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Business Startup: What skills do you need?

When you are unemployed and begin searching jobs listed in Job banks, like LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster and so on, you seek out job descriptions that match your skills and experience.  But when you start your own business, the job description might look like a book full of blank pages.  The skills, knowledge and abilities needed will be many.  They will be hard to define in the beginning.  In fact, the requirements will reveal themselves every day.  If you want to get a sense of what you’ll need, take time to talk to entrepreneurs who’ve failed and who have succeeded.  You’ll want to know every lesson you can.  Here are some lessons I’ve picked up along my own journey.

Before we look at skills, you need to understand a few other required characteristics of startup entrepreneurs.

  1. You need to be self-motivated. There’s no one around to push you to do things you need to do or tell you what you need to do.
  2. You need to very passionate about the business. Things will be difficult in the beginning but you need to keep pushing for success.
  3. You’ve got to be able to handle stress (and lots of it). It could take 2 years for your company to get off the ground. I’ve started companies with a family. When times are tough and no money is coming in, everyone will pressure you to fix it. (I’ve got a great post for this coming soon).
  4. You need to have a clear vision of your business, that is, a good business plan. My blog tells you how to do that (The Blitz Blog – The Source of Inspiration for High Achievers ).
  5. You need to know how to take a small success and create more success. This is the process for building your business.
  6. You need to be a quick learner. This includes learning from others because you won’t know everything you need to know.
  7. You must be customer friendly.   People will buy the service or product because of you.  If they like you, they’ll buy.
  8. You need to be the expert.  Whatever you sell, you need to be the expert on it.  You want people to seek you out.
  9. You need to be organized.  Startups need planning and focus.  You should have enough information to operate on autopilot (but drive it yourself).
  10. You need to be decisive.  Startups need money fast.  You can’t afford to overanalyze situations.  Make decisions and move on.

The typical skills needed for the startup entrepreneur are:

  1. Legal sense – you’ll have to create the business and operate within legal guidelines for your location and the industry.
  2. Accounting – how will you track your expenses and revenue? You will need a CPA but it helps to understand what they do because it could be you doing the accounting in the initial phase.
  3. Business development – You’ll have to decide what customers to market to and how they do business.
  4. Finance – How will you fund the initial phase of your business? You’ll have to establish the original budget and put the money in place.
  5. Marketing – You’ll need to create the social media and marketing materials for the business.
  6. Customer Relationship Management – You’ll need to be a salesman. People won’t buy products or services. They buy into YOU.
  7. Conflict resolution – Hopefully, you don’t make too many mistakes in the beginning but you need to fix them quickly.
  8. Collaboration – You might need to partner with other companies to sell your products or services. What kinds of arrangements can you have? You’ll have to figure that out too.
  9. Contracts – You’ll need to develop contracts, statements of work, proposals and other documents to support winning business for your company. Guess who gets to do that?
  10. Hiring – Once you bring people on board, there are a lot of government regulations that are required to hire people. You’ve got to know those too!
  11. Budgeting – You’ve got to be able to assess your costs to ensure you make a profit. Estimating labor and materials can be difficult, especially when your service is long term or customized.
  12. Writing – You’ll need to be able to create processes and policies that your company will use, such as privacy, nondiscrimination, quality, reporting, business plans, and so on. You’ll need documentation for your customer, the government and your company.
  13. Presentation skills – You need to be articulate as you’ll have to hold meetings and provide direction for your people. It must be clear and actionable. Otherwise, you waste time and money.
  14. Innovation – You have to keep your products growing and developing with the needs of your customer. Everyone usually talks about the APPLE model. It’s not a bad one to follow, if you can find out what they did in the beginning.
  15. Willing to learn – I can’t tell you how much I had to learn to get my business off the ground. Opportunities to learn are everywhere you turn.
  16. Adaptability – Very little will work the way you think it will. You’ve got to learn to adapt.
  17. Creativity – There will be many times where you will need something that doesn’t exist.  You’ll have to create it.
  18. Negotiation – Business is all about the deal and you must learn to master it to grow your business.
  19. Emotional Intelligence – You must be emotionally stable and able to handle the emotional swings of success and failure.  They are only bumps in the road to success and you have to hit some to get there.
  20. Focus – Businesses are built by defining a plan and implementing it.  Things change but you can’t let that happen so often that nothing gets done.

These are just a few of pieces to the puzzle of success.  Entrepreneurship is one of the greatest learning experiences you’ll ever have and it will also be one of the most challenging.  It isn’t for everyone.  When you’re in the middle of your startup, you’ll easily identify those who like the idea of entrepreneurship and those that don’t.  It’s a completely different mindset.  So, get out there and fill in the pages of your book with all the things it took for you to build your dream.

Education Overload – Earning Multiple Graduate Degrees

Recently, I’ve received hundreds of emails about earning multiple graduate degrees and the impact it will have on a career.  With such interest in this approach, I felt it was time to share some thoughts on the pros and cons of earning so much formal education.

