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Starting a Business? Take Inventory of What's in Your Skills Portfolio

Aug 17, 2007
Almost every start-up checklist that aspiring entrepreneurs will read, refers to the must know information about legal issues, money management, sales, marketing and operations. In fact, success as an entrepreneur not only relies on your knowledge and effective execution of these fundamentals, but also requires a constant commitment to keep growing and gaining knowledge in these areas. Fortunately, there are many resources available in the form of professional services or public agencies available to help us augment our own skills in these areas at affordable rates. As we busy ourselves getting on top of these business-technical skills to manage day-to-day operations, it doesn't take long for us to realize that these skills, although essential, might not be enough.

What could be missing? Maybe it is that other, less talked about, start-up check list - the one that speaks to the actual success behaviors necessary to successfully run and grow the business. Skills or traits such as judgment, confidence, agility, and creativity are some of the critical intangibles that are hard to measure and next to impossible to farm out. For most of us it's relatively easy to look at the numbers and know if cash flow is good or bad or to look at a marketing plan and say if it worked or not.

On the other hand, however, it might be hard for many of us to own up to having limited knowledge or weakness especially if we are fearful that admission might force us to shelve our dreams for business ownership. The fact is, we can significantly enhance our chances of success if we take the time to inventory our skill set and put strategies in place to enhance the ones we can and seek help and support where we struggle.

For most of us, much of this self discovery will take place on the job and our hope is that it will happen early enough to avoid serious consequences. However, with a little bit of introspection and honest evaluation of our preferences or behaviors, we can actually examine our own tendencies and put corrective action in place early.

The following simple assessment, albeit non-scientific, is one way to take inventory of our abilities in some of these non business-technical areas. It is based on the well accepted principle which has been used successfully in the job interview for years - that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.

Create a spreadsheet with five columns and label the columns as follows:
1. Skill or Trait - List the following 20 traits. Feel free to add others you know to be important.
Self discipline
Good judgment
Hard Worker
Multitask effectively
Networking ability
Openness to new ideas
Political Savvy
Interpersonal skills
Risk tolerance

2. Rating - On a scale of 1-10, rate yourself on each of these traits with a "1" meaning you have concerns about your strengths and a "10" meaning you have confidence your skills are strong in this area.
3. Example - Identify the best example in your past that demonstrates your strength with regard to the trait or skill in question.
4. Strategy - Define a plan of action to address your shortcomings in any trait where your self score is less than a 6, especially if you consider it important to your business.
5. Sensitivity - To help focus and prioritize your efforts, rank the skills and traits based on their relative significance to your business. For example if you sell widgets via the internet, interpersonal skills, which are always important, might be less significant than agility to keep up with internet marketing trends. On the other hand if you run an in home day care, agility within very stringent government regulations might be a little harder and so you might choose to focus on your networking abilities to keep and gain new customers.

Column 3 is quite possibly the most important. It forces us as entrepreneurs to not just say how good we are, but to actually identify specific examples to demonstrate how we have acted in the past. If you have scored yourself with a high rating (6 or higher) and cannot identify great examples in your past to support that ranking - you might need to rethink your self rated scores.

Once you have completed the exercise yourself, ask someone whose opinion you value or potential business partners to complete a similar chart with their observations about you and each other. Comparing the results should give you a good idea of skills you have mastered and those which are potential weak areas you might need to address to improve you or your team's chance of success. Brainstorm potential solutions and be open to the fact that it might come in many forms. One entrepreneur might choose to join business clusters to share ideas another could decide to create a board of advisors. No one path will fit everyone or every business model.

Facing our fears head on will significantly improve our chances of success. The last thing we want as our businesses begin to grow is to find out that doing this personal inventory is long overdue and our skills bank is close to running on empty. Begin taking stock today!
About the Author
Marcia Robinson is COO for Reel Logix Inc., a California company that makes easy-to-use, affordable scheduling calendar software. The company's two flagship products are The Reel Production Calendar, a production calendar used in Film & TV production, and The Calendar Planner, used for scheduling, event planning and project management in multiple industries.
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