My business background: I first understood that I had a natural talent for working with people when I was in the sixth grade. The second semester of that year, I was the school body president and enjoyed managing my student council team (under the leadership of our adviser) and coming up with ways to bring more “spirit” to the student body. We had a great semester with spirit days and games and I loved having people look to me for decisions and such. I had always been a very organized young person and this was my chance to help organize things on a larger scale. I relished every minute of the job.
I started working with kids when I was fourteen years old and rediscovered my passion for working with people and helping them. I wasn’t sure what this all entailed for my future, but even though I am still not one who has a natural inclination for children, I knew that I could handle almost any challenge they presented and I enjoyed working with their parents too. I began to build a reputation as someone who was highly trustworthy, responsible, and capable of working with challenges that arose. Little did I know that I’d grow up to become a preschool teacher and then eventually, a junior high teacher.
When I was sixteen, I interviewed for my first “real” job at Macy’s. The only way I got the interview ahead of other girls applying to the junior department at that time was because I had an “in”. My mom and I were shopping there one day and she mentioned to the young lady working the register that I was looking for a job. Turns out, that young woman was impressed by me and told her boss to give me an interview. See—it IS about whom you know! A week later, I found myself sitting in my first, legitimate interview. I was so nervous, but had my wits about me. I will never forget the opening scenario and question: “You are putting clothing back on the rack, a customer gets in line at an empty register, and the phone starts to ring. What do you take care of first?” My answer: “The customer, because the customer always comes first and the rest is secondary.” I wasn’t sure if I was correct, but turns out I was. What a relief! (And I got the job too.)
Flash forward from that point in my life to the present. I have over ten years of experience in various industries, have owned two small businesses, and have an even sharper mind for business. I honestly have no idea why I have been so blessed to have such an expanse of experiences, but those experiences have all added to my “business knowledge bank” and I think it’s important to share with others. Here is a basic breakdown of five important business skills I have learned:
1. Almost twelve years later, I am constantly reminded that my sixteen-year-old brain was right: the customers are the most important part of any business. I don’t care what you’re selling or what services you provide: the customer is king if you want to make money. Of course there are ALWAYS exceptions, but if no one wants to buy your product or service, you will find yourself going out of business very quickly.
2. Communication is KEY. I have built a good reputation with many business leaders because of my consistent and sharpened communication skills. If you cannot properly communicate, either take some communication classes or surround yourself with people who are strong in this area. It is nigh impossible to over communicate. In my experience, someone will still miss the five e-mails you’ve been sending over the past two weeks.
3. Consistency is also KEY. Be a person who does what you say you’re going to do. Be integral; be dependable. This is another great way to build your reputation in your industry.
4. Be an innovator. What sets you apart from others—especially your colleagues? What do you have to offer to the world? Thinking outside the box is an important skill to have, especially in today’s market. The business world is fast-paced, demanding, and often unforgiving. If you know how to solve problems or present ideas in a unique way, you will gain the advantage over others in your business.
5. Finally, know your strengths. I can’t stress this enough. The more you know yourself, especially your strengths, the better you can be—in your work and in life in general. If a task doesn’t match your strengths, why would you waste time doing it? Know what your natural strengths are and spend time investing in them to become an expert. As a self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades”, I’ve had to learn the hard way that being an expert in at least one thing is better than being mediocre at many things. It also creates the opportunity to be more efficient, and guess what—an employer really likes efficient employees. Go figure.
As always, I have a ton more to say on the subject of business, but I’ll save it all for later. If you are still figuring out your strengths and what you have to offer an employer, I highly recommend StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. I have bought the book for some friends and clients of my own and they all love it. My organization did the StrengthsFinder assessment this year as well and it definitely helped all of us to know ourselves better. If you ever have questions or need some basic business advice, feel free to shoot me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, for those who are curious, my top five strengths are: Strategic, Input, Achiever, Intellection, and Connectedness. And remember, “Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” –George-Louis de Buffon