Pick up any book or read any blog about entrepreneurship and starting your own company and you’ll generally find two distinct sides to the process. The first is the thrill of bringing an idea into reality, setting your own schedule, being your own boss and avoiding all the workplace politics that may have been getting you down. The other side of the coin is the realization that you are responsible for every single decision, many of which are outside your area of expertise. Motivating yourself from a home office can be incredibly difficult with so many distractions around and workplace politics still exist when it comes to your contractors, vendors or distributors.
But rather than trot out the same reflections on having your own company that have been published in many other blogs, I thought I would look at the skills for entrepreneurship required through the lens of the five Approaches to Learning categories.
Coming up with an idea is just the small bright spark for setting up a business. You will have to communicate your idea over and over, in many different formats and for different audiences. Your idea will have to be written out in detail and backed by research when you develop your business plan. Your idea will have to be shared with investors in a 2 minute elevator pitch speech or through 5 presentation slides and a question and answer session. Your idea will have to be explained to people with a great deal of expertise in your area as well as to people who have no expertise in your area.
Your communication skills will be paramount to your success. If you know you’re not so great at emails, find someone to proofread or give you feedback before you hit ‘send’. If speaking via Skype makes you nervous, practice with friends and family so you feel comfortable both with the technology and the information you’re sharing.
Chances are that if you’ve decided to start your own business, you have fairly good self-management skills already. You are probably confident in your organization abilities and feel positive about trying something new. If you’re working alone a lot, the reflective aspects of self-management can sometimes cause you to over-think or over-analyze a situation. Recognising that you might need to take a break and have a change of scenery is a key skill and then making sure you follow through and do it is just as important! Work/life balance can sometimes be harder when it’s your own business as you feel that every waking hour should be dedicated to making the business a success. But burnout is not going to help you either so being able to compartmentalize, take a break and put down your phone can be equally beneficially as responding to emails.
The skills of critical and creative thinking are equally valuable in setting up your own business. Often, it is creative thinking that results in a business idea, and then it is critically thinking and analysing the market potential that brings an idea to fruition. Sometimes critical thinking can take over the process as you deal with the myriads of business decisions. However, creative thinking has to always be present as you think laterally to solve problems and use your imagination to enhance and develop new products. Successful entrepreneurs need well-developed thinking skills, both critically and creatively both to get the business off the ground and to have positive growth.
Aside from decision making, research seems to be a huge consumer of time when you’re setting up your own business. Research involves everything from understanding the market to deciding which accounting software to use. Research involves talking to experts, endless note-taking and usually generates more questions than answers, and it is a vital part of business. One of the tricky aspects of research is deciding when to stop and make a decision based on the information you have. In business, a key point to remember is that research relevant now might be superseded by new information in a few months time. Markets shift, technology evolves and you need to go back and research more.
Finally, social skills can not be overlooked when it comes to entrepreneurship. You can spend a lot of time in your own bubble and it can be easy to get lost in your own little world. Strong social skills can have an impact on many parts of your personal and professional life, and not just around collaboration. Social skills will enable you to seek help or guidance, connect with experts, gain investors and sell your product. They help you with follow up calls, trouble-shooting and resource management. Social skills are key to establishing and maintaining your professional network, and tapping into help and support from your personal network.
Some students (and parents and teachers!) feel that there is such a gulf between what is taught in the classroom and the ‘real world’ but Approaches to Learning specifically bridges this gap. As seen in our other blogs by Dede Brown, Suzanne Lloyd and Rachel Wu, ATLs are essential to all parts of life regardless of the career, study or cultural environment you are in. The five ATL categories and their clusters and skill strands are not subject specific or even specific just to school. They are skills that we all need in our daily lives for work and active participation in our communities.