Skills for running a business

There are various essential skills that business owners and their teams need to start and operate a business successfully. These include:

  • finding and leading the right staff
  • developing adaptable communication skills
  • managing finances and risks
  • establishing marketing and sales plans
  • developing staff and the business
  • creating growth and operational plans.

Understanding each of these components will help you set up a business and ensure its ongoing stability and success.

On this page

Skills to manage early stage operations

In the early stage of your business operations, having the right business skills can increase your likelihood of success. You will need the following skills in the start-up phase of your business.

You need practical research skills to investigate your business idea, determine business viability and assess the competition.

Learn more about market research for your business.

As a business owner, you should have a solid understanding of finances. Financial skills required in the early stages of a business include:

  • projecting income and cash-flow
  • preparing financial statements
  • reading financial documents and reports.

Read more about budgets and forecasts.

You will need to use various operational skills to ensure your business is set up effectively, for example:

  • planning
  • leadership
  • decision-making.

You can use these skills to create and implement systems, policies and procedures.

In the early stages of business operation, you may be responsible for managing your digital assets (e.g. social media and business website). Understand the benefits and risks of operating all or part of your business online.

Read more about information technology (IT) for business.

Successful business owners are skilled in risk management. A risk analysis can help you effectively prepare to start your business and, as you continue to operate, manage ongoing risks.

Learn about how to identify your business risk.

Good customer service skills are often critical to a business's success.

Customer service skills include:

  • communication
  • problem solving
  • conflict and complaint resolution.

Find out more about customer service.

Skills to lead yourself and other people

To achieve the business's goals, you will need to develop practical leadership skills to guide yourself and others to succeed.

Leadership is the process of developing goals, inspiring others and creating change. Effective business owners will both manage tasks and lead people.

Leading a team requires high-level planning, organising and delegating skills. Effective business owners will:

  • manage and recruit staff
  • schedule and prioritise projects
  • adapt to changes
  • delegate tasks as required
  • create and drive the business vision
  • review performance
  • lead and inspire their team.

Learn more about:

Avoiding burnout—taking care of yourself and your team

Burnout is a state of exhaustion (physical and mental) that can occur from prolonged and intense periods of stress.

As a business owner, you should recognise and respond to symptoms of burnout in yourself and your staff—for example:

  • fatigue
  • frustration and irritability
  • lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating
  • increase in mistakes and reduced efficiency.

To help prevent burnout, you can:

  • be proactive
  • self-reflect to understand the current pressures on the business and staff
  • adjust goals and check in with staff
  • encourage healthy habits in the workplace, including mindfulness, taking adequate breaks and reducing overtime where possible
  • take time off to relax and participate in hobbies outside of work
  • talk to a mentor or professional to help you develop strategies for mental health and well-being in the workplace
  • create a safe workplace where staff feel empowered to talk openly about issues so they can be resolved.

For more practical tips, read about:

Skills to communicate

Communication skills are required to build effective relationships with staff, suppliers, customers and other business owners.

To ensure that communication is effective:

  • your message must be clear
  • the mode of transmission must be effective
  • the people receiving the message must be able to understand it.

Communication skills include listening, questioning, speaking and writing and are essential to completing business activities.

Presenting skills are useful when making proposals to potential business clients, pitching ideas to investors, conducting webinars and speaking at conferences and expos.

Learn about communicating effectively for business.

Business writing involves a specific style of writing and range of document formats. For example:

  • internal documents
    • business plans
    • job descriptions
    • induction processes
    • policies and procedures
  • external documents
    • business proposals
    • applications for grants and tenders
    • quotes.

You will need to develop a way of engaging and communicating with different people (e.g. suppliers, investors, other business owners) for mutual benefit.

Learn about networking in business.

You will need to manage relationships with staff, clients and suppliers with effective negotiating. This will help to achieve goals and resolve disputes.

Understand how to match the benefits and features of your products or services with the needs of the client and closing a sale.

Learn the basics of sales.

Know how to promote your products or services to the correct demographic to achieve sales goals.

Read about marketing and promotion.

Skills needed during the customer journey

Sales and marketing skills also help to create a compelling customer journey.

