For many, entrepreneurship is a dream: being your own boss, having more flexibility, developing your own idea, living your passion, working with a team you have chosen, or believing that you have created the next unicorn.
As an incubator, we meet, discuss and advise entrepreneurs or young individuals aspiring to this path. We see projects that succeed, and yes, also projects that fail. We have noticed that some skills are particularly critical to team and project success and have decided to highlight in this article 5 soft skills – also known as ‘people skills’ – that every aspiring entrepreneur should nurture.
We had to start by communication. Entrepreneur or not, basic communication skills are a must. Entrepreneurs constantly communicate, whether it is with team members, mentors, investors, partners or sponsors. Communication is their first ally – but may also be their first enemy – as they work to expand their network, and to convince, motivate and engage with different stakeholders. It is well known that effective communication yields multiple benefits including better relationships, teamwork, engagement and provides vision and clarity to your audience. Without clear communication, team members do not receive comprehensive instructions and the project will seem confused lack consistency for potential investors.
Active Listening Skills
Communication skills are very broad and active listening is one component. Nevertheless, we wanted to separately highlight it. In their development, particularly within an incubator, startups have opportunities to be in contact with investors, mentors, coaches, experts but also potential clients. Clients provide an incredible source of information with valuable feedback and constructive criticism. Be open to criticism – yes, even ego-damaging ones – and take them into account. You can start to improve your active listening skills by asking for clarifications, asking open-ended questions to understand and encourage critics to go into details, suspending your judgement and by avoiding being argumentative, even in your head! Active listening is not only about paying close attention to what is said, it is learning to read between the lines and being mindful of non-verbal cues – it tells you a lot about what the person thinks. Several organizations, such as the CLIP, provide mentoring and counseling services with experts or representatives of the targeted audience. Look at these given opportunities and take the time to practice active listening.
A poorly organized project, where the key stages are not defined with precise, measurable, timed and achievable objectives will easily discourage any investor. What are your long-term, medium-term and short-term objectives? Are your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound)? Are you clear every morning on which actions you need to take during the day? Are all the team members clear on who does what and when? There are a multitude of paid or free organizational tools that are available to help you for this task.
Time Management Skills
Entrepreneurs have to meet important deadlines for grant submissions, repayment terms, but also the deadlines they set for their project milestones. Time management takes into account the ability to set priorities, be efficient, delegate when appropriate, and stay focused. Try to avoid multitasking and do not forget to take breaks. Being organized is for sure very helpful to master time management. Developing these skills is beneficial to help reduce anxiety and improve work-life balance – something that may be difficult to achieve when launching a business.
Entrepreneurs are likely to encounter slow progress, rejections and stress issues. You can be sure that it is never always easy and setbacks can affect someone’s morale, lead to discouragement, make you lose focus and create tensions within the team. Staying motivated and determined can be learned – for instance by working on self-confidence, expertise, taking time to understand the setbacks, their origins and the lessons learned. Choose to be optimistic, hopeful and positive!
Many articles and training programs are available online to help anyone develop or acquire these different skills. Within the CLIP, we set up mentoring and various courses which aim to help our companies and team members to grow within the best conditions.
There are still many other skills that an entrepreneur should work on to succeed – leadership and networking skills are the first two that come to my mind. We have talked about soft skills but the success of a project equally depends on the hard skills.
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