Sometimes I listen to parents complain bitterly about things their toddlers – or teenagers – are doing; things which are totally age-appropriate. If you’re like me, you think to yourself, “as long as you’re a parent, you would have a better time if you learned about the developmental stages of children.”
I had a friend who once decided to ride his bike from Albuquerque to Santa Fe – a 65-mile trip. Half way through his journey – and in the middle of nowhere – his bike broke down and he didn’t know how to fix it. If you’re just riding your bike around the neighborhood, you can get away with not knowing any repair skills. But if you’re going to start making long treks in sparsely populated areas, you need to learn how to fix your bike and own the proper tools.
There are probably many things you wouldn’t do without learning a lot about them and practicing first: true wilderness camping without survival skills, throwing a huge self-cooked dinner party without cooking skills, sailing a boat in the ocean without navigational and boating skills.
Are you running a small business without small business success skills? If you are, it’s going to cost you.
As a small business – or even a micro-business – owner, you must do all the things the CEO of any company does; decide what to sell and how to sell it, whether and when to hire help, manage customer service, operations, and finances, make decisions. Even if you don’t have formal investors, you are managing a huge investment – your own. Your investment is the time you spend, the money you put in, and the profits you roll back in. You are responsible for all the same things as any CEO, but without the qualified support staff to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.
I was the CEO/President of several corporations over the past 30 years, from a $2million/year marketing agency to a $100million+ jewelry company and a $600million+ apparel company, and now I own a multi-brand consulting agency. The skills I needed between the $2 million level and the $600+million level were remarkably similar. I didn’t need to “be” an accountant, but I had to know how to discuss finances intelligently with my accountants. I didn’t need to “be” a production manager, but I needed to understand what my production managers were doing and how to help them be more successful. I didn’t need to “be” the computer network manager, but I needed to be competent enough to weigh the suggestions my network managers made and make good decisions.
When I first took over the apparel company, I realized that my accounting skills were lacking to do the analysis at that level. Did I go back to school to become an accountant? Absolutely not. But I did go take a class called “Financial Management for Non-Financial Managers” offered at a local community college. That, plus a lot of attention and practice, turned me into a strong financial manager capable of not driving my accounting staff crazy, and more importantly, of being the CEO my company deserved. Every year of my career I have added more business skills to my portfolio, and I continue to do so today. You must do this too.
You probably already know how to make and/or acquire the products and services you sell. This is the starting point for most entrepreneurs. But there are several business skills you must cultivate in order to ensure the survival and profitability of your company. These small business success skills include:
- Basic understanding of financials and financial management. You don’t need to become an accountant (in fact, paying a good accountant is one of the most important things any small business owner can do). But you must understand your role in financial matters, how to work with your accountant, and how to steer your company in the right direction.
- How to not just make a strategic business plan, but use it for ongoing business development and improvement.
- How to express your business strategy as a Brand, and how to imbue your whole organization – from product idea to post-sales satisfaction – with Brand elements that stick with customers and keep them coming back for more.
- How to hire, train, discipline, fire, and motivate employees. Even if you have only one employee, you need these skills. Otherwise, you risk paying someone to work for you without getting the full value of that pay.
- How to set up the necessary business systems to manage your customers, sales, inventory, marketing, operations, and accounting. By systems I don’t necessarily mean expensive computer software – the solutions can be anything from KanBan cards to computers. But you need to know which systems you need and how to set them up.
- How to manage your inventory to ensure high service levels, solid margins, happy customers, and no excess taxes. Inventory is about way more than just buying goods and making them. You must understand the role inventory plays in your company, and how to manage that role carefully.
- How to create and manage a sales and marketing plan.
- How to set up sales and customer service programs that drive volume and profits, whether you’re selling to business clients, through retail stores, or directly to end consumers (or any combination thereof).
- How to not only create and sell products, but manage product and product line profitability.
- How to prospect for new customers –from finding new potential sources for sales to keeping them interested, and learning how long it takes to convert a prospect to a loyal customer.
- How to decide which operations to keep in-house, which to outsource, and how to manage both types.
Being a business owner is a big task, and I’m not going to pretend that list is a quick or easy thing to master. But if you start learning these skills right away and keep picking them off one-by-one, you’ll become a better CEO from the moment you start . . . and the time is going to go by either way.
This is a link to a chart of these skills. It is structured as a pledge; a pledge to yourself to pursue and cultivate the skills you need to succeed. I encourage you to print it out, post it in a highly (and daily) visible spot, and check each one off as you tackle it. And here’s to you, on the road to becoming a highly competent – and vastly more satisfied – CEO.