There is no ladder to climb.  Just a few decades ago when I began my career, there were defined paths for upward mobility.  Companies would outline how one could transition from position to position, eventually gaining responsibility, authority and greater benefits (e.g. pay).  Today, that doesn’t exist.  Many companies don’t even have an organizational chart.  They will tell you that it provides you the benefit that you can go anywhere you want without restriction and that those old predefined paths only restrained you to a certain future.  They will say you have complete control over your career.  I really like this idea but it was really done to reduce top heavy management ranks, which is often slow, inefficient and expensive.  It wasn’t done to move more people upward.  You can make all the lateral movements you want, but moving upward, well, this is where you have to apply your knowledge to navigate an uncharted organization.  If you’re really searching for structure, you’ll need to target big corporations.

Graduate degrees are not required for executives.  While it seems logical that the most brilliant people will rise to the top of organizations, this simply isn’t true.  In fact, many businesses are started by people with little formal education.  I mention this because you might join such an organization.  You’ll take the job and then do research on the executive team, only to find that they are not highly educated like you. I’ve found this many times in tech and high tech companies, where you might expect to find highly educated managers. If you desire to be around the highly educated, you’ll need to seek them out.  Most are in technology and finance.

THE CONS

I know it’s hard to believe that being highly educated could have a down side, but it does. Here are a few things you might encounter when you have a lot of formal education and you’re working in Corporate America.

You’re a threat.  You might not ever actually see this directly but to management teams that don’t have graduate degrees, employees that do can be threatening.  They fear being embarrassed by their lack of understanding of many topics and feel there is some secret competition at play.  A good judge in determining the type of organization you’re in is to assess the leadership.  If they are more interested in growing their career, you’ll be considered a threat.  If they want to grow their organization, then you might have a chance for growth.

Possible solution: If you find yourself here, you have to be humble and give your ideas for growth and improvement away.  Show your management you’re here to help them become a success.

You’re underemployed.  Face it.  There are not that many jobs that require a graduate degree and hardly any that will list two graduate degrees as necessary.  Unless you can afford to search for that perfect job for a long time, you’re likely to accept a job that you can easily do.

Possible solution: Begin your job search when you are in graduate school.  Utilize the university’s resources to place you in a higher position.  Work with professional organizations while you are in your academic program too, as they are more likely to help students than graduates.

You’re Academic.  I always thought this was a good thing but I’ve had a few instances where senior managers have told me I was too academic.  I think they meant it to be derogatory and imply that I didn’t have enough experience.  Well, when you’re a young professional, this will be a problem.  Again, this is a biased view from a less educated management team, where experience is more important because it is what they have most.  What I found is that being labeled academic is good and bad.  It’s bad because it implies you do threaten people around you a little.  It’s good because they realize that you are well educated and have the ability to perform industry recognized analyses.

Possible solution: Don’t waste any time or energy on proving you are smarter.  Let your work show that.  You should focus on results and creating tangible successes that define your value to the company.  It is helpful to show management that you can help them improve their own career.  Once they feel that support, they won’t be as inclined to keep your career suppressed.

You’re Expensive.  High credentials mean high salary.  This is what companies will see and that can scare them.  They’ll overlook the fact that you can bring high productivity, high efficiency and high output.  Most companies don’t try to identify the financial impact of such indirect benefits.  They only focus on the direct costs that are easy to measure, like your salary.  This can make finding a job really difficult.

Possible solution:  High salary is offset by high returns.  You’ve got to be able to show real situations where you have greatly reduced cost, created new earnings, or improved existing earnings.  Companies want to make money and you must be able to provide evidence where you’ve helped do that. 

THE PROS

The majority of the advantages of higher education are personal.  It brings a sense of accomplishment, pride, an understanding of how to learn and confidence.  These emotions are powerful and will help you push through challenges that are ill-defined, untested and unbeaten. The difficulty is keeping this confidence under control and avoiding being overbearing to others, as most people aren’t excited by change and challenge.

You’ve got credentials.  It feels good to help those degrees and more importantly, the knowledge and understanding of how to learn.  Multiple graduate degrees communicate the message that you are smart.  In organizations that like utilizing smart people, you’re an asset.  You have numerous advantages, like being able to work alone without supervision, solve difficult problems, create new ways of doing business, research how the competition does business and so much more.

Career Strategy:  Don’t focus on communicating your brilliance.  The degrees will do that for you.  You should however strive to create tangible accomplishments that clearly articulate your ability to put that brilliance to work and create success.  These tangibles are what others will consider to be work experience.

Changing fields is easier.  Many multiple degree holders have earned these illustrious credentials to afford themselves the power to change occupations much easier.  In my experience with such high achievers, it does help to have a considerable depth of expertise in multiple areas.  Transitioning from one industry to another is possible but not necessarily any easier.  The advantage of your credentials is that you usually don’t have to entertain a lower position at the new company.

