New Business Skills to Develop

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 will be involved in everything from dealing with clients and service users to preparing accounts and sending out invoices and this can be a tough requirement for anyone. Below are listed some core skills to develop.

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 and know exactly what’s required to run a successful business but most of us are not and therefore training programmes have been developed to improve leadership skills to lead strategy, teams of people, lead change management programmes and adjust and manage the company politics that is associated with change.

2.  Strategic Business Planning Skills

Every business follows a plan even if it’s not written down 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 amongst business owners and managers, as most people are focused on the daily operations and dealing with customer issues.  Many do not have the time to be able to sit back and think about the future. Developing and applying strategy in your business and reviewing the plan constantly for adjustments will help reach long term goals that will meet longer term objectives (rather than just survival or a 1% increase in profits).

3.  Business Communication Skills

Communicating effectively is a skill that successful business owners need to possess whether for their staff, directors or customers. Most people write on a daily basis even if it’s a short email but the written word can often be misinterpreted because there is reduced emphasis on phrases that the spoken word has. Using the right words in the right context is key to written communications but writing should always be the last, because speaking directly to people generally has a 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 so it’s best to employ a good copywriter rather than try and do this yourself if you can afford it. Many people believNew Business Skills to Develope they are copywriters but this is rarely the case.

Whether you are in a meeting or at a networking event, how you come across will decide how the other person acts upon what you are saying.  Be confident in what you say and also show knowledge of the subject matter. 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 you will be heckled or get silly questions from those listening if you know your subject matter thoroughly.

#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 of an audience.

There are plenty of courses available to develop communication skills but just immersing yourself with other people on a daily basis will improve 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. Negotiation may be as simple as getting the holiday week you want, or convincing your significant other half to help with the washing up. That means you have practice, and even if you don’t consider yourself an expert negotiator you can still get what you want without being confrontational.

Here are the basics of how to negotiate a deal:
  • Research as much as possible: Knowledge is power in a negotiation, and the more you know the better. Search the internet for information on the company you are dealing with and any facts that may impact on the service to be provided eg how many office workers and common health issues for this group of staff? Regardless of what is being negotiated, the more that is known about the situation, 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 meetingsbusiness skill to develop
  • 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 is considered ‘the norm.’ Most (if not all of us) would look at the price displayed and understand that this is not usually the price paid and negotiation skills are required.  Personally I am not one who enjoys negotiations in this area of life and leave it all to my husband who has become quite adept at getting a good deal.

To explain this in detail, I will use the example of buying a used car from a garage. The seller has it listed for £1200. That seems too much, so you offer £950 (which is about 20 per cent less than what is being 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 to be negotiated down 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 need the final figure 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 negations with too low a number.  If the potential customer accepts this proposal then all well and good, 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.  One of the best strategies is to let the other person talk, and listen for clues of where they might be flexible. An example of this might be if you make a suggestion on price for an OH service and the client indicates that it is too high.  Try not to respond immediately and, above all, do not begin to feel that you price is unreasonable and that you are being greedy, remember the exercises you have done to determine your price and break-even point.  Hold on to any immediate emotional response such as embarrassment and sit tight.  The prospective client will probably start to expand on why the price is considered 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 is about requesting small improvements to a contract that has already been agreed in principle for example, discovering health issues that have been ignored by the client and suggesting that may be included as an ‘extra’ to the service with an adjusted fees; smaller gains which make a difference to the service delivery could include admin support for your service and an allocated OH room to work in with IT access.  If you don’t ask for something, you will not get it. 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 simply not comfortable with that, a letter or phone call can be effective in certain situations. For example, if 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 jumping off point to start the negotiations for higher payments.  Even a simple email to a new client may get extra benefits such as free postage.  Face-to-face meetings with clients will probably follow the letter/email or client to discuss the reasons for the request, but at least you will have presented your argument logically and succinctly without feeling flustered or uncomfortable as you could have been if face to face.  Remember to have the original document for reference when meetings occur.

The important point about negotiation is to consider what you want before starting the discussions and having a plan to achieve this. 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.

Also see negotiation skills from Business Balls 

5. People Management and Human Resources (HR) Skills

If you have or are thinking of hiring or subcontracting staff you will need to be able 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 are maintained. 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.

In new companies HR’s duties may be performed by an untrained person or even yourself. In larger companies, an entire functional group is typically dedicated to this work, with staff specialising in various HR tasks and functional leadership engaging in strategic decision making across the business. 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 reading:

How to start a Healthy Business: An Insiders guide to Occupational Health Success by Jane Coombs

Free Resources for Health and Safety professionals

What are the pressing 6 Worries for Occupational Health professionals in 2013

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