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10 Important Lessons from Working in a Start-Up

10 Important Lessons from Working in a Start-Up

Start-ups often employ a very small amount of helping hands to speed up the growing process of the business. This leads to a significant accumulation of tasks and responsibilities on each employee’s desk, opening up their way of thinking if they wish to provide valuable input to the company.

Working at a start-up was a very rewarding and challenging experience that I would recommend to anyone who wishes to feel a great sense of importance and accountability. After working for about a year at an emerging creative agency, the skills that I have obtained can help me succeed in any industry and in any position. Looking back to the long and often stressful days, there are ten startup lessons learned that will leak into future careers and personal challenges.

1. Never Stop Learning

Never Stop Learning

    With new technologies and software continuously entering the market, start-ups expect you to constantly update your current skills and industry knowledge, and find new ways of simplifying work processes without digging too much into budget. Never believe that you know enough or that you know all that there is to know about an industry. This type of thinking will only place you behind the rest of your co-workers. In order to succeed in your position, buying paperbacks, signing up to online courses, even taking an on-campus course will keep you up to date and ready to provide your employer useful advice and information.

    You don’t have to stick to only educational material to stay ahead of the game; read fiction, learn a new language or program – you never know when this knowledge can be useful or can make a great impression on a client or employer. Stay informed and learn from history to make the right decision in the present.

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    2. Learn to Adapt to Any Working Environment 

      With all this emphasis on online networking it is not surprising that there is a high emergence of in-person networking events and conferences. Past positions that chained their workers to desks are slowly fading away as each employee is now required to engage in more networking events on and off-line. As a Digital Marketing Manager at my past position, I was pushed to attend various events where potential clients and partners lingered and meet with clients face-to-face. My work environment definitely did not keep me at my desk. After consulting various other individuals who work in the marketing field, they told me the same thing – the idea of the work station is changing and those who cannot adjust their work habits or cannot multi-task are becoming overwhelmed and are sometimes even seen as a burden. If you can adapt to any atmosphere, be it a casual environment or corporate, you have a better chance of succeeding in your career.

      3. Take Risks

      Take Risks

        Whether you wish to switch your career or start a business of your own, taking a risk is what gets your gears moving forward. Working for a start-up taught me to take risks even if there is a high chance of failing. These risks help you grow as a person and to truly appreciate the stability that you have in other aspects of your life. A risk helps you try various paths that could get you from point A to point B. After trial and error, you will find the path that is best suitable for your goals and budget. Without taking a risk, you are forced to settle with an unoriginal strategy that so many other people have chosen to follow. Don’t follow the footsteps of the herd; take a risk even if it means isolating yourself from the pack.

        4. Open Your Mind to New Ideas No Matter How Silly

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        Open your Mind

          Originality will always help you get your foot through the door so say good-bye to old ways of thinking and doing business, try new things, research new methods and be welcoming to the unknown. We usually ignore any bizarre or stupid thoughts that enter our minds, but these thoughts are usually the keys to a unique business strategy or can help solve the most basic problem. We often tend to overlook what’s in front of our eyes so open your mind and acknowledge and appreciate new ideas. We all have different ways of looking at things so nobody has the right to put down your insight just because it does not sync with theirs. After working in a small team environment, I learned to appreciate uniqueness as it helped us stand out from our competitors and branded our company image.  Sometimes, if an idea is very silly, it is perfect to capture audience attention.

          5. Find Opportunity in Negativity

            Sometimes life hands us lemons and we start to feel hopeless. Have you ever noticed how the worst situations always lead to better outcomes if examined from an outside perspective? Look at your issues as criticisms to your strategies. If you have many problems with clients or team members than you are doing something wrong. Take this time to re-asses your situation and to find a solution. You never know, these negative situations could be an opportunity for you to bring in more business.

            As an example, the start-up company that I worked for introduced social marketing services to their past clients and noticed that their clients were looking for every viable excuse not to subscribe. I was in charge of trying to find out the cause of this issue and after some calling and surveys I found out that these agents feared social marketing because they had no idea what it was and did not trust us to perform the services because they thought it was a scam. After consulting the chairman, we decided to introduce webinars, for a small fee a marketing specialist would go through the basics of social marketing and would teach these clients to engage with their online audience. In the end, the clients realized that social marketing is nothing to be afraid of and after trying it out for themselves asked us to take over as they simply did not have the time to do it themselves. These webinars eliminated client fear, helped us get more clients signed up for additional services, and gave us a small profit as well. Look at every negative situation as an opportunity to perfect current practises.

