In everyday life we need knowledge in order to do what we need to do. Many of the basics like how to cook, how to drive, DIY, cleaning, washing, organising the household bills – they all require us to put in some time and effort to gain the necessary knowledge. And if we don’t have the appropriate knowledge, or don’t want to do it, then we have to pay someone else. They gained the knowledge, so we pay them for the value that they can provide.
To succeed in business you also need to invest the time and effort to gain appropriate knowledge. Exactly what’s appropriate will depend upon your areas of need. Running a small business is more demanding than running a large one in many ways because you need to have a very wide range of skills; You need at least a basic knowledge of finance, marketing, sales, plus knowledge about the products or services you’re offering.
As a business grows and you employ staff you need to focus more on leadership, delegation, planning, communication skills, HR and people skills. Then as the company becomes even larger the Leadership and communication become even more important, while things like sales and marketing and finance are handed off to specialists in those areas.
The speed at which a business can grow is very often limited by the speed at which the business owner learns and gains skills in the various areas and changing the focus over time. In this situation it’s easy to get busy, buried in the day to day work and neglecting the learning and skills required to move the business to the next level.
So what should you do?
“You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills.” – Jim Rohn
Identify your knowledge and skills gaps. Avoid focusing on the areas you’re already comfortable in, select the areas you really are NOT comfortable in because they’re likely to be the ones where you’ll benefit from learning! If you’ve never written a marketing plan you probably need to learn some marketing. If you’ve never created or studied your management accounts (or know what they are), you need to improve your financial knowledge.
Create a Personal Learning Log
A learning log is just a simple list. Keep it in a spreadsheet or written in the back page of your diary – whatever works for you. Make a list of topics you and your business would benefit from you learning about. Ask for recommendations of specific books and of training courses that would help you progress in each area. Then get specific about which books you’ll read and courses you’ll attend, and attach some dates.
Each time you complete a learning task – finish a book, attend a course, watch a training video… write the date, title, and key thing you gained into your learning log. You might want to add an estimate of the time you invested. Each year it’s good to invest 10-20% of your working hours in learning, so about 10-25 days per year. Some professional associations require their members to undertake a specific number of days of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) every year.
Think about it: if you were about to go for major surgery, would you rather be operated on by the surgeon who learnt enough back in medical school ten years ago, or the one who spends twenty days every year attending courses and reading journals to learn the latest theories and techniques? Would your clients prefer to have your business as their provider, or one that invests in continuing professional development? If you’re not gaining new knowledge, your existing knowledge is getting stale and dated. And if your suppliers aren’t investing this way, you might want to consider changing supplier! Ask them the question.
When you have employees, ensure that they maintain and show you a learning log. Set them goals for the areas they could improve to benefit themselves and your business. It’s not all about going on courses, employees can learn a lot from reading books, from each other and from you. The key is to identify those areas of need – the knowledge and skills gaps – and work on them.
“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” – Jim Rohn