Five Skills Every Communications Entrepreneur Should HaveBy Gini Dietrich

Last Friday, I was skimming through a couple weeks’ worth of SmartBrief on leadership emails when an article caught my attention.

Written by Jeff Kerr, the founder of CaseFleet, “Lessons from a Lawyer Who Started a Tech Company,” highlighted three things:

  1. Do customer discovery;
  2. Learn to code; and
  3. Learn to sell.

You can read his reasons for each and I say…yes, and…

Company Grower vs. Communications Expert

We have an internal joke that I keep getting promoted through the ranks of software development and programming because I have taken his number two lesson to heart.

Just like I wrote about yesterday, I grab something by the horns and I become obsessed until I have mastered it and then I move on to the next thing.

Because of it, my internal title has gone from junior programmer to vice president of technology (I’m gunning for that chief technology officer title next!).

So I totally, completely, and wholeheartedly agree with the learning to code lesson.

I also agree with the learning to sell lesson because, as it turns out, you can hire the very best sales people in the world to work with you, but no one—and I mean no one—will sell your business as well as you do.

Though sales is seen as a dirty word in communications, it’s the only way we can pay our bills, grow, and scale. So think about it as business development, if you prefer, but it’s one of the most important—if not the most important—skill of an entrepreneur.

When I was early on in the growth of Arment Dietrich, a business advisor and friend said to me:

Do you want to be a company grower or a communications expert? While the expertise helps grow a company, you can’t focus on both. If you want to be a company grower, you have to get good at sales.

And he was right.

Five Skills For the Communications Entrepreneur

But there are some additional skills every entrepreneur needs. They include:

  • Networking. This goes to sales, for sure. You can’t create word-of-mouth and referrals unless you network. And 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.
  • 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 balance 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. And understanding what your net margin is and what EBIDTA means to your organization.
  • Constant learner. This one goes to learning to code or, in my instance, becoming obsessed with learning something new until you master it. It might be learning the business side of things, learning how to develop new business, learning to code, or just teaching yourself a new skill that you can eventually sell to clients.
  • Estimates. Nearly every communications entrepreneur overservices their clients. It’s easy to do. You want to do a good job. You want to show results. And what’s one more <insert tactic> to help get there? But my good friend Darryl Salerno always recommends you look to see how much you’re overservicing every client. If it’s 25 percent or more, you are working for free the entire last quarter of the year. That’s not good. Learn how to estimate your time appropriately and require a new scope of work if a client wants additional services. Which leads into…
  • Negotiations. Things cost what they cost and 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 only afford 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 (see “Estimates” above). This means you must learn how to negotiate so you can grow your business and make some money and your client sees real value from the work you do. You can always add C and D and E in later, after you make them some money from your efforts.

Those are just a few things off the top of my head.

What else would you add?

image credit: shutterstock

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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