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6 Tips For Navigating Your Role As An Entrepreneur

6 Tips For Navigating Your Role As An Entrepreneur

On August 17 I went to the YC Alumni demo day in Mountain View. As the class of Summer 2015 proudly pitched their ideas in perfectly rehearsed two and half minute pitches, my multitasking mind thought about how much time has passed since Vasco Pedro, my fellow co-founder and CEO, presented Unbabel on that same stage in March 2014. It felt like eternity. I began to think further back to my first startup, a total disaster that left me penniless in 2012, then to when I quit my job to start a female beauty company that never made off the paper, and to my first job in tech in 2005. It’s been 10 years since I embarked on my journey in this crazy world of startups, technology, subscriptions, and hyper growth, and became an entrepreneur.

Being an entrepreneur is a difficult job that we’ve all chosen for different reasons, but the underlying motivation is our passion for ideas that we believe in so much that we’re willing to do what it takes to make them come to life. After having worked with startups around the world, I’ve gathered enough experience to last me a lifetime. Here are my top six tips for navigating your role as an entrepreneur.

Know your self worth

It’s easy to confuse your self worth with the growth rate of your company, how much money you raised, or how many times you heard the word “no” this week. After co-founding ActualSun, the team imploded and we failed to build a product, lost our pilot customer, and the trust of our investors. I thought I failed as a manager and as a person. Looking back I realize it was just a bruised ego and allowing myself to think that way only made it harder to get back on the horse and try again. Building a company is a 24/7 job and it’s natural to obsess about what’s going on with your startup. Thoughts are constantly swirling through your head about how to grow, who your customers are, how to sell, who to sell too, how your ideas stand out, and how to communicate them in a meaningful way. When you spend so much time thinking about something, you begin to identify personally with it. It stops being your company and starts being you.

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But it’s not. You’re a worthy, unique, valuable human being just because you are you. There is no point in identifying yourself too much with your failures or successes. If you get down when the business is down, it’s much harder to turn it around and you might fail to see the window that opens when that door is slammed in your face. Balancing your reactions to the ups and downs of your business is all about remaining confident in the face of failure and maintaining modesty in your success.

Keep calm and try again

If you ever met me in person you’ll see “Keep Calm and Try Again” is actually my phone’s screensaver. As entrepreneurs we naturally see ourselves as leaders and are always striving to succeed. Our desire to be the best often causes us to go into a bit of a panic when things don’t work out the way we had hoped. A large majority of the things we work on will fail and on multiple levels; weer that’s your campaigns, channels, customers you go after, or people you hire. You will make mistakes and lots of them, but that just means you’re making decisions and taking chances.

In a way, it’s like A/B testing everything. I first started getting used to trying things when I worked for TIMWE. We did a lot of online ads, and had tons of different landing pages. We would test if a particular piece of content would sell, a new affiliate network, or a new banner design. It sounds basic, but this was in 2006 before Unbounce and Optimizely made it easy, we were running these experiments manually. The marketing team discussed our experiments as a group on Monday mornings and if it worked we’d do more, if not, we’d try something else. You can apply that to literally everything! Remember, each attempt is a learning opportunity, a teachable moment. The silver lining of any failure, is what you learn as a result. A friend of mine summarized it perfectly by saying, “Learning is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” I love that sentence and always look for what I learned in each project. If you can take your failure and turn it into an opportunity for growth, you and your company will be able to turn failures into success.

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Become a well rounded person

Even though you might feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day, taking time away from work to hone different interests, hobbies, and passions is good for business. Aside from it being a good stress release, it makes you a richer and more well-rounded person and opens you up to meeting people with different opinions, skills, and experiences than you. All my YC batch mates (Go Winter 14!) have some kind of interest that helps take their mind off work and do things with different people. They participate in a range of activities from stand up comedy, paragliding, and team sports, to climbing mountains, camping, building cities in the desert, and cooking. And me? I did my first triathlon on August 23!

