Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart. With limited resources, your skills as an entrepreneur will be constantly put to the test and in so many ways. The journey will push you outside of your comfort zone: You’ll be forced to expand yourself as you learn a lot of new things and as you deal with people from all walks of life. And you’ll be made to wear different hats as you take on many of the daily responsibilities. Sometimes that means having to take out the trash and clean the toilet (literally!)
As you go along this challenging journey, you’ll develop certain skills and qualities that will serve as your “personal tools” in building a thriving small business. However, the learning process is going to be an excruciating one so if you’re smart, you’ll choose to be proactive and equip yourself with these “tools” from the get-go.
How are you going to do that? Well, you’ve probably read a hundred posts about leadership, communication, marketing, sales, project management, planning, and all the other textbook skills every small business owner must know. But this post is different. Here you’ll learn real-world and actionable advice from successful entrepreneurs who started from where you’re at and are now running successful businesses that earn six to seven figures a year. Advice, which will also be very effective if you’re thinking about selling your business in the future.
Here are the top skills and qualities every small business owner must have according to founders and CEOs of Backlinko, Financer.com, SnackMagic, and many more:
“Something I have really learned as a business owner is to speak to everyone on their level. Walking around like everyone should know exactly what you are talking about is no way to run a business, or get people on side. Whether it be your employees, clients, partners or consumers, a really important thing to do is to communicate in a way that speaks to them best. It isn’t about who knows more or less, but it is about engaging with people in a way that makes them feel understood, confident, and excited about what you are putting across.”
Alex Mastin – Founder & CEO, Homegrounds
“As entrepreneurs, we tend to move faster than most people and we would love things done yesterday. I’ve learned that the more patience I have, the faster things seem to happen and with higher quality. Breathing down someone’s neck to get the status of something is not going to help them finish the task at hand any faster. In fact, it will simply slow them down.
In the times I know I’ve done this, I later realized it wasn’t a problem with the team member, but rather it was the lack of communication or expectation setting on my end. I’ve learned over the years that having patience invokes my team members’ trust and confidence in me as the leader, and allows them the space to perform better.”
Greg Berry – Founder & CEO, Municibid
“I wish someone had told me about the importance of customer service earlier. I used to keep clients on hold for several weeks before responding to their queries, which was mainly due to my hectic schedule. This definitely had an effect on my relationship with my clients and eventually turned some of them away.
Today’s customers expect a great experience from your business from initial to final contact. Luckily, I learned my lesson and now I always make sure they receive a great customer experience. Failing to meet customer needs often leaves them frustrated. Instead of taking the criticism, they hurl at me personally. I try listening to what they say by mirroring the intent behind their words. Eventually, after some time, I work on coming to a resolution that meets their needs and this leaves my customers feeling like they’ve been heard. ”
Kevin Mercier – Founder, Kevmrc.com
“Hiring is a skill that is always overlooked. During the pandemic when tensions were at its peak, many employees in our warehousing positions were choosing not to work or to quit. A business owner needs to have a clear idea of the type of person that should join the team and stick to the quality standards that are required.
Hiring anyone to desperately fill a short term need is a disaster waiting to happen. Issues can arise such as termination disputes, toxic behavior, and company culture disruptions. This all leads to inefficiency, high costs, emotional toil, and brings down the company.”
Jae Jun – Founder, Gorilla ROI
“Being able to multitask is vital as a small business owner. We have a small team, so I’m very hands-on and find myself wearing many hats throughout the day, working across all functions, including production, innovation, marketing, finance, and social media. And switching back and forth from one aspect of the business to the other requires the ability to shift my attention and focus repeatedly. Doing so reduces delays in our operations and increases the productivity of the whole team. Handling multiple responsibilities throughout the day enables me to stay on top of all aspects of my business.”
Jared Pobre – Co-Founder, Caldera + Lab
“As a small business owner, you need resilience. You need to be able to get back up again and again, even when you’re exhausted and feeling hopeless. There will always be setbacks in business, and only those who master resilience can make it through them and come back even stronger.
Resilience is easier if you can separate yourself from your business and realize that criticism of the business isn’t necessarily a criticism of you. It’s important to remember business really is just that, business, and if you can avoid attaching too much emotion to each decision, you can act a lot more rationally and weather the storms with resilience and optimism that everything will be worth it in the end.”
Johannes Larsson – Founder & CEO, Financer.com
“Flexibility enables an entrepreneur to adapt to changing circumstances readily. The motto ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ no longer applies in the marketplace. Being successful in business requires knowing when to pivot. When you feel that there’s too much competition in your niche or you realize you’re not attracting enough customers to be profitable, changing the direction of your business can put you on the path to success. Flexibility welcomes that change by being amenable to quickly cutting losses and investing in making your strengths stronger. Building an agile mindset into your business model will better prepare your business
and your team for long-term success.”
Shaunak Amin – Co-Founder & CEO, STADIUM and SnackMagic
“Business owners have to be efficient decision-makers. Decisions, by their very nature, are often complex and uncomfortable. Moreover, they’re risky because you can’t be 100 percent sure about their after-effects in many situations. But still, decisions have to be made, usually under time pressure, and in a small company, who should do it if not the owner? Therefore small business CEOs need to be confident about their judgements, open for advice, courageous enough to decide at a proper time, and have so much humility
to accept the possibility of mistakes.”
