Every successful entrepreneur needs to master some fundamental skills. Here are three skills that were critical to my success. It's also valuable to recognize that some disciplines can never be mastered. By committing to lifelong learning, you can continue to improve.
As an entrepreneur, I know that a business isn't easy to establish and run. Each day presents different challenges. Very often, I face a situation where I'm working on resolving a crisis and a new emergency comes up. The euphoria of landing a big client is often forgotten as I rush to handle the next issue that needs my attention.
I've realized that I have been able to build my company to its current size because of certain rules that I have followed in my day-to-day activities. I think these are universal principles. Any entrepreneur can use them and benefit from their application.
Giving up in the face of adversity is simply not an option. I have faced numerous situations where every door seems to be closed. Cash shortages, talent shortages, project delays – I have faced these and similar challenges dozens of times.
But, on each occasion, no matter how hopeless it initially looked, I've found a way out. How did I do that? For the most part, it is good, old-fashioned persistence and a refusal to admit defeat.
Handling failure well
When a big project fails, it is easy to get dejected. I remember the time when I worked for weeks to acquire a new customer. If I had succeeded, it would have resulted in a 50 percent increase in my yearly business volume. At the last moment, the client backed out.
At times like these, I like to think about Thomas Edison's reaction to his factory burning down. He was 67 years old when this happened. His insurance covered only about a third of the damage. Additionally, he lost most of his research reports and prototypes.
Did he rave and rant and curse his luck? As a matter of fact, he didn't. Not only did he take this loss in his stride, he told his son, "Go get your mother and all her friends. They'll never see a fire like this again … We've just got rid of a lot of rubbish."
He went on to rebuild his factory and restart operations.
Managing your money
I have been able to run my business successfully because of my ability to control costs and avoid wasteful expenditure. Here are some of the ground rules that I and everyone in my company follow:
- Expenditure that is nonproductive is not allowed. Every expense must contribute to the business.
- Our suppliers need to justify the prices they charge us. For large purchases, we ask three suppliers to submit competing bids.
- The company always has an emergency cash fund. This habit has helped us immensely.
Finally, I make it a practice not to hold back if the expense is justified. In fact, I don't mind overspending if it helps us to innovate, to acquire a new customer, or to retain an existing client or critical resource.
I mastered these three skills a long time ago. Sure, I learn new things with experience and from other people, but they are foundational skills you need to master quickly to stay in business.
The one remaining skill that I have not mastered and probably never will relates more to people.
I spend several hours every week learning new skills that could help me run my business in a better manner. I like to read up on talent management, especially in hyper-competitive technologies that I work in, like artificial intelligence. What motivates people and how can I get them to give their best?
I have implemented programs like strategic job families and nine block assessments to get better at acquiring and managing talent. But people and situations are infinitely more complex and evolving than many other parts of the business.
I have managed thousands of employees over the years and I am still amazed at the frequency that new situations come up. With each generation, you see trends and shared values and experiences resetting your approaches to people. From boomers to Gen X to millennials and beyond, new people mean new opportunities and new challenges.
I will never master everything related to people. I am thankful that I can keep trying by calling on the three skills I have mastered.