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12 Business Skills You Need to Master

Updated Apr 13, 2023

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Sean Peek
Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership at business.com
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While many small business owners have an abundance of passion, they often lack practical business skills. Nearly half of new businesses fail in the first five years and about 65 percent fail in the first 10 years, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To prevent your business from being part of those statistics, you need to understand the skills you already have and which you must learn or delegate to others.

Here are the essential soft skills (people skills or anything that is not a technical skill) you will need to learn to succeed in your business. 

The business skills you need to master

To succeed as an entrepreneur and leader, you need a variety of skills. You must delegate effectively, communicate well, negotiate and plan strategically, lead and build teams, think analytically, market and sell effectively and manage finances, cash flow and your time. The following business skills will help you achieve your career goals: 

Delegation skills

Graphic of people inside of gears

Delegation involves assigning responsibility to other people for the completion of work. The ideal position that you want to obtain is one where your staff carries out all the routine activities of your business. Effective delegation involves achieving the correct balance between controls and allowing people to complete their job. The key element is knowing how to make your business work, rather than your business working you!

Communication skills

Communication is an important part of life and is one that is often taken for granted. When you think about it, almost everything you do requires improved communication. To be effective in business, you have to communicate well. When you hire a new employee, good communication skills help you select the right person. When you speak with your various stakeholders, you need to be clear about your expectations and to be sensitive when dealing with problems. The key is to know how to communicate your vision effectively with passion and conviction.

>> Learn More: Technology Should Enhance Communication Skills

Negotiation skills

Almost everyone negotiates informally on a daily basis without being aware of it. Formal negotiation is a skill that can be learned through experience and practice. People who negotiate frequently tend to be more skilled at it than people who have not participated in many formal/informal negotiations. Experienced people are more likely to know what to say, when or when not to say it or when not to make concessions. The key is to know how to develop a win-win approach in negotiations with all parties while keeping in mind that you also want to obtain the most favorable outcome possible for yourself.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is an important business activity. Strategic planning is a process of defining your company’s strategy or direction and making decisions on allocations of resources of capital and people. The key is to know how to protect your company’s future performance, within a three- to five-year framework or more, supported by your well-defined business plan.

Leadership skills

graphic of office workers at a desk and standing near a large yellow arrow

Leadership is a process of getting things done by people. Leadership, a critical management skill, is the ability to motivate a group of people toward a common goal. Leadership is also the ability to take charge, assemble, mobilize and motivate teams. The key is to know how to forge long-term relationships with prospects, customers, suppliers, employees and investors.

Team-building skills

Team-building and teamwork skills are essential for an entrepreneur in today’s workplace. People working to their potential in teams generate better solutions and more productivity than individual members working independently. The key is to know how to build teams of employees, partners, advisors and investors that will help you take your business to the next level.

Analytical skills

Today’s workplace is becoming more technologically advanced and complex. With this rapid increase of technology, the need for analytical thinking also increases. Analytical thinking is the ability to assess your business’ present state objectively, determine where you want to be in the future and what to do to close the gap between your business’ present and future growth. The key is knowing how to gather, review and evaluate data necessary to formulate and express compelling arguments.

Sales and marketing skills

graphic of person emerging from a smartphone screen holding a megaphone

Establishing successful sales and marketing methods and policies — from pricing and advertising to sales techniques — are essential in growing your business. The ability to analyze your competition, the marketplace and industry trends are critical to the development of your marketing strategy. The key is to know how to craft and communicate a compelling message to the right target audience that generates new business and builds profitable revenue streams.

General management skills

Management involves leading a group of one or more people for the purpose of coordinating activities that will accomplish a goal. Management encompasses the deployment and direction of human, financial and technological resources. The key is to know how to develop and implement a workable management system that will oversee daily operations, nurture stakeholders and support business growth.

Did You Know?Did you know

Cash flow management and financial management are two different skills. Cash flow involves keeping track of the money moving through your business while financial management requires a more big-picture approach.

