Do you have the right stuff to launch a business? Forget needing to be a hard-nosed, high-flying, risk-it-all entrepreneur. Instead, everyday skills such as good communication, numeracy and being organised are the keys to start-up success.
If you’re dreaming of starting your own business but are worried you don’t have what it takes to succeed, think again. Ruthless, wheeling-dealing entrepreneur stereotypes may make for good movie characters, but in reality you’ll probably have tons of useful skills that can help you get off the starting blocks. You can hone your skills and fill in any skills gaps you identify over the long term as your business grows.
Don’t mistake traits such as passion, drive and resilience as skills. Skills can be learned, whereas traits are a natural part of our personalities.
You may have already picked up many of the skills you need as a new business owner, especially if you’ve previously been employed. A wide range of skills – from literacy and time management to being a people person – can make you a more-rounded business owner who can adapt to different challenges.
The good news is that most skills can be developed to better support you and your business irrespective of your traits. If you find yourself with a skills gap, there are plenty of online learning resources, such as our Learn with Start Up Loans programme, on which you can enrol free of charge. More practical business advice and skills – from understanding tax to recruiting staff – is also available.
Want to learn more about what it takes to launch a business?
10 start-up skills (and how to fill a skills gap)
Here are 10 skills that may help boost your chance of launching a successful start-up.
Central to all start-up success is communication. It’s not always necessary to be an extrovert or a people person, but the ability to actively listen to others and clearly communicate helps lubricate the wheels of business. From making sure your team has a clear understanding of objectives and progress to negotiating with suppliers or simply selling to customers, how well you communicate is fundamental.
“I think if you’re going to run a business, you need good communication skills,” says Nicola Patalong, co-founder of PO’Sh Creative in West Midlands, which launched in 2013 with help from a Start Up Loan. “You need to be quite flexible in communicating with different personalities. Clients can be demanding. Communicating expectations is something that we have as a real ethos in our business.”
2. Organisation and planning
According to Emily Robertson, co-founder of Roundwood Gin in Cambridgeshire that launched with a £25,000 Start Up Loan, there are many aspects of running a business to juggle when first starting.
Strong organisational skills are helpful. “A key thing is being organised. Having the organisation and the time management to juggle everything and do everything initially is one of the challenges,” Emily says.
Invest in a calendar and time management software to keep on track. There are lots of free online tools to help you keep track of deadlines and to-do items. Organisation techniques and skills can be learned too. From taking time each morning to write a to-do list, you should focus your efforts on the right task rather than being distracted by less important tasks. As your business progresses, it’s worth investing in project management skills and tools.
Read our helpful guide to workload management and how to prioritise your workload
3. Technology and computing
While it’s possible to launch a business without computing skills, having some know-how in using the internet for research and using tools such as spreadsheets and office software may help boost your chances of success. Digital marketing – from building a website to engaging with customers on social media – will benefit from developing digital skills.
Emily agrees, with her IT skills helping support the gin-making business by selling online direct to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic: “On the really practical side, I had pretty good IT skills, and that worked out well in terms of doing things like the website and social media, and just feeling comfortable with creating an online marketplace,” she says.
Research is a skill you can learn – but the critical aspect is the ability to search out important information, according to entrepreneur Tim Pethick, who launched the Nudie range of smoothies in Australia. “Good entrepreneurs today are good researchers,” says Tim. “They know where to look and how to work Google. And it’s not just about typing in a specific query. It’s about digging around to find out about customers, competitors and the market”.
Read our guide to market research
Making business contacts is useful, and this builds on communication and people skills. There are lots of networking options – from online platforms such as LinkedIn to networking events hosted by local chambers of commerce – as well as plenty of upskilling networking advice guides.
Networking is a great way to plug any skills gaps by getting advice or finding an expert to help. “There are an awful lot of professionals out there who want to help new businesses – people who’ve done well or who have skills in production or marketing or manufacturing,” says Philip Clarke, founder of Hunch Strategic Innovation and host of the podcast Pioneers Wanted. “Figure out what kind of help you need and ask around because you’d be amazed how people love making introductions. People love being helpful,” he says.
6. Numeracy and financial literacy
You don’t need to be a maths whizz to launch a business, but understanding business finance and bookkeeping can help keep tabs on your start-up’s financial health. Having a good grasp of concepts such as profit and loss, cash flow, and costs such as marketing and materials can help make sure that you don’t run out of money or aren’t wrong-footed by unexpected costs.
Read our guide to essential accounting skills every new business owner needs
7. Customer service
“We always say the client is king,” says Nicola. “It is that level of responsibility where you have to deliver a project for somebody who’s paying you money.” Customer service is another people skill that can be vital to success. Whether you’re selling directly to the public or another business, knowing how to manage customers is essential.
Learning how to treat customers is an excellent skill to develop. Understanding customer needs through active listening to resolving problems quickly and effectively can create a base of loyal customers that value the goods and services you offer. According to research by PwC, around one-third of customers will stop using a business after a single bad customer experience.
Read our guide to what makes good customer service
Similar to numeracy skills, developing your literacy skills can help your business communicate better in written communications. Content plays a fundamental role in today’s businesses. From short, snappy posts on social media to writing a press release to the local newspaper, making sure spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct is only half the battle.
Literacy skills extend to understanding contracts, writing staff employment policies, and making sure you’re communicating your brand values. While skills can be honed, it’s worth getting support with proofreading or content writing if this isn’t a strong point.
Read our guide on how to write a press release
The skill of management is about making sure employees are clear about objectives and can work effectively to help achieve goals and complete tasks. Good managers know how to listen to their team, provide day-to-day motivation, and keep tabs on individual performance and processes to ensure things are working smoothly.
Good problem-solving and decision-making skills are essential when managing a team and a business. You’ll need to be confident in delegating tasks and responsibilities to suitably skilled people.
Read our guide to what makes a successful start-up business owner
Leadership is different from management. While management is focused on the day-to-day running of a business, leadership sets the vision and the strategy for your business to succeed. Leadership skills revolve around creativity, the ability to inspire others, and turn complex ideas into clear goals and objectives for your team. Excellent leaders can make the difference between a poor performing start-up and one that excels.
Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on being an entrepreneur. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:
- Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality
- First steps in innovation and entrepreneurship
- Entrepreneurial behaviour
- Entrepreneurial impressions – reflection
Plus free courses on finance and accounting, marketing, project management, management and leadership.
Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.