The Basic Skills for Entrepreneurs

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Is a “I can do this” attitude enough to become a successful entrepreneur or does it need more than that? There are many different views on this, but in my experience, if you really want to make it you need the skills of an entrepreneur and not just the attitude.

There are 15 skills you need to excel in and get your head around. A lot of research has been done in this sector and today we have a very good idea of the skills you need to have a real chance in the market. In this article, we look at each one:

  • Mobilizing resources
  • Being motivated and persevere
  • Being self-aware and self-efficient
  • Understanding finance and economics
  • Mobilizing others
  • Taking the Initiative
  • Planning and management
  • Coping with ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk
  • Working with others
  • Learning through experience
  • Spotting opportunities
  • Being creative
  • Developing a vision
  • Valuing ideas
  • Planning ethically and towards sustainability 

Do I really need to know all of this?

It sounds like a lot to learn, and yes it is. But you don’t need to know all of it to start. You can pick the area you feel you need to get better at and learn that skill as you need it. Not all of those are required right at the start, but in my experience, you will need all of them throughout your entrepreneurial carrier at one stage or another.

All of those skills can be learned at any time and don’t require prior studies. It doesn’t matter what your educational level is, you can learn the skills and become a competent entrepreneur.

The aim is to set out a plan and start with the skills that will help you now to get started or move on. In this article, we will look into each skill and I will point out some examples to give you an idea if you need to learn this now or if you can move it back a bit.

In the beginning, we mentioned the “I can do this” attitude. You will need this as well. This isn’t like going to school, go through a semester and come out with a degree. This is all on you. On this site, we will give you as much support as we can, but you will be the one doing the learning and practicing. Having the right attitude certainly helps.

Will this reduce my risk of starting a business?

It does not eradicate the risk of starting a business or a new career, but it won’t be a blind jump into the deep water anymore. You will be able to much better assess your situation and deal with it in a very professional way.

You will be prepared for the things to come and you will have some idea of what to expect. However, you are stepping out of your comfort zone. And it is a big step. We are all humans and we make mistakes all the time. As an entrepreneur, you will need to embrace this and look at it all as a form of learning. As more practice you get as easier it will become and as bigger your steps out into the unknown will be. This is a really exciting part of being an entrepreneur.

Mobilizing resources

Main goal: Gather and manage the resources you need

There are three core resource types:

  • Material Resources
  • Non-material resources
  • Digital resources

Most likely you will have to deal with each resource type. 

Material resources are things like office, computers, mobile phones and any other material you might need to get your business off the ground or growing. Most of us love this kind of stuff and we often spend far too much money on those things, just because it’s nice to have them. By the way, money is also a material resource that needs to be managed well.

Non-material resources are employees, business partners, and clients. But also knowledge, experience, and expertise belong to this. This type is often the most difficult to master. We all might understand that we need clients and maybe business partners, but we often forget the knowledge and expertise you need to make it a success. The question we forget to ask is: “What do I need to know and what expertise do I need, to work with this client or business partner?” Like money in material resources, time is a major factor in non-material resources. Time needs management as well.

Digital resources relate to software and online presence. For most businesses, this is a must-have.

When we’re talking about mobilizing resources, we mean the gathering, assessing and activating the resources we need at every stage of the business. I see this done wrong all the time. Many spent too much time and money on the wrong things at the wrong time. This is like discussing the layout of a book without ever having written a single line of text.

The first step in mobilizing resources is about knowing what is needed and where to get it from. The next step is about putting it to work and adding some milestones to measure success. Depending on the resources needed, you might need more or fewer milestones on the way, but you will need them.

The second step is to get the resources into action and watch the progress based on the milestones. This is where the action is and where success is created.

In short, managing resources is about:

  • Getting and managing the material, non-material and digital resources needed to turn ideas into action 
  • Making the most of limited resources 
  • Getting and managing the competencies needed at any stage, including technical, legal, tax and digital competences 

Being motivated and persevere

Main goal: Stay focused and don’t give up

We all know that starting a new venture will take some time and you’ll very likely encounter some obstacles and difficulties on the way. Being able to get through difficult times is a major skill for entrepreneurs.