The beauty of adding more dimensions to your life is that it will actually make you a better founder. Here’s a secret, as an entrepreneur you’re always selling the vision, the technology, the company, to investors, customers, employees, family, and friends. Selling is all you do, and it’s much easier to sell if you can create rapport with people around other things you might have in common aside from your company.

Remember you’re not alone

I hear these phrases time and again, “most startups are shit-shows”, “there is always something broken”, “the problems are just different when you grow”, “as a CEO I focus on the part of the company that is under performing the most and fix it.” Every step of the way, from idea to IPO, hell is always about to break loose and something that might kill your company is always about to happen. Not only do we all have some type of problem to solve, we all think we’re the only ones. We’re not, everyone goes through the struggles of building their business.

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I have a group of startup friends I have dinner with once a month just to talk about the companies we are building in a friendly supportive environment (with good food and wine). Find your peers, start a group, get together regularly, and talk it out. Just sharing dilemmas out loud is often half the solution, and as an added bonus, you say them to a room full of other entrepreneurs who can draw on their experiences and offer advice.

Practice your people skills

Dealing with other people is hard, and it’s crucial that you learn to be great at it. Find ways to make people do what you want even when you don’t have hierarchical power over them. No, I don’t mean be manipulative. What I mean is, make people want to work for you. Learn what interests the people you work with, how they want to expand their skill sets, and how you can help them. Knowing these are critical for a successful business.

There’s a new contract between companies and people. In the old days people were resources who gave themselves to companies in exchange for predictability, security, and a job for life. Today, that type of employment is a distant memory. There’s no predictability anymore, so instead of searching for jobs that can provide security, people want jobs that offer them the opportunity to learn, better themselves, and work in a variety of capacities. It’s your job to create those opportunities for them and to make sure your team is naturally aligned with where you’re going and want to be with you for the ride.

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Respect your co-founders

The way you communicate with your co-founders sets the tone for your whole company. You and your team of founders are the backbone of your startup and set the company-wide example of how to be team players. When business gets stressful, your co-founders are your support system and are just as invested in the success of the company as you are. Always assume they are doing the best they can and working as hard as they can. You didn’t choose each other randomly, it was a conscious choice to go into business with one another and when times get tough, it’s important to remember that they are invested and deserve your respect.

It’s equally important to never let doubts or unspoken pain fester. Everyone is human and falls prey to outbursts that come across as disrespectful. At Unbabel we call that emotional debt, and unlike technical or sales debt, this isn’t the kind of debt that you can afford to pay back later. A startup is like a relationship and when doubts and resentment begin to build up, they are bound to surface in the throes of another issue. So don’t let it build up and have the tough conversations about your stress, fears, and needs, and listen to those of your founders and your team. Make sure to find ways to make everyone feel valued and part of the team. As a way to avoid a build-up of emotional debt, take company trips and do something fun to build a strong connection between each member of the team.

These tips are helpful for every entrepreneur who wants to navigate successfully through the minefield of living the startup life. Implementing these key strategies will help you develop yourself personally by having a grounded sense of yourself and becoming more well-rounded and empathetic. You’ll grow your business by remaining calm in the face of failure and looking for the next opportunities. Finally, you’ll be better equipped to nurture your team by removing emotional debt and promoting an environment of mutual respect. If all else fails, listen to your gut and remember that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Featured photo credit: Navigator/ Thomas Abbs via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

Most people grow up with dreams to go to college and graduate with high-paying job offers waiting for them the week after graduation. Others may favor non-traditional career paths. But the desire is the same: to find a job we love where compensation is commensurate with experience.

However, plans change. For instance, what started out as a dream to be a surgeon is cut short by a nasty injury and you’re debating how to transition into a new role. Or you might be facing being let go from your current employer and are anxious about “options out there.”

Whatever the case may be, switching careers can be intentional or unintentional. What matters is that you’re well-prepared, and the only way to do so is to learn new skills — hone in on your transferable skills.

Why Hone in on Your Transferable Skills?

