Running a small business or start-up is a constant game of prioritisation. What should you do first, what’s most important, what will you ask others to do, and which activities will drive the most profit? All of this while keeping a close eye on your cash flow.
To grow your business, you’ve got to be able to look at the big picture and think about what’s most important for its longer-term success. There’s no way that you can, or should, try to do everything, so this article won’t tell you that you need to be an expert in AI, UX, blockchain development, and coding because unless that’s where your skills already lie or it’s the industry that you’re in, this doesn’t make good business sense.
That said, it is so easy to teach yourself anything these days – to upgrade your hard and soft skills with self-taught, self-paced online courses from expert teachers that you can do on your phone while on the train. This, mixed with learning by doing and then sharing your knowledge with others, is the quickest way to master anything.
So, what profitable skills could change the game for you? Here are five essential skills that all business owners should learn to maximise profitability and the experts you can learn from in 2023.
1. Social and conversational sales
With so much going on when you’re running a business, you can too often overlook the fundamentals on a daily basis. Don’t let yourself be distracted from the most crucial aspect of running a sustainable organisation – sales. Some people are amazing at it, and it scares others silly, but whether it’s selling products to customers or ideas to your team members, having the confidence to be able to sell is crucial – if you don’t look like you believe in it – no one else will.
If selling doesn’t come naturally to you, remember, you’re not trying to trick people into doing something they don’t want to; if you genuinely think you have an excellent product or service, then you need to tell people about it, and you are helping them by letting them find out about it. Selling in 2023 is about being social and conversational. Being great at sales largely comes down to being positive, assured and good relationship-building. When you look at it like that, there’s nothing to fear. If you feel very personally attached to your business and hear yourself saying, ‘I don’t like selling myself,’ it’s time to create some separation in your mind between yourself and the business for your own well-being. Create goals for the business that are separate from your personal goals. If the business is named after you, maybe you want to consider creating another brand for it.
In 2023, it’s not about growing a customer base or an audience but about building a community or real fans that will rave about you. The more niche your community is the better and the more likely it is to work. Community-building shouldn’t be taken lightly and you shouldn’t simply start calling your customers or followers ‘your community’. Put thought into what people absolutely love about your brand and how you can help them – build the community values around this. You also need ways to connect the members within the community to each other with communication channels and events (or it’s not a community).
Being a great storyteller takes a lot of practice, but if you understand the significance of it and can master it then it can help your business no end. Great storytelling will stop you from being bland and boring, it will help all your messaging cut through and resonate in a world full of distraction. It will improve your marketing, PR, social posts, presentation skills, sales and all communication.
Consider the seven elements of a great story:
- A theme
- A setting
- A point of view
- A plot
In life and in business, we generally try to avoid conflict and tension, but this is where stand out stories are found. We need to create suspense and interest with intrigue, questions and uncertainty. We need to be brave, honest and raw and take people on the ride with us. We need to learn to be brilliant storytellers.
4. Content marketing
Back in the day, you could create a decent advert, pay to put it on a channel (TV, radio, print, social media), and probably make a return on your investment from people buying your product. This is not how marketing works anymore. Attention spans for ads have waned and brands need to do much more to convert prospects to buyers – this is where content marketing comes in. This type of marketing involves making and sharing content (in the form of resources, social media posts, videos, blogs, graphics) that doesn’t directly promote your brand or product but entertains or helps people to spark their interest.
People are very unlikely to buy from you after hearing about you once, so it’s about taking them on a journey with you. Don’t ask them to buy in the first instance; ask them to make a smaller commitment like following your social media profile. You are renting space on social media, so from there you should look to incentivise people to sign up for your email list, and then you can send them a series of emails. Think about what content will work best at each stage to continue growing your relationship with prospects so that one day they might become customers.
The success and growth of your business doesn’t depend on you taking on more and more tasks; the success of your business will more likely come from you sticking to doing the things you’re best at. Always look to keep why you started the business at the heart of it – your values, creativity and passion. This won’t be possible if you take on every operational task. If you can’t automate it, outsource it, or outsource it to somebody to automate it for you.
The gig economy is here, and the future is freelance, so there’s an absolute tonne of talent available. Therefore you don’t have to commit to employing people or the risk of building an in-house team until you are absolutely ready. But this doesn’t mean you don’t have to be a good manager of people – you do. In order to drive profitability through outsourcing you need to make sure you think carefully about outsourcing the right things to the right people.
- Have a clear understanding of what needs outsourcing and why
- Create a clear brief setting out specifications and expectations
- Compare a few people/suppliers
- Have a contract in place
- Regularly communicate
- Review what’s working
Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.