There are some great things you can do to get through it, but all of them are based on knowing and learning about yourself and what works for you. In the same way, as you build milestones to manage your resources, you’ll need to build milestones to manage yourself. As we mentioned, you will have to step out of your comfort zone to grow and become successful. That means you don’t know how this will impact you and how you will react when you are confronted with new challenges.

The biggest step is to accept that you don’t know it yet. The “yet” is the important part. This kind of attitude will keep the excitement and motivation going. For the perseverance, your commitment is the biggest contributor. Accepting the fact that there is a lot to learn and that only continuous action will give you the knowledge you need to master the unknown is the core element of motivation and perseverance.

In short, motivation and perseverance are about:

  • Being determined to turn ideas into action and satisfy your need to achieve 
  • Being prepared to be patient and keep trying to achieve your long-term individual or group aims 
  • Being resilient under pressure, adversity, and temporary failure 

Being self-aware and self-efficient

Main goal: Believe in yourself and keep developing

This point directly relates to the previous point about motivation and perseverance. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to know what you know and what you don’t know. It is about knowing your strengths and your weaknesses. As you grow and step out of your comfort zone, you will find new strengths and weaknesses. The skill here is to identify those and to grade them by importance. The most important weaknesses you’ll need to turn into strength and the biggest strength you’ll need to use to move yourself and your business forward.

This will only work if you are aware of it and if you watch and measure it. The difficult part will be to identify the most important weaknesses and strengths. It’s really about understanding yourself as another resource required for your success. If you manage yourself in the same way as you do other resources and put yourself into the right spot at the right time, you’re on the right track.

The question “What is my value?” needs to be answered on a regular basis. The next question must be “How can I increase my value?”. Those are the measurement questions.

In short, self-awareness and self-efficacy are about:

  • Reflecting on your needs, aspirations and wants in the short, medium and long term 
  • Identifying and assessing your individual and group strengths and weaknesses 
  • Believing in your ability to influence the course of events, despite uncertainty, setbacks and temporary failures 

Understanding finance and economics

Main goal: Develop financial and economic know-how

If money is the reason to start your business or not, it will be a major part of your adventure. If you’re thinking about getting a loan from a bank, go through a Kickstarter campaign or want to attract investors, you will need to understand how money works. Spending some time to learn about the history of money and how our banking and monetary systems work is a must for every entrepreneur.

But even more important is the ability to understand what value is and how it relates to money. As an entrepreneur, your main task will be to create value for your customers, but you also need to learn how to turn this value into real money. Taking financial decisions is what you will do all the time during your career and getting this right is important for the future of your business.

In short, financial and economic literacy is about:

  • Estimating the cost of turning an idea into a value-creating activity 
  • Planning, putting in place and evaluating financial decisions over time 
  • Managing finances to make sure your value-creating activity can last over the long term

Mobilizing others

Main goal: Inspire, enthuse and get others on board

Even in the early stages of a business, you will need to work with others. Those are either your clients, potential business partners, suppliers or even your own family and friends. You very likely need help and support very early on. This means you have to understand what you need to do or what you need to give to get this help and support.

Knowing how to approach others and get them excited about your business is one of the core skills you must practice as early as possible. Your business relies on others, so understanding those others is key. But it is also important to filter the ones who are really valuable to your business, which is a skill on its own.

It all starts with great communication skills and goes all along to great negotiation skills. You will need all of this to mobilize others to help you. A key factor here is not to convince others to work for you, but to demonstrate the value you will create for them so they want to work with you. As you can see it all goes towards the value you create for yourself and for others.

In short, mobilizing others is about:

  • Inspiring and enthusing relevant stakeholders 
  • Getting the support needed to achieve valuable outcomes 
  • Demonstrating effective communication, persuasion, negotiation, and leadership 

Taking the Initiative

Main goal: Go for it

Let’s face it, without action nothing happens. If you want your business to take off, you will have to take the initiative and get into action.

In the beginning, there are a lot of things you don’t know yet. You can think about it and plan for all eventualities as much as you like. There are too many unknown factors and variables to come up with the right formula. Once you start to take action, you will get the feedback you need to fill in the gaps. Action is the key.

This does not mean you shouldn’t plan ahead. You need to start developing the formula and identify the unknows. Once you’ve done that, you know exactly what is missing and you can get it by directing your actions to fill in the gaps. Planned actions make your dreams come alive.

