New Business Skills to Develop
Although you may have knowledge of the workplace and health and safety you may also need to develop new business skills to make your own business viable. When starting up on your own, chances are you’ll do everything from dealing with clients and service users to preparing accounts and sending out invoices and this can be a tough requirement for anyone. Here are some core skills:
1. Leadership Skills
Some of the best run businesses have strong leaders at the helm who know what they are doing and motivate the rest of the team to perform well to meet the overall company objectives. These leaders will be happy to make decisions and will lead the company forward in the right direction.
Some people are born leaders. They seem to know exactly what’s required to run a successful business. But most of us are not. Therefore training programmes focus on improving leadership skills in strategy, teams, lead change management programmes, and to manage the company politics too.
Every business follows a plan even if it’s not written in a document. But developing and implementing strategic change is a skill all business owners need. Writing a business plan is the first step in this discipline. Thinking strategically is a rare skill. Most people focus on the daily operations and customer issues. Many do not have the time to sit back and think about the future. Developing and applying strategy in your business and reviewing the plan constantly, will help reach long-term goals. Also, it will meet longer term objectives (rather than just survival or a 1% increase in profits).
3. Business Communication Skills
Business owners need good communication skills; whether for their staff, directors or customers. Most people write on a daily basis even if it’s just a short email but it’s important to remember that the written word can often be misinterpreted. Using the right words in the right context is key to written communications but writing should always be the last resort, because speaking to people has a more positive response.
#Top Tip – Always use the telephone to communicate long or difficult messages
Advertising messages must contain hooks and tempt potential customers to want more. Why not employ a copywriter rather than do this yourself? Many people believee they can but this is rarely true.
Whether you are in a meeting or at a networking event, think about how you come across? This will decide how the other person acts on what you say. Be confident in what you say. Show knowledge of the subject. Not everyone will need public speaking skills but remember that if you need to present to a wider audience they want to learn from you. It’s unlikely to get heckled or get silly questions, if you know your subject matter well.
#Top Tip – Always consider the audience you are addressing when public speaking in terms of your own prejudices or style. One wrong comment can alienate whole sectors.
There are courses available to develop communication skills, but just talking with other people on a daily basis will improve your confidence.
4. Negotiation Skills
Negotiation skills are important when trying to win new business, most people tend to think of negotiation as a game for experienced professionals, but in reality, it’s not hard to do. From getting a salary increase to haggling in the market, even the shyest amongst us can get what we want out of a negotiation. You probably negotiate more than you think. Can you get the holiday week you want, or convince your significant other half to wash up? It means you have to practice though. One thing to be aware of – never be confrontational.
Here are the basics of negotiation:
- Research as much as possible: Knowledge is power in a negotiation. The more you know the better. Search the web for information on the company you are dealing with. Note facts that may impact on your offer, e.g., how many office workers ? What are the common health issues for this type of work? Regardless of the negotiation, the more you know, the more comfortable you will feel.
- Practice beforehand: It might sound silly, but if you are nervous about negotiating then it is worthwhile to practice. Run through the reasons for what you want in front of a mirror or with another person to get feedback on your delivery and style.
- Stay calm and don’t argue: While it may seem like it, a negotiation is not really a debate, so beware of falling into that trap. Arguing in a negotiation will probably antagonise the client and if emotions get in the way, the deal will probably be lost. Keep things simple and stay calm. A negotiation isn’t about “winning,” but ensuring everyone walks away with something valuable.
A little preparation can go a long way; at the heart of a negotiation is the process that may tip the balance in your favour to clinch a contract. Here are some example techniques used by professional sales people:
1. Find Something to Negotiate with
Don’t think about a negotiation as winning or losing but try to make sure that both parties win something and everyone believes they have a good deal. The main idea is simple, when something isn’t negotiable; you need to find something else that is. When stuck in a negotiation that isn’t going anywhere try to determine what is stopping the client from accepting the proposal and ask the potential client ‘why?’ and look to alter the proposal accordingly.
Take, for example, a pricing negotiation where the client has a set budget and cannot afford to match the suggested contract price. If you can’t get more money, you need to consider other items that might be available by offering up alternatives, such as:
- Telephone consultations for management referrals instead of face to face meetings
- Suggest the client provides admin support
- Free parking on site
- Remove some of the services set out in the service level agreement to meet the client’s price range
- Pay as you go methods of use
- Credit facilities
- Prioritising health interventions for workers and removing low priority health checks
2. Use the 15-20 Per cent Rule
The thought of negotiating for a used car or a house can cause anxiety for some whilst others enjoy the challenge. The 15 -20% rule is commonly used for buying these two products and where price negotiation expected. Most (if not all of us) would look at the price and know that this is the starting point. Personally I don’t enjoy negotiations and leave it all to my husband who always gets a good deal.