Rafal Mlodzki– Co-Founder & CEO, Passport-Photo Online
“In my experience, humility and self-awareness are your most important assets, and here’s why: the vast majority of CEOs and business owners are too self-involved and self-centered to realize that they are not the best at everything, and that’s okay. Not everyone is a renaissance man. But it takes a very intelligent, business-savvy person to get over their own ego and realize when they are better off hiring an expert with the necessary skill set and experience than trying to do everything themselves just so they can call themselves ‘CEO.’
If you’re great at coming up with products and names, but numbers and strategy aren’t your talent, why force it? That’s a surefire way to drive your company into the ground. The hard lesson you need to learn is sticking to your strengths. Stay a product designer, the quality of your products will be incredible. And hire an experienced CEO, so that the business side of things will also be incredible. When you combine your personal strengths and experience with someone else who is complimentary, you build an indestructible business
that is destined to be successful.
If your ego is more important than your business, you might as well pack it up now, because you will fail. I haven’t always been perfect at my job. No one is born a CEO. I had to fail before I succeeded, and I had to first learn to accept my weak points and the areas that could use some work. Over the years, I built up the skills I needed to become a good boss and a successful entrepreneur, but it took a lot of introspection, self-awareness, and willingness to admit when I was wrong, or not good enough. Learn that lesson, it was
the most important one for me.”
Andrei Vasilescui – Co-Founder & CEO, DontPayFull
“One skill small business owners must know is the skill of critical thinking. Critical thinkers above all ask great questions, while also never accepting an answer as truth. This is so important with employees, vendors, customers, and when networking with others in our niche. We should evaluate everything and always question how we can do something better in every area of business. What worked yesterday to get us to today will not help us reach where we want to be tomorrow. Take time to think, but don’t let it stop you from moving forward with a decision.”
Michael Kawula – Co-Founder & CEO, CBA Venture
“Passion is one of the most important characteristics a small business owner must possess. Naturally, they should be enthusiastic about their business and the product or service they offer. However, they require more than passion for their work; they require passion for the people they serve. This includes their coworkers, clients, and vendors. It’s easy to want to separate people from the product or service offered as a leader in an organization. Maintaining a balance between the people who propel your product or service forward in the market and the customers who benefit from your company, on the other hand, can make all the difference. Everything begins with passion.”
Brian Dean – Founder, Backlinko and Exploding Topics
“In today’s post-COVID world, my best new advice for small business owners is the same as my old advice: Follow your passion. Make no mistake, being passionate is a skill. It’s a mindset that can be learned and honed, and it’s absolutely essential for small business owners to passionately, whole-heartedly believe in themselves. The road ahead is going to be bumpy. The best-laid plans of mice and men don’t always work out. Adversity will come, I guarantee it, and if you’re lacking passion, your business will be in deep trouble. In fact, this is when most small businesses fail.
When you truly, passionately believe in what you’re doing, when you’ve done your due diligence and have faith in your business plan, then it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Your dreams aren’t subject to the edicts or whims of popular opinion. No! They belong to you and you alone. The COVID pandemic has taught all of us that life can change on a dime, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. So if you passionately, whole-heartedly believe in your vision, then prepare yourself for an entrepreneurial journey that’s almost certainly going to be fraught with peril, but just might end up being your dream come true.”
Monica Eaton-Cardone – COO, Chargebacks911
“Being impactful is important because it calls you to ask yourself if the actions that you’re doing inside of the company and elsewhere are making an impact beyond you. It calls you to work towards a higher standard for our world. Ask yourself, is my action impacting the environment in a positive way? Is it impacting my interpersonal relationships in a positive way? Is it impacting the economics of our city or our town? There are a lot of questions that you have to ask yourself if you want to lead an impactful company.”
Christan Hiscock – Co-Founder & CEO, Kardia
“Empathy is a skill we should all sharpen. My number one piece of advice for small business owners is ‘stop looking for clients, start looking for friends.’ This may sound counterintuitive, but the truth is people can smell a sales pitch a mile away. Many ‘marketing strategies’ you’ll hear now are actually a huge turnoff for people. If you focus on building genuine bonds and crafting candid connections with everyone you meet, your business will grow organically. You’ve got to seek purpose before seeking profit.”
Stewart J. Guss – Founder, Stewart J. Guss Injury Accident Lawyers
“In my years managing my business, one of the most common mistakes that small business owners do is doing everything on their own. Whenever they do this, they tend to be working in their business instead of working on their business. This kind of mindset must be eliminated if they want to become successful. Hence, the top skill they need to be successful in their small business is the power of delegation and automation.
Every small business owner dreams to grow and become a bigger company in the future. Of course, growing means additional tasks, resources, income, and manpower. They have to delegate their workloads and take advantage of available automation tools. They can also hire a virtual assistant to take care of their admin, marketing, or sales tasks. By doing so, they are able to save time, eliminate non-revenue generating tasks, increase their output, and focus on what’s important so they can take their business to the next level.”
Pavel Stepanov – CEO, Virtudesk
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