6 soft skills every entrepreneur should have and how to learn them for free

Jen Glantz

One of the biggest mistakes I made six years ago as a brand new entrepreneur was putting my love of learning on pause. Before starting my company, I’d take at least one new course every quarter to improve different skills. 

I took a 10-week fiction writing course, an 8-week stand-up comedy class (where we painfully had to perform at a real comedy club for our final exam), and an 8-week improv class. All of these classes didn’t apply directly to my job at the time (I was working for a tech startup) but they did teach me elements of communication and creativity that influenced what I brought to the table in the workplace.

When I became an entrepreneur, I stopped signing up for classes. I didn’t have as much free time to take these longer classes, so I just gave up on learning new skills. I soon noticed that stopping these courses negatively impacted how well I was running my business, interacting with clients, and even problem solving.

It made me realize that keeping up with improving and mastering certain soft skills is essential for every entrepreneur, and I started to make that a priority again. Here are the six types of skills that are important to master when you start a business and how you can learn them for free. 

1. Public speaking 

On the bottom of many people’s to-do lists, there is a note that says something along the lines of "work on that fear of public speaking." Over 77% of people have some level of anxiety toward public speaking, yet as an entrepreneur, it’s something you might find yourself doing quite often. 

When you’re the head of a company, you’re usually leading frequent presentations and meetings, pitching investors or selling to new clients, and appearing on video or audio content for your digital marketing.

Learning how to sound engaging, have professional body language, and manage your nerves is something that will help you stand out in these situations.

We mimic what we consume, so one easy and free way to pick up on powerful speaking skills is to watch good speakers. Spend 20 minutes a week watching a TED talk (they usually professionally train their speakers) and write down two to three things that the speaker did that made them engaging. Keeping a list like that will help you start to implement some of those techniques when you speak. 

You can also take free courses to brush up on your public speaking and walk away with a toolkit of skills to help you speak stronger in front of your next audience. 

2. Networking

When you’re running a business, you’ll often find yourself tapping into people in various industries for help, advice, or to use their services. Being a good networker helps you establish a database of people you can turn to when you need something and people you can refer to other entrepreneur friends.

Becoming a strong networker is truly a skill that one must learn and put into motion. To expand your network, learn how to craft an elevator pitch, lead a solid conversation, and follow-up quickly with new connections.

One free way to help you gain a new skill set is to listen to different podcast episodes on topics and leaders in your industry. You can also join social media groups for individuals in your industry to connect or (when it’s safe to do so) attend local networking events or conferences. Set a quota for how many new people you want to meet, and go out there and practice.

3. Negotiation

From contracts with vendors to salaries with future employees, the art of negotiation is a skill entrepreneurs should master. If you can negotiate, you can often make sure you’re protecting the boundaries, values, and overall bottom line of your business.

When you know how to position your message, respond to pushback, and come to an agreement with another person, you can often find yourself in a position for success. 

Consider taking a free course on negotiation taught by the University of California Irvine or reading a book like "Never Split the Difference," written by a former FBI hostage negotiator. 

4. Writing 

As an entrepreneur, writing skills come into play every single day. You’ll find yourself drafting important emails, writing presentations, and even copy for the website or digital marketing efforts. 

Knowing how to be engaging with your words and writing in a clear and concise way can really help you communicate confidently in the written form. 

To help make sure your grammar and spelling are spot on, I recommend installing a free plugin like Grammarly. You can also take a series of free classes on sites like Skillshare to help you learn a handful of more specific creative writing or social media writing skills.

5. Active listening 

The art of active listening is something that might not come naturally to an entrepreneur who is always creating, innovating, and talking through their ideas. When you’re a strong listener, you often pick up on feedback more quickly and can better understand the perspective of the person you’re communicating with, whether a client or an investor.

Learning how to pause your thoughts to be present in a conversation and ask important follow-up questions can help you switch up how you show up in pressing situations.

A fun and easy way to get better at listening is to take a free online improv class, where through a series of games and activities, you’ll get better at thinking on the spot and listening carefully to what other people in the class are saying to help you come up with a response. 

6. Time management 

One of the first and fastest things that happens to you as an entrepreneur is that your schedule gets very busy. Before you realize it, every waking hour is filled with a brainstorm session, a meeting, or just a long to-do list of work. Getting good at managing your time is a skill that will come in handy and allow you to be more productive.

Knowing how to divide up your day, prioritize your tasks, and handle intense moments of procrastination will help you be more effective and efficient with your work.

Using a time tracking tool can help you begin to visualize how you’re spending your time every day. If you’re looking to get better at handing your time, articles from blogs like Time Management Ninja share ways to stay productive throughout the workday. 

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Jen Glantz May 10, 2021 at 05:45PM

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