Buying a used car. The list price is £1200. That seems too much, so you offer £950 (which is about 20 per cent less than asked). From there, you might be pushed up to a £1,000, but chances are the seller will accept the £950. Why? Because in the case of cars, many sellers list their items for around 15 – 20% more than they expect to receive and expect you to negotiate to the ‘real’ price.
The same rule of thumb can be applied in reverse when you need to propose new OH and safety contract price. Consider beforehand the costs and profit margin you want to make and say you estimate that to be £3000. In order to apply the 15-20% rule you would need to ask for £3750. This takes care of the nervous negotiators biggest fear of starting negotiations too low. If the customer accept then great. However, there is room for flexibility down to the minimum of £3000.
3. Keep Quiet and Listen for Clues
In the early days of business, this is probably the easiest tactic to use when negotiating especially if you have not negotiated in the past or are likely to become anxious. Let the other person talk, and listen for clues of where they might be flexible.
You suggest the price for an OH service and the client says no, too high. Don’t respond respond. And do not feel that you price is unreasonable or being greedy. Remember the exercise above. You know your break-even point. Hold on to any immediate emotional response such as embarrassment. Sit tight. The prospective client may say why the price is too high. Bear in mind that many clients use the 15 – 20% rule (above) and is probably looking to find ways of negotiating a better price for themselves. Listen carefully to the information from the client that could provide clues for ways of clinching a deal – information you will not learn if you jump in too quickly with a lower price or justifications of your pricing.
The more you know about a situation, the better you will understand it. If you are lucky the prospective client will give you the information needed to swoop in and make an improved offer that you are both comfortable with (see point 1 above).
4. The Nibble Technique
Essentially, this technique allows you to request small improvements to a contract, already agreed in principle.
You discover new health issues. It is not in the contract. Suggest that it can be added as an ‘extra’ to the service with an adjusted fees. Be specific and don’t do it unless you are prepared to modify other parts of your service. What about admin support or an allocated OH room. One client I worked for brought be lunch every day! If you don’t ask – you don’t get.. When you’re negotiating with a client especially a big company, see how much they’re willing to give you for free.
5. Avoid Face-to-Face Meetings
Without a doubt, the best way to negotiate is face-to-face. However, if you’re not comfortable with that; a letter or phone call can be just as effective in some situations.
You want to negotiate a new price on your office rent. A letter would be an acceptable means of suggesting this and is likely to succeed. Likewise, a formal request for increased fees is a great start point. Even a simple email to a new client may get extra benefits such as free postage.
Face-to-face meetings happen after the first indication and you will have presented your argument logically and succinctly without feeling flustered or uncomfortable. Remember to have the original document when meeting.
The important point about negotiation is to consider what you want before starting the discussions and having a plan to do it. It’s not nearly as hard as it seems, and a lot of the time you will achieve your objectives because most people don’t like negotiating. Once you’re comfortable and get through your first few deals, you’ll be able to negotiate just about anything.
5. People Management and Human Resources (HR) Skills
If you have or are thinking of hiring or subcontracting staff you need to set goals, motivate and perform to your company standards. It is also imperative that all of the associated employment laws and regulations applicable to your business continue. This comes as part of leadership skills and staff and contractors need to be aware of where the business is heading, their role and other requirements considered important.
Smaller companies don’t have professional HR or Safety people, so you might come up against awkward situations. In larger companies, an entire group is typically dedicated to this work. To train practitioners for the profession, institutions of higher education, professional associations, and companies themselves have created programs of study dedicated explicitly to the duties of HR. See the website of the chartered institute of personnel development for more information.
6. Health and Safety Skills
Health and safety laws apply to all businesses whether big or small. For new businesses in the health and safety sector you will have to consider not only your own staff and premises but obligations to others that you may supply services to. For more information go to HSE website for small business
Further Advice and Reading:
- How to start a Healthy Business: An Insiders guide to Occupational Health Success by Jane Coombs
- Free Resources for Health and Safety professionals
- Free Templates
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