by Sujan Patel
I dropped out of college to pursue my business goals instead of completing a degree. While I wouldn’t say that college is a waste of time for everybody, I do think that there are plenty of important entrepreneurial skills that just aren’t covered in obtaining a traditional education.
So, if you’re thinking about pursuing your own startup business, I recommend brushing up on the following skills, either instead of or as a complement to your ongoing education:
- How to handle SEO. Business is digital these days – so if your website (regardless of what type of business you have) isn’t getting noticed by the search engines, you’re unnecessarily hindering your own startup’s growth. To avoid this, take the time to learn basic SEO principles and put them into practice every day.
- How to live off of little to no money — and raise it. Funds may be slim when starting up, so it’s critical to bootstrap both your business and personal expenses to cope with low cash flow situations. Don’t just learn how to raise money from venture capitalists, angel investors, crowd-sourcing platforms and other sources. Learn when to seek capital investment and what types of funding will suit your business’ needs best.
- How to relieve stress. Running a startup company is a stressful process, but it’s vital that you find ways to alleviate these tensions regularly. Allowing stress to build up can lead to negative health consequences, so find an activity like running, gardening, writing or singing that you love that allows you to blow off steam every now and again. Set a cutoff time each night to denote when you’ll “unplug” from the digital world, and aim for regular vacations that let you rest and recharge away from the office.
- How to train and manage employees. When your company reaches the point that it’s taking on staff members, don’t simply hand new employees a punch card and an office key and hope for the best. Invest in developing a good onboarding program so that the rock star talent you’ve brought on will stick around for a while. Employees need feedback, guidance and coaching to be successful – and if they don’t get it from you, they’ll get it from another company.
- How and fire employees. Firing isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. Instead of hanging on to “dead weight” employees long past the point of usefulness, learn how to fire employees in a respectful manner and when to use these techniques to keep your office running smoothly.
- How to negotiate. Very few things in this world aren’t open to negotiation – but you won’t know that until you begin trying to get price tags knocked down! Yes, you can negotiate for your car, your house and your office lease. However, you can also negotiate for your cell phone contract, the terms of your Internet connection, your office supply discount or just about anything else you can think of. As a bonus tip, if you can’t get the price knocked down, consider learning how to negotiate to have extra features or perks added to your purchase instead.
- How to delegate. You can’t do everything on your own. Whether you’re working with outsourced workers, virtual assistants or an in-house staff, learning how and when to delegate tasks to others is a critical part of entrepreneurial success.
- How to code. I’m not saying you need to learn enough code to find work as a developer, but understanding the basics will go a long way towards helping you to work more effectively with your technical staff. Getting your coding skills to the point where you’re able to make minor tweaks on your own will save you big in the long run, when compared to the costs associated with hiring outside developers.
- How to work with Web images. Images are hugely important to your company’s web presence and marketing materials, but hiring a photographer to create custom pictures can get pricey. Instead, hone your photo-finding skills by brushing up on image royalties and rights, and then learn how to use any of today’s affordable editing programs (my favorite is the SnagIt Editor) to modify your pictures as needed.
- How to A/B test. A/B split testing isn’t just for websites (though it’s an incredibly important part of operating a profitable site). It can also be used to make meaningful improvements in different aspects of your daily life, so take the time to get to know this process!
- How to network and communicate up. If you want to work with high-level clients, you need to know how they think, how they speak and how they make decisions. Learn how to make small talk, project a confident presence and engage with new people – whether or not they’ll be able to help you directly. It takes practice, but learning to communicate up to clients or prospects on this level is incredibly important.
- How to deal with failure. We all fail, but it’s how you handle it that makes a difference. Fail fast enough that you learn how to draw lessons from your failures and move forward without being tied down by past regrets.
- How to build a personal brand. Brands matter, from both a customer engagement and an SEO standpoint. Take the time to learn more about the elements that constitute an effective brand, as well as how you can spread the word about your own personal brand.
- How to balance multiple priorities. I probably don’t need to tell you that entrepreneurs juggle lots of different tasks. It isn’t always easy to balance multiple priorities, but learning how to identify, analyze and rank these priorities in terms of how they should be completing is a necessary skill to keep yourself sane and productive.
- How to write well. Even if you aren’t ever planning to write a “tell all” book on the stories of your success, take the time to build your writing skills. Being able to communicate clearly – whether in emails, blog posts, white papers or social networking updates – is an incredibly important part of business growth.
- How to choose a business/taxation structure. Setting things up right from the start is an important part of maintaining your business’s longevity. If your skills lie outside the realm of financial decision-making, focus instead on finding an accountant or lawyer who can advise you.
- How to connect on social networking websites. Knowing how to log on to your personal Facebook profile is a lot different than the skills needed to connect and build an audience across the vast social media landscape. This is one of those skills that you have to learn by doing, so start trying to build relationships with your audience right away and hone your methods based on what’s worked.
- How to close sales. Asking for sales isn’t easy, but it’s crucial. If you don’t feel comfortable closing deals with prospective customers, invest in a sales training program that’ll help improve your skills in this area.
- How to build and manage a website. Today’s Web technologies are so easy to use that it’s entirely possible to build and maintain your site on your own – without paying a designer tens of thousands of dollars. Learn basic Web design practices and use them to either build a new website for your startup or to manage your existing site.
- How to beat procrastination. Procrastination and creativity blocks happen to even the most motivated of entrepreneurs, which makes taking the time to understand how you handle them best a vital business skill to master. I use tons of different tools to help me be more productive, including programs like Trello and SaneBox. Find the tools for you and put them into practice to maximize your efficiency.
- How to conduct market research. Market research doesn’t have to be scary! Learning how to poll your customers or interpret market trends from industry blogs, social networking status updates and other sources is incredibly important in providing direction for your business’s future growth.
- How to select performance metrics. What gets measured, gets managed – which makes the art and science of selecting the appropriate performance metrics against which to measure your success an important skill that all entrepreneurs need to have.
- How to back it up. Don’t risk losing all of your company’s data to a computer failure or other emergency. Instead, choose a backup system that automatically catalogs files and stores file updates as they occur.
- How to say “no.” Not every client you encounter or project you’re invited to join will be a good fit for your business objectives. Spend some time determining how to strategically grow your business, and then be ruthless about turning down opportunities that won’t help to advance these goals.
- How to catch growing trends. Being the first to jump on a new trend can be hugely profitable, so get in the habit of reading industry news sites regularly and monitoring social networking sites for indications that a concept or product is about to hit it big.
- How to attract press. For a growing company, a single press mention can mean the difference between success and failure. Make it a habit to connect with journalists early on and learn how to cash in on these relationships when necessary in order to promote your business.
- How to inspire others. Part of what makes entrepreneurs so successful is their obvious passion. Learn how to use your own unique story to inspire the people around you – whether that includes your employees, your customers, members of the press or any other contacts.
- How to have fun. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Take the time to embrace how exciting it is to be pouring your heart into a startup that you’re passionate about, and have some fun with the whole process!
Sujan Patel is the founder and CEO of Single Grain, one of the top Digital Marketing agencies in San Francisco, CA. With more than 10 years of Internet marketing experience, Sujan leads the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force, Yahoo, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.