Cash flow management skills

Cash flow generally is acknowledged as the single most pressing concern of small and medium-sized businesses. In its simplest form, cash flow is the movement of money in and out of your business. Cash flow is the lifeblood of all growing businesses and is the primary indicator of business health. The effect of cash flow is real, immediate and, if mismanaged, totally unforgiving. The key is to know how to monitor, protect, control and put cash to work. [See our reviews of the best accounting software to help you manage your cash flow.]

Financial management skills

The activity of finance is the application of a set of techniques that individuals and businesses use to manage their money, particularly the differences between income and expenditure and the risks of their investments. The need for timely budgeting and reporting of financial performance is of the utmost importance. The key is to know how to interpret and analyze your financial statements in such a way as to identify the items that are adversely affecting your profitability.

Time management skills

graphic of two people sitting on and next to a large hourglass

Time management is a set of related common-sense skills that help you use your time in the most effective and productive way. Time management is an important skill to master. Learning this skill will empower you to achieve more and to use your time wisely. The key is to know how to manage your time efficiently and to focus on the activities most likely to deliver value to your business.

FYIDid you know

You don’t have to become stagnant once you land a job or even if you’re the boss. The workplace is always changing and you should be too. Keep track of skills that are new or uncomfortable for you; that can be a to-do list for your growth.

The best tools to learn business skills 

Business mentor

Even if you have substantial professional experience, you can always find a business mentor to share their expertise with you. They can provide a fresh perspective on any problem you face — whether it’s how to make an acquisition or foster a better workplace culture — and provide a new approach to solving it. If you have specific skills you want to improve, like communication or strategic thinking, they can help you with that as well. 

Finding a mentor in your field is helpful, but the most important thing is to find someone who excels in the skills you wish to learn — regardless of their industry. Together, you can figure out how to strengthen that skill set and apply it to your business. 

A business mentor is also a new connection. They can expand your network and help you find consultants or employees to fill the skill gaps in your workplace. 

Digital courses

Online learning is a great opportunity for anyone to learn at the time and place that is most convenient for them as most courses are also flexible about the timeframe in which they are completed. Depending on the type of course or platform you choose, you can listen to prerecorded lectures while commuting to work, watch your classes during lunch and log your online discussion questions before you sit down to dinner.

The breadth of digital courses available has also increased greatly. Not only can you find classes on traditional subjects, but you can also take classes for specific skills like Adobe software, management or website maintenance.

Because of their increased popularity, online learning courses are surprisingly affordable. You don’t need to pay for a whole degree — just the classes that interest you and can make you a better leader.

Did You Know?Did you know

Are you an expert in your field? If you have something you can teach others, you can set up your own remote, asynchronous class online for an extra bit of income.

Podcasts/TED Talks

Although less traditional, podcasts and TED Talks are rich with life lessons and soft skills that you can pick up through your headphones. TED Talks cover a variety of subjects, allowing you to bounce from business strategy to positive psychology to meditation and back again. Listening to a variety of speakers will encourage you to think about things from a new perspective.

If you do encounter any topics or speakers through TED Talks that you enjoy, you can likely find podcasts that dive deeper into those subjects and feature even more speakers. A good rule of thumb is that there is a podcast for everything you want to listen to. Try out self-help podcasts like We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle, human behavior podcasts like Hidden Brain, slice-of-life podcasts like 70 Over 70 and economy podcasts like Planet Money

Training/certifications

In a more official capacity, you can complete new training and certification programs to boost your skills in the workplace as well as the credentials on your resume. You can get certified in different leadership ethos, public speaking and even high-speed typing. Consider areas that are less obvious to your business, but may encourage you to think differently, such as diversity, peer mediation and sustainable design. Getting out of your comfort zone is also a great way to stand out from your peers and bring something new to the table.

Sean Peek
Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership at business.com
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.
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