional understanding of practical actions that can enhance your life or take you on a different career path.
As a small business owner, you probably already know a bit about sales and marketing, financial management, customer service, and project management. While you can certainly tap into resources that will help you perform these functions better and faster, you should also make time to learn something you don’t know. Think of it as an investment in your future self and your future business.
Here are a few ideas:
Get comfortable with data
Learn how to capture, process, and analyse your business’s data. It might sound daunting but data analytics is no longer just for data scientists. Modern analytic solutions have been designed with business users in mind, to make it easy for anyone to experiment with data and create useful, visual reports.
For example, knowing exactly when customers enter your sales funnel, from what sources, and when they drop off and no longer engage with you, is invaluable when planning your communication and engagement strategies.
Become a modern marketer
By capturing and analysing customer data, you can build a solid database that makes email and direct marketing a breeze. Knowing who your customers are and how they like to be contacted lets you plan everything from mailing lists and social media posts, to search engine optimisation and display advertising, for maximum impact.
Think differently about business structure
A typical top-down hierarchy can stifle your business’s growth and hamper innovation. Aim to implement a business structure that allows for the free, frictionless flow of information across your organisation. Build a culture that rewards people for trying new things and makes employees feel like they’re vested in the future of the business.
Look on the softer side
With many jobs being automated, our ability to relate to, engage with, and work well with others will be crucial to our success. These ‘soft skills’ create connections between people, helping us to build relationships based on trust and common ground. Here are some of the softer skills that I believe will become critical in future:
- Negotiation: Poor negotiation skills could land you in situations that cost unnecessary time and money. Get the upper hand by ensuring you have complete awareness of your own situation, while gathering as much information as possible about the person or entity you’re negotiating with. Know what you want from the negotiation but be willing to compromise if it benefits both parties.
- Communication: Clearly communicating your intentions and extracting relevant information from others will boost team collaboration and productivity.
- Teamwork: Organisations thrive when everyone works towards the same goals. If your team is not aligned and isn’t willing to put in extra effort, failure will be unavoidable.
- Adaptability: Change happens quickly and often – especially in the digital age. If you’re not flexible when faced with change, you could get stuck in a rut. When things change, adapt quickly and early, learn from failures, and get ready for the next round of change because things will never be stagnant again.
- Problem–solving. When faced with a challenge, you have two options: complain and do nothing, or accept it and take action to solve it.
- Critical thinking: Don’t take everything you see at face value – dig deeper, ask more questions, and try to understand why things are the way they are. Seek out fresh perspectives and innovative thinkers, especially when faced with a problem.
- Conflict resolution: Conflict is bound to arise in an organisation that embraces diversity. But not all disagreements are bad if they get people thinking differently and considering other perspectives. Know when to let conflict run its course and when to step in to douse the flames. Be sensitive when addressing issues and maintain open, non-judgemental channels of communication throughout your business.
- Leadership: In times of uncertainty, people desperately need guidance and assurance from those in power. Confidently communicate your vision for the business, promote transparency and visibility, inspire and motivate others to achieve their potential, and always be on the lookout for leaders within your own team.
In the digital age, it’s no longer business as usual and soon it will be business unusual. Start preparing for it now.