4 Essential Soft Skills That Every Entrepreneur Should Develop

Patrick McCarthy

Turning ideas into action sounds easy enough, but as a self- started Shopify marketing agency, we know that’s one of life’s greatest challenges. Have you ever met one of those people who have veritable banks of fantastic ideas? They seem to spout magic as though fed by an unending think tank of inspiration. But what happens to those ideas? Do they sit forevermore on to-do lists, unmanifested and collecting dust? Are you one of those people? 

If so, don’t feel bad. But it’s important to recognise that self-criticism is neither an ascension to professional success or a comfortable way to spend your time. Most of us have, or have had at some time, major challenges in making our dreams come true. Part of that has to do with the gargantuan task that the “action” implies. It’s so much easier to imagine the end state of what you want while completely ignoring the means. Let’s be honest, there’s usually a lot standing in the way of bringing our dreams to life: money, time, annoying people, algorithm changes, not to mention a complete lack of know-how. While all those things sound like pretty big barriers––and they are––the things usually holding most of us back are much less obvious. And they come from a deep, hidden place of insecurity.

Most business skills can be divided into three categories: technical, management, and personal. We’re going to focus on the personal, or what’s commonly referred to as “soft skills.” They are the insights or emotions that support a person’s ability to feel out the subtle aspects of a given situation. Unlike technical skills, soft skills aren’t so easy to learn, in part because they’re a bit murky. They aren’t as easy to measure or evaluate. While we can take a course in coding or SEO and walk away with definitive, actionable skills, things like creative thinking, adaptability, or networking are more products of experience. They also arise as a combination of many different skills. 

An Entrepreneurial Mindset: Do You Have One?

Here’s a quick and easy way to find out. Were you born building a business or did you, somewhere along the way, feel driven to become an entrepreneur, for whatever reason?

Do you feel compelled to overcome challenges, act decisively, and accept responsibility for outcomes?

Are you constantly trying to upgrade your skills, learn through challenges, and act on your ideas?

Are you willing to do the work required to meet your aspirations?

Time Management: Underestimate Your Capabilities

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Read on...

The ability to manage your time wisely has far more to do with self-discipline than the clock or the latest and greatest productivity software. However, those productivity apps can be helpful in that they provide a motivating force to elicit action toward a goal. With an omnipresence similar to that of Bentham’s panopticon, or the more contemporary and tangible Fitbit, productivity apps are instrumental in fostering a certain degree of self-control and will power toward a goal. On the flip side, they also help produce some much-needed guilt at the right times, without which we’d never move our butts off the couch.

So, we fully encourage the use of time-management and productivity apps to help you out. However, there is a simpler and less-expensive way to accomplish a solid sense of time management: at the end of each day, make a plan for the next day. Write it down, old-school style, on a sheet of paper and leave it on your desk. This is your accountability measure. 

A healthy dose of realism is required here. It’s easy to write down all the things you want to accomplish in a given day, but that may require a degree of labour beyond your capability. Set yourself up for success, not failure. Underestimate your capabilities so there’s room in which to surpass your own benchmarks for productivity. Note what part of the day you have the most energy and tackle the big, laborious tasks then. 

Networking: Everyone Can Teach You Something

My great uncle used to say “life has a way of showing you all the people you could and shouldn’t become.” The people we aspire to be like are great teachers, but we can also learn a lot from the people to whom we are adverse. In a professional context, this is usually related to reasons more to do with character than actual business operations. Greasy marketers can rake in a lot of cash, but do you really want to leave ethics at the doorstep?

Why is networking such a big one? And is it only for extroverts? Networking is a powerful way to make connections with other people in your industry. But you can use it to your advantage in other ways too, particularly if you’re more of an introvert that prefers to be the fly on the wall during social/professional events. Networking events give us an excellent opportunity to observe other people. The beautiful thing about diverse groups of people in a professional setting is that you will always find people who love to talk about themselves, and they can be great people to learn from. Everyone enjoys being the object of someone’s interest, and such flattery cajoles them to pony up the goods on how to get ahead in business. 

Teamwork: The Upside of Conflict 

The ability to get along with other people is a massively overlooked skill (not everyone is as easy to work with as you, after all). When you bring a bunch of different people together, diversity is the ideal breeding ground for conflict. But here’s two truths about conflict: 

One: it’s unavoidable and resisting or attempting to avoid it does not make it go away. Instead, the proverbial pink elephant causes more and more strain on your relationships and the day to day operations of your business. 

Two, conflict can be useful and highly productive if managed well. First we have to see past ourselves and our own desires to be able to consider another person’s truth. That requires acceptance, perspective taking, the ability to hold conflicting ideas, and clear communication. 

Remember that nonverbal communication can be just as expressive as the words we speak, so awareness of your body language, tone of voice, and facial expression is critical. So too is the tone we adopt in our digital communications. A good way to become more aware of your nonverbal communication style is to invite someone you trust and are comfortable with into a practice feedback loop. Share a story and ask them to describe the nonverbal messages you conveyed and the different feelings it might have brought up for them. You’ll be surprised to discover that we often send unintended messages through our nonverbal communication.

Adaptability: To Be Or Not To Be

The term adaptability is a bit of a paradox because it implies that we can adapt or not adapt. The idea that adaptation is a choice is akin to turning off every biological mechanism that keeps us alive. Indeed adaptability is a skill, but it’s one that is very much inherent, right down to our cells. The more frequently we are exposed to situations that require us to adapt, the better we get at it. Particularly if we are consciously aware of how often this process occurs. 

Our bodies are constantly adapting, with or without our help or interference. So too are our minds in that they have to reconcile new information, circumstances, and changing states of energy all the time. But as processes become familiar and our brains learn how to handle change, we tune out the finer mechanisms to become more efficient at processing information so we can devote our attention to other, more pressing and unfamiliar stimuli. 

Rather than regarding adaptability as a choice, it makes more sense to view our mind’s response to constant change as the more useful choice because it is far more within our control. This comes down to mindfulness. While we can't escape change, we can notice our own response to change, and that awareness inspires a more conscious adaptation to events. 

For example, individual communication habits develop on auto-pilot. The way in which we respond to events and other people is under our radar most of the time. We’ve habituated over a lifetime to a particular set of behaviours and a communication style. Perhaps we constantly interrupt or “one-up” others without realising it. Or we take a more passive approach and allow others to dominate the conversation and miss out on a vital opportunity to express our ideas. Being mindful of such situations and states allows us to adapt ourselves to a constantly changing environment but also to affect changes that are more beneficial to our lives.

What Does This Have To Do With Your eCommerce Business?

Technical skills are essential, and if you’ve been in business for a while, chances are you’re fairly well versed in what you need to do and learn to stay competitive. But the subtle “self-work” is often considered far less critical to the success of a business. Technical skills uphold the business but the soft skills uphold the person running the business. Until we have AI Shopify experts and ecommerce website designers that will dramatically reduce individual human influence on business, we need to step up our soft skills to influence business as effectively as possible.  

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Patrick McCarthy

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