4 under-rated skills you should learn to enhance your small business

You should never reach a point at which you can assert that your education is complete. Your greatest defence against uncertainty is continuous learning. Education comes in two flavours, neither of which should be neglected – learning for intellectual edification, and learning to acquire practical competence in some new area. The former category is the most free as you will be following your attention wherever it lands. The latter category, skills development, may also be interest-focussed. But the prerogative in this case is to create a functional understanding of actions that may enhance your life in some regard.

As a small business owner, you will have already acquired a working competency in financial management, marketing and sales, customer service, project management, negotiation, delegation, networking and time management.

When you’re a small business owner, you want to invest your practical learning time in areas that will show a return. Here are a few ideas that can enhance your small business’s performance.

  1. Take control of your knowledge

Too few small business owners know how to capture, process, and analyse their company data. Taking control of your data means capturing the useful information that comes to your company. Beyond your financials, this means getting to grips with people that enter your sales funnel at any stage. Too many businesses make the mistake of letting potential customers get away by not keeping track of the contact that they have with your business.

  1. Master mailers and modern marketing

Modern marketing techniques revolve around a golden axis of email marketing, search engine optimisation, paid search advertising, social media presence, and display advertising. For small businesses, the most effective means of advertising online is to set up a mailing list. Have a simple contact form on your website, and send regular monthly emails to those who sign up.

  1. Get to grips with negotiation

While you will have a great deal of experience in negotiating both with suppliers and customers, you may be falling prey to poor negotiation techniques that get you into contracts that don’t work in your favour and cut into your bottom line. Great negotiation involves being totally aware of your own situation, having as good an idea of your opponent’s position, and knowing how to leverage a few behavioural tricks to get your best offer. For the first half, you may need to rely on your ability to analyse your business position from a financial perspective.

  1. Organise your business better

There are default positions that people tend to use as a matter of course when it comes to creating a business structure – the top-down hierarchy predominates. But hierarchies can be unnecessarily rigid, and can restrain a business’s growth. Mastering structuring your business means learning about the various ways that you can move information across your business. If you’re looking to keep high-value employees, for instance, you might consider employee share schemes that incentivise your workers to give their best, and to keep going at the company.

Great techniques for bringing out the best in your employees

When you’re an employer, you want to get the most out of the people who work for you. If you only want to get your employees to complete the requisite amount of work that constitutes their job description, then management is a simple task – lay down clear goals, make sure that your employees have schedules for that task and that they have enough information and skills available to them to complete their tasks, and then set them to work.

But putting a basic limit on a person’s creative capacity is a waste of their energies. Nothing fosters discontent and resentment more than being trapped in menial, seemingly meaningless productive activity. Insisting on a restrictive, uncreative environment can cause your employees to shirk from sharing their insights. A company that cannot listen to those closest to it will be condemned to failure.

Bringing out the best in your employees means encouraging them to make your company a better entity. A better entity is one that is more stable, a nicer environment in which to spend time, more efficient at producing its goods or services, a positive contributor to society-at-large.

Thankfully, there are a few things that you can do that help to bring out the best in people:

  1. Pay your employees better

Salaried South Africans have had to suffer the real value of their wages falling, as inflation has increased more than their salaries. In December 2016, South Africans earned 1.5% less than the year before, on average after adjustments for inflation. Less real income means that life is made more difficult – a month feels like an eternity when your funds run out halfway through.

A huge amount of academic literature has developed suggesting that increased wages are better for a company. Health is improved in a workforce that feels valued. Productivity and innovation gains are more significant when workers don’t have the pressures of monetary shortfalls to deal with. Staff turnover, one of the greatest impediments to a business’s continued growth and good functioning, is sharply reduced when employees are paid what they feel is a fair wage.

There is more than one dimension to this technique. Increasing the base rate of pay across the board can work to the ideal of company solidarity.

You can also consider using open wage structures. This means that wages are knowable by anyone in the company. The principle of equal pay for equal work is guiding here. You can incentivise workers to hit performance targets better when the reward structure is open to interrogation from any within the company. This transparency encourages lower paid workers by providing them with a clear understanding of what they have to achieve and work towards in order to become a higher paid member of staff.

Another way to bring out the best in your employees and keeping your best workers on board is to create an employee share scheme. This has the benefit of discouraging workers from slacking, as there is a direct link between their performance and the company’s success, and allows your company to retain its best talent for a number of years.