In short, taking the initiative is about:

  • Initiating processes that create value 
  • Taking up challenges 
  • Acting and working independently to achieve goals, sticking to intentions and carrying out planned tasks 

Planning and management

Main goal: Prioritize, organize and follow-up

We all heard about setting goals and planning for the future. But most of us have no idea how to do this. How can you have a goal when the outcome is so dependent on other people and their actions? This is a common question and might stop you from developing the right goals for yourself and your business.

Let me give you a tip here. Don’t see a goal as a given outcome. Instead, see it as a direction to go towards. For that, you need to know your priorities. Those are the pillars that stop you from getting off-track. For example: If your goal is financial independence and your priority is the environment, then your actions towards your goal will never be against the environment. Your pillars could be your family or friends, animals or anything that is important to you. Whatever it is, it won’t make it harder to achieve your goal, you will just take another path and different actions.

In short, planning and management are about:

  • Setting long-, medium- and short-term goals 
  • Defining priorities and action plans 
  • Adapting to unforeseen changes 

Coping with ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk

Main goal: Make decisions dealing with uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk

Starting something new always comes with some risks. It’s new, there are lots of things you don’t know yet and that can be a scary place to be. Most new entrepreneurs deal with this in two different ways. They either freeze up, are scared and procrastinate, or they are excited and really look forward to what’s to come and can’t wait to get going.

Knowing this and having a plan to test unknown scenarios does help to deal with these situations much better. It’s all a question of how you approach it. Even if you are highly excited and can’t wait to jump straight in, doing it with a plan and a step-by-step process is the best way to enjoy that new venture.

There are many decisions you have to take on the spot. It is wise to have some direction and pillar points that help you focus in the right direction and take quick decisions that will get you where you what to go.

In short, coping with ambiguity, uncertainty, and risk is about:

  • Making decisions when the result of that decision is uncertain, when the information available is partial or ambiguous, or when there is a risk of unintended outcomes 
  • Within the value-creating process, including structured ways of testing ideas and prototypes from the early stages, to reduce risks of failing 
  • Handling fast-moving situations promptly and flexible

Working with others

Main goal: Team up, collaborate and network

It is easy to think that if you find the right people you can work with, you can form a great business partnership. But it is like playing the lottery. How do you know if you don’t try it out? Will you just rely on your gut feeling?

Like in every relationship, there are at least two people involved and you are one of them. Conflicts are a normal part of every partnership or relationship. Learning to deal with conflicts and how to resolve them is an often undervalued skill; until it is too late.

Cooperation is the word. Meaning working together to achieve a common goal. This starts with having the same goal and being able to articulate it clearly and in detail and ends with creating an action plan for all parties involved towards that goal. It’s about having a plan everybody agrees on and wants to be part of. I found this to be a core skill you need right at the beginning if you plan to partner up or not.

In short, working together is about:

  • Working together and co-operating with others to develop ideas and turn them into action 
  • Networking
  • Solving conflicts and facing up to competition positively when necessary

Learning through experience

Main goal: Learning by doing

New entrepreneurs don’t like to think about failure and are quick in trying to forget what happened and just move on. While experienced entrepreneurs reflect on mishaps and understand failure as a learning exercise. Every entrepreneur goes through many mistakes, this is part of being an entrepreneur. If you can’t learn from any mistake you will make during your journey, you wasted a lot of time and effort on nothing.

Not only bad experiences are a lesson to learn, but also the good experiences hold a lot of information you can extract and learn from. Don’t just call it luck. Understand what happened and how you can repeat this process to get the most value out of it. This requires a very analytical approach. Something you can learn.

But you can learn from mistakes other entrepreneurs made as well. Having a mentor and coach is a great way to learn from their experiences so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

In short, learning through experience is about:

  • Using any initiative for value creation as a learning opportunity 
  • Learning with others, including peers and mentors 
  • Reflecting and learning from both success and failure (your own and other people’s)

Spotting opportunities

Main goal: Use your imagination and abilities to identify opportunities for creating value

Creating value is the core task of entrepreneurs. Finding the right opportunities to create that value is a great skill to master. It all comes down to your imagination and ability to identify those opportunities and create value.

