Startup entrepreneurs often go at it alone or almost alone, serving every function in their new companies. They are the idea people, the passionate leaders, and the team builders, engineers, marketing experts, logistics officers, bookkeepers, and strategists all in one.
The reality is that often this phase is necessary. That means that one of the most challenging things for the startup-minded to do is to keep investing, keep building their own personal skills and abilities. Time and focus-wise, it is a monumental challenge. Most entrepreneurs skip the personal investments because those investments seem disconnected from their businesses and products. If an entrepreneur has an extra hour, for example, many prefer to invest in their company over investing in themselves.
The problem with that approach is that most entrepreneurs are their brands and products.
Moreover, if you can take a step back and see that your entire entrepreneurial venture rests on a single set of shoulders, it makes business sense to ensure that those shoulders are as prepared, as skilled, and as strong as possible. That means investing in yourself because, from that perspective, it is the same as investing in your product.
Because entrepreneurs spend so little time thinking about boosting their personal skills and strengths, remaining focused on their work, they often do not know where to start. Since I have spent most of my professional life at the intersection of business and education, I have a few suggestions on how you can keep making investments in yourself, even if you are an overwhelmed entrepreneur. Here are seven:
1. Go to school.
Few things do more to enhance both your credibility and intellectual capacity than higher education. The learning environment itself can provide new connections and spark creativity. There are incubators offering specialized training now in every city. Finishing your degree or starting a new one can make a big difference and just about every school has a part-time or returning student or executive program.
A school environment is just as powerful if you are teaching. And, like an advanced degree, being a teacher confers a great deal of credibility. Teaching also forces you to know what you are teaching at expert level, confront and consider new ideas and explain things in new ways. If you are an expert in something, reach out to community learning programs or colleges in your area and get in the classroom.
3. Learn online.
While the online learning environment is still buyer beware, more and more very credible institutions and incubators are offering online courses and programs. It is possible to earn certifications in a variety of business-related subjects from places such as Harvard or Stanford, or any number of state universities. Even if you are just exercising your mind or staying up-to-date on current topics and trends, it is a good investment.
4. Read unrelated things.
If you are a reader, make sure your reading list includes topics that are unrelated to your business endeavors. Read crime thrillers or romance novels or theoretical physics—whatever will distract you from your hour-to-hour obsessions. Giving your mind a break will inspire creative problem-solving and invigorate your work when you return to it. Just a few hours a week of reading about ants or Adam Ant can make a big difference.
“I read spy and espionage thrillers exactly because they distract me from trying to run and grow my business,” said Edgar Duarte of the Duarte Monteiro Group in Miami. “If I read all business books or things in my field, I’d absolutely get sick of it. Taking a mental break allows me to really focus on business when I need to.”
5. Take care of your physical health.
Among the biggest oversights entrepreneurs make is neglecting their physical health. If your ability to work is the most essential thing to your business success, it makes no sense to risk it. I know how hard it is, but get to the gym, make good health and diet choices. Take vacations. As with all these suggestions, staying healthy is an investment in your business—it may help to think of it that way.
6. Consider co-working spaces.
Consider moving yourself and your business to a co-working community. The collaborative, entrepreneurial spirit of shared ambition and sacrifice can be intoxicating and empowering. By co-locating, you will find mentors, partners, and different-thinkers—all of whom can add to your personal growth and strategic creativity.
Join organizations and attend events. Most people view networking as opportunities to advance their businesses. But they are just as important in building personal connections—assets you can take with you from project to project or business to business. Investing in networking and getting to know your network personally will increase your personal reach and capacity.
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