5 essential skills for communications entrepreneurs

Liberal arts graduates have a marvelous understanding of how to persuade someone or tell a story, but a spreadsheet will send them screaming into the night. Here’s what you must know.

Starting any business entails a few key challenges.

In turn, those challenges require essential abilities—sales and coding among them, as Jeff Kerr outlined in “Lessons from a Lawyer Who Started a Tech Company.”

Beyond those, there are basic skills every communications entrepreneur needs. Here are five:

1. Networking. This goes to sales, for sure. You can’t create word-of-mouth and referrals unless you network. That means going to industry events, having coffee dates with people who want to pick your brain, speaking at conferences, joining groups and associations and attending city events. You never know where business is going to come from—especially early on—so do as much as you can.

2. Financials. Every communications entrepreneur I know will give you the same advice about starting a services firm: Learn as much as you can about the financial side of the business. Because most of us are liberal arts majors, we didn’t take business classes. Knowing how, exactly, to set up and manage a balance sheet—and what a potential lender or investor will look at there—is extremely important. So is knowing the difference between cost of goods sold and expenses, as well as understanding what your net margin is and what EBIDTA means to your organization.

3. Constant learning. It might be learning basic accounting, how to develop new business, computer coding, or perhaps a new skill that you can eventually sell to clients.

4. Estimates. Nearly every communications entrepreneur over-services clients. It’s easy to do. You want to do a good job. You want to show results, so what’s one more tactic to help get there? My good friend Darryl Salerno recommends that you look to see how much you’re over-servicing each client. If it’s 25 percent or more, you are working for free the entire last quarter of the year. Learn how to estimate your time appropriately, and require a new scope of work if a client wants additional services.

5. Negotiations. Things cost what they cost; there is no getting around it. Just like a widget or a meal or a cab ride, there is a baseline of costs. If a client wants A, B and C and they can afford only A and B, you can work with the smaller budget, but they cannot have C. If you give them C, you’ll never make up the work, and you’ll always be behind. This means you must learn how to negotiate so you can expand your business and make money, and so your client sees real value from the work you do. You can always add C and D and E in later, after your efforts do make them money.

What would you add?

A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.

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