Career Strategy:  While you may have knowledge in multiple areas, it’s important to create tangible accomplishments in these areas to communicate that these skills and knowledge are still current and valuable.  If you can’t create accomplishments with the knowledge, create some successes with the skills that can be transferred to other fields.

Instant Recognition.  When you submit a resume that has multiple graduate degrees, companies will recognize they are dealing with someone who is smart and can learn.  They will search for the value you can provide.  This is very important as most first reviews of resume are typically to identify factors that eliminate you from consideration, not inclusion.

Career Strategy:  Ensure your credentials include accomplishments and accolades that are expected for someone with such qualifications.  The value is not just in what you know, it’s in what you can do with what you know…and that you have to prove.

The mind that wants to learn and grow constantly is special.  It seeks to create value wherever it can and as often as it can.  Most of us are not like this, as we seek to settle into life, create stability and entertain ourselves until retirement.  While we appreciate its abilities, it also reminds us of our own abilities and how we may not measure up.  It scares us and, at times, makes us feel as if our stability is being threatened.  Education is very important and we should all seek to constantly improve ourselves.  But we don’t.  So to those who chase many academic credentials, your success will be found with those who appreciate and value such knowledge. Please know that all companies don’t appreciate you.  So you may have to spend some time searching for those who will embrace you, preferably while you’re still in school.  Finally, I leave you with a quote from the British Author and creator of the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once said “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

An Interview with Dr. Business: Professor Robert Donnelly

Recently, we’ve been asked by our clients to share more on entrepreneurship.  Typically, we promote a lot of discussion on the MBA and general career advice.  Now, we’re adding a little more for all of you overactive professionals who want to do their own thing.  Yep, Entrepreneurship will be part of our discussions here on the Blitz Blog.  We’ll soon be adding a column, called Ask Dr. Business, where you can ask Professor Donnelly questions for yourself.

To kick this off, we decided to provide a short introduction to Professor Donnelly and ask him a few questions.

About Professor Donnelly:

bobProfessor Donnelly is an author, educator, and brand builder for businesses and individuals. His latest book, Personal Brand Planning for life, and his earlier tome: Guidebook to Planning – A Common Sense Approach, are both available on Amazon. Professor Donnelly has been teaching in MBA programs for over 20 years now and concentrates on Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Strategic Brand Management. Prior to academia he held senior management positions with IBM, Pfizer, and EXXON, and was the CEO of the North American subsidiary of a Dutch multinational firm. A prolific writer he was the Editor of the Entrepreneurial CEO column for Chief Executive Magazine for many years and still writes for CE. His columns and blogs appear frequently in the global entrepreneurial space.

Here’s my interview with Dr. Business.

Todd:  From a career consulting perspective, we are seeing a lot of MBAs move towards entrepreneurship.  Why do you think this is happening now?

Professor Donnelly:   Due to the uncertainty of long term careers in corporate America brought on by continuing advances in technology coupled with the implications of Big Data and Predictive Analytics, MBAs are naturally attracted to take advantage of their education and experience to become entrepreneurs by utilizing their skills to contribute to developing customized solutions to new problems emerging in the new world of work. Every semester several of my MBA students implement the business plans they developed in my course to start new businesses.

Todd:  Is transitioning from an MBA mindset to an entrepreneurial easy?  What are some of the challenges professionals will face?

Professor Donnelly: The biggest challenge is taking risks, which are the epitome of the entrepreneurial mindset. Professional managers are risk averse by nature and have become enamored with the safety net provided by the typical corporate umbrella. This false sense of security represents a safer place to be than venturing out on their own where their success or failure is based solely on the decisions that they have to make themselves. Secondarily, they have to have a passion for what they are doing and make the time commitment required for success. This is far different than a corporate situation where decisions are often made by others and you can go home at 5 o’clock without a worry about tomorrow.

Todd:  We know most universities don’t provide entrepreneurial classes.  Where can students and graduates go to get some real advice on becoming an entrepreneur?

Professor Donnelly: It’s unfortunate that entrepreneurship is often an elective, and courses on personal branding are few and far between, if available at all. Entrepreneurship can’t be gleaned from a textbook. It has to be studied by following the now well worn path of successful entrepreneurs. Every business starts with a solution to a problem. Peter Drucker, the guru of management, said “the purpose of a business is to create a customer, and the job of the leader is to grow the value of a customer.” Just think about the problems that you have all day every day. Each one of those problems represents an opportunity to devise a solution. Shake Shack started with a food cart in a park in New York fourteen years ago and just had an extremely successful IPO. The challenge is to implement a better, faster, cheaper solution – Uber, Zip Car, The Swiffer, Tide Spot Stick, whatever.

Thanks, Dr. Business, for sharing a few moments with us.  We look forward to your column on this site and bringing a unique perspective to entrepreneurship to this blog.

So what questions do you have for Dr. Business?