A customer journey is the different experiences a customer might go through while interacting with your business, such as, moving from awareness of your business to potentially make a purchase, making a purchase and ideally, becoming a return customer.

Different skills are required at each stage of the customer journey.

  • Awareness:
    • digital and traditional marketing skills
    • presentation skills
    • networking skills
    • financial skills to create budgets.
  • Engagement:
    • online and face to face selling skills
    • digital marketing skills
    • presentation skills.
  • Purchase decision:
    • selling and pricing techniques
    • sales funnel management
    • digital sales and marketing skills
    • negotiating skills.
  • Repeat business or referrals:
    • digital and traditional marketing skills
    • strategic customer engagement
    • management and operational skills.

Quick quiz: assess your sales and marketing skills

Consider your skills at the different stages of the customer journey.

Rate your level of competency in the following skills to find tips on where you can improve:

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If you have rated yourself on the lower level of the scale, you could consider:

  • attending a sales and marketing training course
  • signing up for an online seminar
  • discussing sales and marketing skills with a professional mentor
  • asking other business owners for advice
  • upskilling using content from government and other trusted sources
  • completing formal and informal training in the area
  • recruit personnel to complete the task in your place
  • outsource the task to a third party.

Find out about:

Assess your business skills checklist

Starting and running a business requires specific skills. You can use this checklist to identify the skills you already have and the ones you may need to improve on.

This checklist can help you identify:

  • skills you need to improve on
  • skills you could outsource to others
  • skills to look for when recruiting staff.

Read the checklist below and click Yes or No to identify your existing business skills.

Business management skills

Can you delegate tasks effectively?
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Do you have problem-solving and decision-making experience?
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Do you know how to maintain and control stock levels?
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Do you have experience coordinating and planning important tasks/projects?
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Do you have good time-management skills?
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Do you know how to negotiate successfully?
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Interpersonal skills

Can you lead, train, supervise, motivate and mentor employees?
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Do you know how to delegate tasks and demand accountability?
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Do you know how to communicate and negotiate with employees and customers?
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Are you familiar with requirements for staffing and human resources?
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Entrepreneurial skills

Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
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Do setbacks motivate you to try harder or do you become frustrated and give up?
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Do you have a clear vision of where the business will take you?
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Can you turn your ideas into a business?
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Do you know how to evaluate your business idea?
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Can you find new customers?
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Financial skills

Are you comfortable with financial reports and financial ratios?
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Are you familiar with profit planning, budgeting and forecasting and cash flow management?
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Do you know how to manage payroll? Pay superannuation?
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Can you cost your supplies, overheads and labour to price your products or services effectively?
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Can you manage purchasing for the business?
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Do you know how to manage debtors and creditors?
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Do you have bookkeeping skills?
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Do you know your requirements for tax, goods and services tax (GST) and business activity statements (BAS)?
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Sales and marketing skills

Can you analyse your competitors and your customers?
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Do you know how to research the market, test your product and advertise your product?
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Are you familiar with different marketing channels?
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Do you know the best way to promote and sell your product or service?
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Do you have strong written and presentation skills?
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Solving skills gaps

A skills gap occurs when the business skills you have are not sufficient for your needs.

Skills gaps can exist in any area of business, including:

  • finance
  • communication
  • leadership
  • critical thinking
  • problem-solving
  • information technology
  • social media.

How to overcome skills gaps

Once you identify skills gaps, you will need to overcome the gaps by identifying and implementing solutions.

Consider:

  • asking a trusted professional adviser to recommend and refer skilled employees or independent contractors to help you – for example, your accountant might recommend an experienced bookkeeper to assist you with data entry and reporting
  • asking business networks for recommendations – for example, speak with people within your business network who might have experience working with a virtual assistant or social media expert
  • tailoring recruitment to fill identified skills gaps
  • developing a personal skills development plan to prioritise and schedule training for existing staff
  • engaging a business skills mentor
  • outsourcing tasks that are complex and potentially time-consuming to professionals who can help provide extra skills without having the cost of additional training.

Complete this table to help you identify the existing skills gap and reflect on solutions.

Identified skills gap Proposed solution Timeframe for review
e.g. Sales Recruit industry-experienced sales manager 3 months