This skill is more based on questions and less based on answers. Asking the right question opens doors and exposes the opportunities you look for. For that to work, you’ll need to be out there, not just physically, but with your mind as well. Being aware of what is going on around you is a good place to start.

In short, spotting opportunities is about:

  • Identifying and seizing opportunities to create value by exploring the social, cultural and economic landscape 
  • Identifying needs and challenges that need to be met 
  • Establishing new connections and bringing together scattered elements of the landscape to create opportunities to create value

Being creative

Main goal: Develop creative and purposeful ideas

Creativity is something you can learn. You just need to know the steps to take to generate creative ideas. It often starts with the question: Are there any other ways to create that value?

Mixing things up is also a good way to come up with new ideas. Our mind is often stuck in our niche and we can’t see anything else. Creativity is about opening up and asking some crazy questions and see what answers pop-up. Once you see the benefit, you’ll love doing these exercises on a regular basis.

This is a must-have skill not only for new but also for seasoned entrepreneurs of every level.

In short, being creative is about:

  • Developing several ideas and opportunities to create value, including better solutions to existing and new challenges. 
  • Exploring and experimenting with innovative approaches. 
  • Combining knowledge and resources to achieve valuable effects.

Developing a vision

Main goal: Work towards your vision of the future

There are two ways to come up with a vision for the future. You can either look at the actions you take today and imagine how this will impact in the future, or you start with the future and look at the actions you’ll need to take to make that future happen. Either way, you will have a picture of a possible future.

It is on you to decide if that future picture is something you like to look at and something you can be proud of. New entrepreneurs often struggle with this. They are dealing with too many unknowns to create a clear picture in their mind or even to figure out the action steps needed to get there. But again, this is something you can learn and become really good at.

It all has to do with perspective and aligning the level of a possible future picture with the same level of actions. Once you get this right it becomes very easy to identify the needed actions to get where you want to go.

In short, developing a vision is about:

  • Imagining the future 
  • Developing a vision to turning ideas into action 
  • Visualizing future scenarios to helping guide effort and action

Valuing ideas

Main goal: Make the most of ideas and opportunities

Ideas are great and it can be a lot of fun to come up with new ones and play through different scenarios in your mind. But the best ideas, and the ones that actually work are the ideas that create real value. Linking ideas to the value they might create is the skill to learn early on in your career as an entrepreneur.

We all know the famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He understood the real value of horses at the time and started building cars instead. It was clear to him that this would be of much higher value.

Creating value is much more than just having an idea, it is about identifying and confirming the value an idea might hold.

In short, valuing ideas is about:

  • Judging what value is in social, cultural and economic terms 
  • Recognizing the potential an idea has for creating value
  • Identifying suitable ways of making the most out of it

Planning ethically and towards sustainability 

Main goal: Assess the consequences and impact of ideas, opportunities, and actions

Being able to assess the impact your ideas and related actions might have in the short- and long-term is part of being a successful entrepreneur. You want to be in business for a long time. Therefore it makes sense to look for possible impacts of your actions in the foreseeable future before they bite you.

This isn’t always easy to do, but something you can learn. Aligning your actions and their outcomes with the future you like to see is the first step in the process. But always keeping in mind, that whatever future you decide on, your children will have to live in it. Looking at the possible impacts and adjusting as information comes in, requires a skilled eye.

In short, planning ethically and towards sustainability is about:

  • Assess the consequences of ideas that bring value and the effect of entrepreneurial action on the target community, the market, society, and the environment 
  • Reflect on how sustainable long-term social, cultural and economic goals are, and the course of action chosen 
  • Act responsibly

How do I learn all this?

There are lots of resources out there to learn from. A search on Google should give you a plateau of sources to choose from.

Here at the Entrepreneur Academy, we will keep publishing valuable articles to each subject and provide you with links to resources we find useful and worth your time. If we can’t find it, we will write it ourselves. We will continuously update our articles as we find new resources to link to and as new information and tips become available.

If you’re looking to improve some of your skills, specific to your area of work or business, feel free to contact me directly.

Enjoy your journey as an entrepreneur ?

John Di Stefano

An entrepreneur at heart and founder of the Entrepreneur Academy in Brussels, Belgium, this site is run by John di Stefano, teaching and supporting entrepreneurs to learn the skills every entrepreneur needs to create a better life for themselves and the people around them.

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