There are several reasons you need to develop these skills if you want to go far in life and your career. In a nutshell, honing in your your transferable skills can lead to:

Better Job Offers

Continuous assessment and improvement of your skills widens the pool of job offers for you to make selections from. You’re no longer tethered to one industry as you’re able to lead your career by design, not by default.

People with transferable skills on a resume also open up opportunities for more potential employers.

Increase in Pay and More Responsibilities

You’ve heard the saying “with great power come great responsibility.” In your case, transferable skills make you more marketable to employers which could lead to pay raises.

Although this isn’t an automatic process– you have to be proactive about what you want in the marketplace, there is a chance that these pay raises will come with change in titles and roles.

A Shot at Entrepreneurship

Yes, changing career paths also includes the possibility of working for yourself. With these skills and work experience, you could live anywhere in the world and design a life and career you want.

We’ve talked about why you need to strengthen your transferable skills but what are some these skills, and how can you work on them?

13 Tips to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills

1. Update Your Resume

You might be surprised to know this but yes, updating your resume is a skill. The very first thing you should do while thinking about switching careers is to highlight attributes that make you very desirable candidate to employers.

Think about your volunteer experiences, freelance projects, and school projects. Although they might seem insignificant, they demonstrate your ability to deliver results that several companies are looking for.

While you might have held several positions since college, switching careers will require you to have a different type of resume.

There are three different types of resumes: functional, chronological, and a combination resume. However, if you are looking to switch careers you’ll want to have a functional resume. A functional resume is strengths-based that emphasizes skills that are transferable rather than a collection of dates and job titles.

2. Brush up on Your Communication Skills

Every attempt to get ahead in business and in life starts with the need to communicate effectively. Whether it is interpersonal, intercultural, or multi-generational, the ability to be seen and heard while respecting the boundaries of work relationship matters.

That’s why it’s one of the top skills you need to master. Strong communication skills allows you to effectively tailor your messages to specific audiences, which will make you a stronger asset to any organization.

To hone this skill:

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Pay attention to your listening skills. To communicate effectively, you need to first learn how to understand others.

Your ability to decode overt and implied messages, no matter how nuanced they are, is key to knowing how to foster deep relationships with others.

This article can also give you effective ways to enhance your communication skills:

How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

3. Learn Technical (or Business) Writing

Another form of communication, writing, is a skill that can take you anywhere.

Companies communicate a lot through written memos, emails, newsletters, and other audio-visual means. But at the crux of this all is someone or some people who are tasked with translating the organization’s vision into statements anyone can understand.

To hone this skill:

Consider taking some free or paid classes online. You can accomplish this through several community colleges or online platforms like Lynda, Udemy or edX .

4. Practice Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

No matter how intelligent you are, no one will take you seriously if you’re unable to pull off a decent level of persuasion through presentation skills.

Most presentation can be done through either electronic devices or require your physical presence. Your chosen career may require you to be in front of several hundreds of people or you could be charged with developing materials for presentation.

To hone this skill:

Volunteer to lead projects that give you some responsibility for putting together presentations.

Also, try taking courses that will improve your public speaking skills if you feel lacking.

These tips on public speaking would be helpful too:

The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

5. Get Comfortable with Identifying Problems and Solutions

Every organization has got its problems no matter how greener the grass is on the other side.

How to hone this skill:

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Practice being resourceful.

Do you know where to find every company policy on the intranet in less than five minutes?

Think about a time you noticed some inefficiency at work and proposed a solution. Think about instances where you lent your voice to a cause which resulted in improved processes for your department.

No matter how small or inadequate you might feel, you’ve got some problem-solving skills that some organizations want.

If you look for more ways to improve your problem solving skills, take a look at this article:

6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

6. Recognize Your Team-Building Ability

Your ability to smoothly switch careers also depends on how well you can energize your team, especially if you’re aiming for a leadership role. Unfortunately, team-building usually isn’t something you learn on the job in most careers unless you hold a managerial position.

