Being an Entrepreneur: Which skills have been essential for me?
In 2008 I finished secondary school (Gymnasium) in Germany. I was young (not like I wouldn’t consider myself young now), full of energy and the toxic combination of stupidity and arrogance only a late teen can have. I was thirsty for an adventure and I had everything prepared. A month after I had finally left school for the last time I packed my bags and moved to London. I’d never been here before and didn’t know anyone (here’s the stupidity bit) and I also believed I could make it anywhere and it would be so easy (a little bit of arrogance here for you). [I feel a whole blog post coming up on what skills I picked up by moving to another country].
Dealing with criticism
You’re the manager. Nobody likes you and your staff are not your friends (at least not for a very long time). This perk comes with the job. As soon as something goes wrong, it’s your fault. You get blamed whether you had anything to do with the situation or not. Initially I found this terribly irritating but then I realised something: It is my fault. I am the manager and when something isn’t done properly it’s my fault. Period. It’s the same in my business, if something hasn’t worked there is no one to blame apart from myself.
Differentiating between who you are and what you do
A lot of us have a habit of getting too close to identifying ourselves through what we do rather than who we are. If someone asks you to tell them more about yourself, how likely are you to identify yourself through your job? I guess very likely. Throughout my time in my job I learnt the hard way to not take things as personal as I used to. I get paid to do a job and sometimes I may need to make decisions that don’t make me the most popular individual around. However this doesn’t change who I am or what I stand for.
Not defining your success by how much other people like you (or even what they think of you)
This is closely linked to the previous point and I think I developed both skills simultaneously. Just because I have made an unpopular decision it doesn’t mean people don’t like me as a person. I have learnt to let go and move on and care a little bit less.
Delegating is essential
When you are in a role with a certain level of responsibility, there are only so many things you can do yourself. At some point you have to realise that you need to start sharing the workload before you burn out. After a tough year of long hours and endless challenges I realised that I am no longer willing to do everything myself. I started building a team that could support me and handed things down to other staff – it was a lifesaver (literally?).
Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses
I have always known quite intuitively what I’m good at and what I don’t like to/can’t do. However when I started building my team I needed to learn quickly how to recognize these things in others. I built a team by specifically looking at the weaknesses in the existing members of staff and filling additional roles with people who have their strengths where others’ weaknesses are. This has been the key to success.
Handling Challenges and Staying Calm
When you first take on responsibility it can be a little bit like the classic picture of a “deer in the headlights”. A huge challenge presents itself and you are considering a fight or flight response. Over time I learnt essential strategies to keep calm when the sh*t hits the fan so to say – and this has saved the day on many occasions.
Adversity and Positivity are closely linked
At least for me. I strongly believe that every cloud has a silver lining. Every error, that has caused some sort of challenge to rear its ugly head, has brought some kind of insight we didn’t have before. It means being able to improve our systems and ensure we are providing an even better service. Without the challenges we would never improve.
Communication is key
My career has entailed working mainly with women of all ages and in varying stages of their lives. Trust me 15 women in the same building is an extremely unbalanced situation and it’s not easy. I have learnt to communicate extremely clearly without hurting others’ feelings. This has been probably one of the biggest challenges. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Your body language can be the biggest key to how you feel. Now that I often communicate exclusively via phone and email I realised how easily communications can be misunderstood because we can’t “see” the other person.
Don’t assume anything
We can often be quick to jump to conclusions. My advice is simple. Don’t. Nothing will get you into tricky situations as quickly as assumptions. If you’re not sure a person has understood, simply rephrase it and clarify. If you’re not sure what caused a situation, find out. Ask. Don’t accuse.
Have a contract and follow through
Every entrepreneur will confirm that terms and conditions that are solid and well communicated and ingrained in what you provide are essential. This has saved my rear end on plenty of occasions. Make sure you put everything in writing, you never know when you might need it. It doesn’t matter how “nice” someone seems, it doesn’t mean they’re actually going to pay you or deliver your product. So protect yourself.
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