A friend of mine once worked in one of the nations most well-known clothing manufacturers. Inspired by the success of his own boss from the ground up he wanted to build his own fashion label. He decided to quit his job and start working on his own thing. After tendering his resignation he went to another independent player in the nation’s clothing industry. She had served as his mentor from the days of studying fashion design. Her advice to him was not what he expected.
She advised to immediately go back and beg for his job. Upon getting his job back she advised him to learn everything there is to learn about the business, To go beyond the design and creation but to understand the inner workings of the entire business. From end to end including the sourcing of materials, payment terms, waste management policies, process design and human resources aspects. Only when he understood those things thoroughly would he then be ready to go into business.
I tell this story to impress on people that entrepreneurship is often presented as an alternative to employment when it really is a natural extension to employment. While it is not for everyone it is in a symbiotic relationship with employment. As such there are skills that are transferable from employment to entrepreneurship and if you are currently an employee yearning to be an entrepreneur here are 10 skills that are transferrable from your current job to entrepreneurship.
Whether interpersonal, business or in general communication is a key skill. Whether you are a receptionist dealing with clients and guests or after sales support dealing with difficult client queries your ability to communicate is important. Communication is a two-way street so it’s not just how well you express (or articulate) yourself but it’s also how well you understand others. If you want to be an entrepreneur at some point hone your skills in this area in your present environment. I always say consider it the best opportunity to learn and getting paid to do so.
Perhaps not a feature of all jobs. In fact, if the Zimbabwean had a second complaint about their job after the money, of course, it has to be the lack of creativity or innovation in their present organization. For those who are in organizations that espouse creativity and innovation, these are wonderful learning grounds. For those who are not so fortunate, you may have to hone these skills privately and apply them in your own environment. This may seem like a blockage to your entrepreneurship path but it may ultimately be the key to your success. Many entrepreneurs have created their success story by adding innovative iterations to their previous employers business models.
Critical is perhaps the backbone of true entrepreneurship. many startups are based on a process redesign of existing business practices rather than a completely new business practice altogether. This is achieved by being able to look at the processes, a business being a system of processes, and assembling the system in a different configuration. The ability to understand the business and look at it critically is essential to this. This doesn’t only apply to complete business processes but the individual processes can be critically analysed as well. PayPal and M-Pesa both looked at the payments processes in their respective environments.
Great business teams make great businesses and teamwork is evidently essential. Many small businesses and start-ups are created with very small teams or by individuals. These are usually teams who know each other well and have already determined they can work well together. However when growing or scaling your business you’re likely to deal with more and more people and the potential for conflict increases. This is when teamwork comes in. Teamwork can be learned in the working environment if you are able to get over your dislike for the guy in Finance that is. Understand that teamwork is more than a function of liking someone but rather being able to work well together in spite of not liking each other if that is the case. There’s no better place to learn this than in an organization where you don’t choose who comes or goes, self-included.
Another essential lesson for entrepreneurship that you can learn on someone else’s dollar is leadership. Before you call me crazy for thinking you can learn leadership as an entry-level employee consider Stephen Coveys 7 habits of highly effective people. His approach to split leadership into private leadership and public leadership is one of the best lessons you can learn. Private leadership involves motivating, energizing and coordinating yourself to produce your best in the short and long term.
The distinction between management and leadership still confuses many but there is one. Leadership is a matter of direction while management is a matter of performance. As an entrepreneur performance management and maintenance are going to be critical to you, this may not seem the case right now. It’s just business, right? You make the widgets, you sell the widgets, you make money, right? Wrong! And my friend’s story is the perfect example of that. Organizing the widget raw materials, supply chain, manufacturing, Human Resources, marketing, advertising sales, payment agreements, after sales service, customer complaints and many other things all fall into management.
Computer and technical skills
There’s no guarantee that these are always transferable but these are skills you’d rather have than not. These can be simple skills such as word processing all the way up to desktop publishing and advanced data analysis using spreadsheets. Again it’s the idea of getting paid while cutting your teeth. So next time you want to complain about your bosses new desire to have all reports presented via dashboards (when you don’t even know what a dashboard is) take it as an opportunity to learn a technical skill you can use in entrepreneurship.
People skills are not to be confused with communication or teamwork. They certainly intersect but are definitely not the same thing. People skills are about understanding how much people differ, how each person responds differently to varying stimuli and how to get working relationships with people. It is essential that as much Linda is a salesperson she has a personality beyond that. So while she may tick certain salesperson characteristics she still has a fully fledged personality outside of those characteristics. What is the entrepreneur if not a servant of people? People who need to be understood from a bird’s eye view and from close up.
It’s hard to say which is the most important transferable skill but if there is one this likely it. Selling is, of course, essential to your startup’s survival and viability. Selling is a science and an art of its own with a combination of technical skills and nuance to rival the most established professions. Selling your bosses’ lawnmower spare parts may not seem intriguing when compared to your innovative mobile phone case design but the principles are the same. From tobacco dust to diamond the sales principles are the same. You may not be in an entirely sales-related role in your organization but that doesn’t stop you from tapping into the knowledge and experience of those who are.
If sales is getting them in bed with you relationship management can best be defined as keeping them there. To varying degrees, we are tasked with keeping the relationship smooth between the organisations we work for and the various organisations they deal with. The same will be required of you in entrepreneurship but it will be much more important because it may largely depend on you. Again it’s something you learn and may be a combination of many of the above skills combined.
As for my aforementioned friend, he now travels the world telling his entrepreneur story and features at prestigious fashion shows on the continent and abroad. Clearly his mentor’s advice paid dividends for him and hopefully, it will do the same for you.