I believe entrepreneurial success involves our natural gifts, technical skills and soft skills. The importance of soft skills to entrepreneurial success, and success in life as well, is confirmed every time I advise or mentor a young entrepreneur. Young entrepreneurs are usually pretty knowledgeable about the technical aspects and functionality of their product or service. That is great, but it’s not enough. TECHNICAL SKILLS BUILD PRODUCTS . . . SOFT SKILLS BUILD COMPANIES.
So what are the essential soft skills that every young entrepreneur must have? There is certainly plenty of debate about this. From my years of advising and mentoring entrepreneurs, this series of blogs will identify my top three:
THE SKILLS – The greatest idea in the world is useless if you can’t communicate what it does and why it matters. Seems intuitively obvious right? Communication requires both transmitting and receiving. In addition to speaking, young entrepreneurs must also learn to listen intently to questions and guidance. The questions inform us about the interest of the questioner and elements of our pitch that we left out or didn’t communicate clearly. This may seem like common sense but, as usual, execution is the key.
One must be able to speak the language of business as well as explain the functionality of the product or service. Right now, some technical cofounder is reading this with the title of Chief Technology Officer and thinking “Dude, I’m the CTO. Someone else does all the business stuff”. Nice try. The word “Officer” in your title means you have an obligation, as does every officer in the company, to be able to speak about the company and its products and services on some level. The company leadership needs to be able to speak the language of business (run rate, burn rate, strategies and cost of customer acquisition, EBITDA) in a simple, articulate, passionate manner. That means no acronyms, limiting the use of the terms “like”, “you know”, “uh”, and one of my least favorite, starting the response to every question with the word “so”. In addition, one must look people in the eye when you speak, and have the posture and manner of someone who is confident about the topic. So, let’s move on to the next topic because it’s like, you know, also important.
Most of us are not very good listeners. However, for entrepreneurs, this skill is critical. In the early stages of a company, there is so much that we don’t know. We must always be in the mode of discovering, researching, and learning about things that will improve our product, connect us to helpful people, or improve how we manage and lead the company. Unfortunately, we are usually so focused on pitching our product and responding to questions with our well-rehearsed answers, that we fail to fully listen to questions and guidance. We keep our communication dial on transmit and forget to switch to receive.
HOW TO ACQUIRE COMMUNICATION SKILLS – Research the language of business, key concepts and terms. Like most things, you get better with practice. Take speech or drama classes, join Toastmasters, sell products door to door or work on a political campaign. Pitch your business to anyone that will listen. Record your pitch, study the video and make adjustments. Yes, I know you feel silly practicing in front of a mirror. Would you rather feel silly and be prepared, or wing it and take the risk that your great idea never sees the light of day.