Top Five Soft Skills for Entrepreneurs
I don’t believe we can succeed in our business dreams without considering both hard and soft skills. I believe these 5 soft skills are essential to putting your big, bold business idea into action. They are also the top soft skills you should look for in anyone you hire to join your business team.
What are hard and soft skills?
Hard skills are the tangible technical skills you need to do a task, whether that’s using the computer, keeping accounts, writing code, selling clothes, labelling products, filing, administration and more.
Soft skills are the non-technical skills and personal / professional attitudes that help you in all aspects of life, or what we might also call ‘people skills’. They are skills such as communication, listening, flexibility, attitude, resilience, punctuality, positivity and so forth.
Why are soft skills important?
Entrepreneurs (and employers) pay more attention to soft skills than the hard skills. As a business owner I can find ten people to design computer software or do the administrative tasks in the front office, but I won’t find ten people with the hard skills who also have the right attitude or soft skills. And while I can teach someone the technical or admin skills they need, it is much harder to teach soft skills if people don’t already have them. Soft skills are the differentiator that give you the edge over others with the same skill set or job profile.
Soft skills give you the edge over others with the same technical skill set or job profile.
When I recruit someone to join my business team I look for a teachable heart and the right attitude. In the early days I didn’t think too much about soft skills, but now I understand they’re the skills that matter. Unfortunately I learned that the hard way and by then it was too late!
Think about it – which of these personalities would you prefer to have on your business team?
As the CEO of my business, my message to other women entrepreneurs is; “pay close attention to the soft skills of your employees and team members. It’s critical to your business success!”
So here is my priority list of the 5 top soft skills every entrepreneur needs, and the top soft skills for everyone on their business team.
1 – Leadership skills to set the vision, mission and plan for the future. The ability to know the vision and explain it to others is the skill of a leader. As the CEO of my business I need to see the pathway ahead and convince others of my vision, business culture and values. As Simon Sinek describes it, I need to ‘know my why’.
As the business founder and leader I have to be able to set the vision, know my why and be clear about my plan. I want to aim high, be ambitious about my big, bold business dreams so that my aspirations motivate and sustain me. However I can’t do it all alone. I need people around me who believe in the same vision and who will work hard to bring it to fruition. An entrepreneur with leadership skills will be able to articulate the vision and motivate others to join the cause.
2 – Problem solving and Critical thinking
It is important to be able to find creative ways to resolve problems but that doesn’t mean that I can cut corners. Compromise and resolving problems without examining the consequences often works out badly. This is especially true and difficult in African context where we are used to being asked to pay a little bit extra to sweeten the deal.
I refused to accept contracts when it became clear that the individual expected a percentage of the contract to end up in their pockets. This integrity and unwillingness to cut corners had a clear financial cost to me as an entrepreneur but I would rather pay the price up front (lose the contract) than perhaps have to pay later (when accountability measures caught up with me.)
I don’t believe there’s an entrepreneur in Africa who hasn’t been tempted to cut corners and take the short-term perspective. The challenge in business is to be creative and flexible while maintaining the longer-term goals and find real ways to serve clients in the short-term. To build a sustainable business that provides quality service to customers, every entrepreneur will need creative problem solving skills.
3 – Communication and Networking
If I don’t understand my audience and potential partners I can’t communicate effectively with people, so people skills matter. I have to be able to network, persuade, convince, care, and truly listen to others if I want people to trust me enough to do business with me.
We need to make money and to do that we need to be able to network, reach out, connect with people. If our audience doesn’t know, like and trust us, we won’t sell anything – and then our business is just a hobby or a nice idea. Read more on how ‘you have the power to impact people.’
I am a social person and I enjoy spending time with people, however I don’t have time for coffee chats and catch-ups that don’t lead anywhere. I need to make choices about how I spend my time. That’s not to say that I treat every conversation as a business transaction, but I am deliberate about the people I hang around with and the relationships I build.
4 – Emotional Intelligence
Persistence, flexibility and resilience are soft skills that demonstrate the right mental attitude. While we have to know our direction and stick to our path (resilience), we also have to be wise enough to detour around the obstacle and adapt to the changes in the market or needs of our clients (flexibility). Our personal and professional attitude matter because if we aren’t committed to our big, bold business dream we will give up as soon as the first obstacles arise.
Resilience and patience are essential soft skills for all start up entrepreneurs. Statistics show that our first idea rarely works, however our third or fourth version will! There is proof of this here… ’10 lessons learned from 30 African entrepreneurs’.
Another aspect of emotional intelligence is the need to be optimistic. While it is important to keep smiling, I don’t mean to plaster on a smile and ignore reality! However, the trust and belief of our employees, clients and investors will remain higher when we stay optimistic and adaptable – especially when challenges arise.
You maybe a ‘glass half empty’ type of person but remember the half-empty glass can always be refilled. People are watching us and if we always grumble and complain they will too. Optimism and pessimism are contagious, so for as long as it is realistic, stay positive and show our business clients that we believe in our solution – product or service, Angry, negative bosses are not fun to be around and grumpy people sell less product! If you want to read more on this go to my post ‘How your Attitude Impacts your Business’
5 – Team-work
I believe teamwork is the fifth essential soft skill because anyone who joins my business team has to be able to collaborate, share information and be a team player. These skills are critical to the success of any business or small / large team. People have to be able to get along and see tasks as being for a common purpose and a common goal. If one person fails, the team fails. Jealousy and rivalry will eat at the heart of the team and destroy your chances of meeting the team objectives.
Even as a solo entrepreneur, I have thought of myself as being part of a team. I don’t believe we ever succeed alone. I have silent partners. I have family and people who care about my success. It is always important to think beyond myself and build team spirit within my support network.
There are other soft skills such as time management and work ethic however I believe many serious entrepreneurs are generally strong in these areas already. The soft skills that make the difference between entrepreneurial success and lack of success are likely to be those I mentioned – leadership, problem solving and critical thinking, communicating and networking, emotional intelligence and team work.
Do you agree with my list? If not, I’d love to know what soft skills you consider more important for an entrepreneur, and especially for an African business woman.