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Skills you need to start a business

Find out how to identify where your skills are lacking, learn ways to fill those gaps, and use your transferable skills to get your new business off the ground.

Making the leap from employee to starting your own business can see you take on a wide variety of roles. From marketing and PR to customer service and technical support, new business owners wear many hats. Identifying your skills gaps and making the most of your transferable skills can help your business run more effectively.
Established, larger businesses are a hive of different skills and expertise. As an employee, it’s easy to call a technical helpdesk, in-house marketing team or HR executive when you need something done. As a start-up, you typically have to take on tasks yourself. This can include promoting your business, hiring staff, and managing the books.

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Why examine your skills gaps?

New business owners are notorious for their ‘can do’ attitude. Many will turn their hand to all aspects of starting a business. Yet this can prove a double-edged sword. Jumping into skilled tasks without the right know-how can leave even the best-intentioned start-up owner floundering.

There are also skills that new business owners need but simply aren’t aware of.

A study in the Harvard Business Review found that start-ups excel in a range of job-related skills such as leadership, accountability and interpersonal skills. However, many new business owners lack skills relating to empathy, managing their time, planning and organising, and analytical problem-solving.

Taking on skilled tasks where you have a skills gap can result in wasted time and poor outcomes.

New business owners will argue that ‘doing things yourself’ is a necessity, often driven by tight budgets. But spending hours wrestling website code or sweating over HR issues can be ineffective if you lack the relevant skills.

There are two options: outsource to people who have the skills you need, or identify your skills gaps and learn what’s needed to fill them.

“I definitely don’t have all the skills to do all the jobs,” admits Susan Bonnar of The British Craft House in Lee-on-the-Solent. “As we’re growing quite quickly, I have the money to be able to outsource and get other people to do other things.


How to spot your skills gaps

During start-up, it’s worth spending some time analysing areas where your skills are weakest. There are three ways to assess skills gaps.

  • Self-appraisal – look back over your formal education and experience gained in employment. List the skills you developed, such as marketing or customer service, and the skills you needed help with such as technical support or recruitment. List training you’ve undertaken, highlighting any areas that would benefit from a refresher course.
  • Online assessments – there are a number of online skills gap tools that identify strengths and weaknesses. Free tools such as the National Careers Service Skills Assessment can help you discover the skills you have and those you lack.
  • Required skills – note down all the skills your new business will require. Separate them into four columns: skills you have, skills you can learn, skills you can hire and skills you should outsource. If budgets are tight, look for free online training courses such as Learn with Start Up Loans.


What you can do about skills gaps

The good news is that skills gaps can be filled. It’s a good idea to build on any transferable skills you may have from a previous job.

Rolling your sleeves up and learning by doing it yourself is one option, as Susan discovered.

“Doing it for yourself is possible,” she explains. “I needed to set up a Twitter account and an Instagram account, so I learnt by watching videos, seeing what the best practices are and what other people are doing. You can learn from other people, by trial and error and from not being satisfied until you’ve solved the problem.”

It’s worth investing in your own training. There are plenty of inexpensive IOSH-approved and CPD accredited training courses from providers such as Praxis42, iHasco and High Speed Training. Free in-depth courses on topics such as marketing, project management and accounting are available via Learn with Start Up Loans to help you address skills gaps.

Make upskilling goal-oriented, such as working towards a qualification, certification or accreditation. Many companies that provide software in the services sector, such as Google, Microsoft and Adobe, offer business accreditation when you or your team achieve a certain proficiency. These can be a great way to market your business.


Make use of transferable skills

If you’ve been employed before starting your business, chances are you have a stack of transferable skills that you can draw on when starting your business. Transferable skills suitable for start-ups include the following:


The ability to listen and communicate with employees, customers and suppliers means you can be clear on your expectations, what you want to happen and ensure people understand what you’re trying to achieve.


Management is more than simply telling people what to do. It involves planning, organising, directing and coordinating teams of people through often complex processes. The key to success is the ability to make decisions and resolve conflicts.

People skills

While communication and management are important, people skills are the softer side of interpersonal relationships. This involves activities such as selling to customers, motivating and mentoring employees.

Technical skills

These can fall into a range of camps, but being good with computers and knowing how to use the internet are vital skills. Curiosity about new technologies can help you find cost-saving platforms to run your business – from handling customer bookings, creating an e-commerce site or running online events and seminars.


The ability to research is a key skill that all new business owners need. From researching the market, investigating competitors and spotting commercial trends and opportunities, online research can equip you with the insights you need to get a competitive edge.


Closing a sale is crucial for new businesses. While you may be convinced of your business idea, getting a customer to pay for the service or product you’ve launched is a different proposition. You’ll need to draw on people skills, as well as specific sales skills to build customer revenue.


New business owners tend to be vocal in promoting their business. Knowing how to use different marketing channels – from social media to media advertising – can help your business reach the right audience.

Learn with Start Up Loans and help get your business off the ground

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:

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.

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