The good thing is that you possibly know one or two things about team-building. Think back to moments in college when you had group projects with colleagues and had to work with 3 to 4 other strangers for months. Were you able to get past your differences and disagreements to focus on the uniqueness of everyone at the table?

Making a career switch might require that you work with multidisciplinary teams whether you have a deep knowledge of what the other team does or not. I can easily think of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and social workers working closely to achieve the goals in a patient’s care plan.

How to hone this skill:

Look for collaborative projects and team building activities that excite you and challenge yourself with new possibilities.

Try some of these tactics to keep your team motivated as well:

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

7. Lean into Your Leadership Skills

Although similar to the previous point, leadership skills extend far beyond building teams, managing time sheets and correcting behavior.

What I’m referring to here is your ability to develop a vision, believe in it, and inspire buy-in from everyone involved. This isn’t about knowing how to run a particular machine; it’s about how to lead a team of people with various backgrounds, experiences, and ideas of how things should be done.

How to hone this skill:

Although more complex than the rest, it all starts with an introspective look into your strengths and weaknesses. Then get a mentor or a coach who can bring out your leadership qualities so you can operate from a place of strength.

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Learn more about the effective leadership types here:

5 Types of Leadership that Help You Build a High Performance Team

8. Improve Your Analytical Skills

Are you good at taking large amount of data and interpreting them? Your skills could come in handy.

Organizations are looking for people to make sense of the data around them, explain how it affects profitability, and make projections based on it. Best of all? You don’t need to be an accountant to be analytical.

How to hone this skill:

Try taking data interpretation classes online or at a community college. Learning Microsoft Excel or Access is also a plus. If you’re ambitious enough, you could consider getting additional certifications to up the ante.

Take a look at these ways to help sharpen your analytical skills:

What Are Analytical Skills and How to Strengthen Them For Success

9. Don’t Discount Your Time Management and Prioritization Skills

How good are you when it comes to deciding how important tasks are, organizing schedules, and coordinating plans?

Should you be willing, there is a market waiting for you out there. Organizations and busy executives are always looking for talented individuals to outsource these tasks to.

How to hone this skill:

Although not everyone possesses secretarial superpowers, you can improve this skill by focusing on taking huge tasks and breaking them into smaller goals or steps in order to achieve a bigger goal.

Here, you can learn to prioritize to achieve more:

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

10. Embrace Your Creative and Critical Thinking Side

Although it’s often believed that creativity is for the arts and right-brained people, I believe everyone is capable of being creative. In fact, most organizations recognize creativity as a vehicle that will drive successful inventions in the future.

How to hone this skill:

Try doing something fun. As simple as this sounds, you’d be surprised to learn how much. In fact, behavioral and learning scientist, Marily Oppezzo, says taking a walk might be all you need to get your creative juices flowing.[1]

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Anyone can be creative, you just need the right way to train your brain:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

11. Don’t Stop Learning Tech Knowledge and Skills

Being tech-savvy is a huge plus. If you have an affinity with computers, software applications and are abreast of technological improvements, it is a transferable skill that is worth highlighting.

You don’t have to be a young college graduate with silicon valley dreams to work

How to hone this skill:

All you need is the determination and the readiness to learn. This article will give you some ideas on the types of skills to learn:

How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

12. Build Networks and Relationships

You aren’t free from networking. Not at the moment. With your goal to switch to a different career, your networking skills will come in handy.

Fortunately for you, networking doesn’t have to be so hard.

How to hone this skill:

Attend conferences and job fairs. Chances are you already have people in your network you can move you closer to your dream career.

To enhance your networking skills, take these steps:

How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

Final Thoughts

Although there are several people with the same qualification and degree(s) you possess, what ultimately determines hireability comes down to a myriad of things such as culture fit, how teachable you are, cultural sensitivity, inter-generational awareness, and your ability to navigate uncertainty.

You have a chance to stand out by letting your dream companies know how these soft skills make you an invaluable asset, and how saying ‘YES’ to you is a win-win for both parties.

Happy career switching!

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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