            6. Don’t Take Criticism Personally

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            Don't Take Criticism Personally

              Everybody has a role to play in a business infrastructure and receiving criticism for work or behaviour can discourage us and make us feel unworthy. Don’t let this get you down, instead, focus on the situation from an outside perspective. It is not your personality or your interests that are being judged but your final product. Be honest with yourself, if you know that you did not put in enough effort into a project, then why are you upset when the employer had made a subtle hint on the quality of your work? Since the company grows based on the accumulative efforts of the team, your contribution is bound to be criticized. Step back and see what you have done from the employer’s perspective, if there is truth to what they are telling you, just disconnect your feelings from the equation and focus on improving the work at hand. By taking negative comments to heart, you are only placing more weight on your shoulders. This could seep into your personal life and will most definitely ruin your day. No one wants that, so step back, re-analyze, and fix the situation. Knowing that everyone receives negative feedback once in a while helps to move on and to focus on other things.

              7. What Works for Others May Not Work for You

              What Works for Others May Not Work for You

                Simply copying your competitors’ business model is not going to place you on top of the ladder. Even taking ideas from a business from an unrelated industry may not advance your business but do more damage. If you think that replicating a product idea from a Fortune500 company will get you on that list, think again. People want originality and uniqueness even if your product or service is similar to those offered at the place down the street. Consumers look for a company personality when deciding on which product to buy and if you cannot provide them that, you simply won’t succeed. This ‘personality’ is what consumers will pay more for even if your friendly neighbour offers the same service but for a significantly cheaper price. So in regard to marketing and structuring your business and personal brand, it is great to see what others are doing to get their named out there, but look for new ways to create a voice and to be different.

                8. Speak Your Mind

                Voice Your Opinions

                  No matter your position within a company, find ways to speak your mind. We all have different experience and educational preparation, you opinion might just provide your employers or partners a different viewpoint on a topic that wasn’t seen before. Additionally, if you see something inappropriate at work, speak up as this unsuitable behaviour may not just be impacting you but your peers as well. By taking responsibility, you are being an active participant of the company and helping the way it grows and succeeds. Even if you are down the chain of command, your opinion matters so don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  

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                  9. Get Organized

                  Get Organized

                    The best way to plan your day is to make a to-do list each morning and to cross off tasks as you go along. Of course, some people flourish when they have papers covering their entire work station without any real sense of organization, but for the most of us, we need structure to our day and to our priorities. Making lists throughout the day will help you complete more tasks and will remind you of all the small details that we tend to forget. Organization is not limited to your desk, when is the last time you looked at your computer’s desktop? Going through old files on your computer and phone cuts the amount of time that you spend searching for documents and once it is organized, it will be much easier for you to maintain the cleanliness. If you wish to land any managerial role in a company, get organized and it will help with deadlines, meetings, and projects where teamwork is involved.

                    10. Be Active Outside of Work

                    Be Active Outside of Work

                      You will be stressed, you will feel lost, and you will underestimate yourself. The amount of tasks and projects will accumulate, often forcing you to stay overtime while drowning yourself in coffee. Anxiety and pressure is part of working at a start-up, heck it is part of any job so it is very easy to burn-out. To avoid digging yourself a grave at your work station, make sure you are not skipping out on your hobbies and special events. Having a balanced work/personal life is crucial if you wish to stay sane and still be an active team player. Our best ideas come when we disconnect ourselves from the issue, so go for a run, read a book, meet with friends! After all, your boss will not expect you to be a robot so schedule in your personal time and make every minute count. When you will reflect on your life, you will want to remember adventure, happiness, and family gatherings rather than regret all of the time that you spent in front of a monitor.

                      Working at a start-up will introduce you to many new ways of thinking and lessons that could be helpful in your future career.

                      Featured photo credit: Le Temple du Chemisier via flickr.com

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                      Last Updated on September 18, 2019

                      11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

                      11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

                      Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

                      Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

                      “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

                      While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

                      The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

                      What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

                      The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

                      1. Cloud Computing

                      “Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

                      There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

                      This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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                      2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

                      Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

                      Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

                      his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

                      3. Data Management

                      All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

                      We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

                      However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

                      4. Scheduling

                      Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

                      An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

                      5. Financial Skills

                      These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

                      While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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                      6. Research Skills

                      These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

                      Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

                      So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

                      If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

                      If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

                      7. Marketing Skills

                      While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

                      Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

                      While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

                      8. Network Security Specialist

                      Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

                      So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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                      9. Communication Skills

                      At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

                      Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

                      10. Computer Programming

                      I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

                      11. Graphic Design

                      As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

                      Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

                      That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

                      Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

                      You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

                      Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

                      Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

                      Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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                      This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

                      You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

                      But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

                      Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

                      In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

                      Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

                      And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

                      The Bottom Line

                      We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

                      We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

                      We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

                      As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

                      More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

                      Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      [1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
                      [2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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