business skillsWhat does it take to be successful in business in the 21st century? Being born with an Einstein-sized brain and pockets as deep as a Rockefeller will certainly help, but so will a robust set of business skills. Below, we’ll take a look at the four most important business skills and how you can learn them:

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1. Leadership

You don’t need to be told the importance of leadership for business success. Leadership tends to occupy a particularly haloed space within business studies. We tend to valorize naturally charismatic leaders and develop cults of personality around them. The truth gets exaggerated, skewed, and the station of the leader-hero figure becomes ultimately unattainable. Some people are just born leaders, we say, and continue to be followers.

The truth is that leadership is more a matter of habit and training than lucky genetics. Some of the greatest leaders in the world – Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington – maintained a lifelong devotion to self-improvement. That human beings can be changed, that natural deficiencies altered – this is the basic crux of the modern field of leadership development.

Leadership development focuses on learning the concepts and qualities that make great leaders. It requires unlearning old habits and picking up new ones. The process is long and difficult, and you will require oodles of patience, determination and strength of will to go through it to emerge a leader.

Learn how to be a leader, the Jack Welch way!

2. Sales

“Always be closing”: it’s a maxim to lead a business by, and it can often mean the difference between billions or bust.

Sales is a thankless job. The product guys get all the credit, the finance guys get mentions in WSJ, and the marketing people win AdAge awards. Sales guys get saddled with unglamorous job descriptions and unsavoury stereotypes. No wonder few young entrepreneurs want to do sales.

Yet, sales is absolutely crucial to business success. You could have the most innovative product and a social media strategy perfected to a T, but unless you are willing to pick up the phone and make that call, you will never grow from David to Goliath.

Sales skills, fortunately, can be developed. True, extroverts and ‘natural’ sellers tend to succeed more at selling than others, but that doesn’t mean introverts and ambiverts need not try (in fact, one study considers the opposite to be true). The three key ingredients of selling: pitch, product, and persistence can be learned over time.

Of course, a complete mastery of sales requires much more than the above (as this course on sales and persuasion skills will teach you). But if you get the pitch, product and persistence right, you won’t be too far from business success.

3. Networking

It’s not what you know, but who you know, the old adage goes.

Business success if often built on contacts, not merit. The best leads are always the ones you get through personal references, just as the best way to raise money is to get a personal introduction to an investor.

Networking requires you to get out of your comfort zone, particularly if you aren’t a naturally social person. It also requires that you be genuine and offer something more than a pitch to a contact. Social networking platforms, especially professional networks like LinkedIn, provide a great way to stay in touch with old friends and make new acquaintances. The best way to influence this network is to be generous in sharing expertise and helping out others. Reputation spreads easily online; when people identify you for your work, the network effect kicks in and your sphere of influence grows automatically.

This doesn’t mean you should eschew traditional networking strategies such as seminars and conferences either. But instead of being a mere spectator, try being an active participant. The best way to get noticed by a crowd is to be the guy up on the stage. Plenty of events around you could use your knowledge – how about becoming a speaker, even if it is for free? You will increase your visibility and grow your network.

4. Marketing

Marketing, it goes without saying, is a crucial component of business success. Your customers can’t pay for products they don’t even know about. Throw in aggressive competition and you can understand why the global ad spend in 2012 was $489 billion.

Marketing is a vast field that covers everything from blogging online to running a TV ad campaign. Depending on your industry, you would want to focus on a particular marketing medium. If you run a service for technology startups, for instance, you will get better results marketing on the internet and social media than through a TV spot. On the other hand, an energy drinks company might perform better with a TV ad and event sponsorship.

An increasingly larger chunk of marketing dollars is being spent online. Regardless of your industry, the internet is not something you can choose to ignore. Internet marketing consists of a wide range of activities – running blogs, engaging customers on Twitter, buying ads on Google, marketing via banner ads, etc. You can learn more about marketing through these two courses:

As a business owner, you have to don many hats at the same time. You have to be the leader, the marketer, the sales guy, the negotiator and the networker. You will often be called upon to solve a crisis, help launch a product, and lead a team. The experience can be overwhelming, but fortunately, all these business skills can be learned with a little effort and determination.

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