Skip main navigation

Business skills for startups

By furnishing yourself with some essential business skills, you can ensure your startup is a success. We take a look at business skills for startups, and how you can build on them to achieve success.

38f2473a 0a15 4049 A85f 66ce45d7d411

Running a business is an art, and having good business skills can make or break a startup. And with the somewhat harrowing statistic that 20% of businesses fail within the first year, you’ll want to know what you can do to make your startup succeed in an increasingly competitive and crowded business marketplace.  

But how do you identify the skills you need? And how do you go about building those skills? No matter how good the idea for your startup is, and no matter how much you know about the area, without the necessary skills, you won’t get far. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the essential business skills for startups. 

From skills like great communication and interpersonal skills to web development and financial management, these are the tools that could bring success to your startup. Armed with these, you will put yourself in a much better position to succeed in the startup world, which certainly isn’t a world for the faint of heart.  

What is a startup?

First of all, let’s unpick exactly what a startup is. While it may conjure up images of a small group of friends in a dingy basement who are trying to turn their hobby into a career, businesses that have been running for 5 years can still be described as a startup. 

Startups are young businesses that aim to develop a particular product or service and make it irresistible to the consumer. They effectively work just like any other company – a group of employees work together to create a product that customers will buy. 

However, startups differ in how they go about that. Other companies often try to duplicate what has been done before, working from an existing template of how a business should work. Startups address the deficiencies of these existing templates and products, or they create an entirely new product. 

They’re rooted in innovation, and, if done properly, can completely disrupt entrenched ways of thinking as done by larger, established companies. This is why sometimes these big companies refer to them as ‘disruptors’. They also have a focus on speed and growth and look to build on ideas really quickly – a process known as iteration.

How do you start a new business?

When you look at the success of the startups commonly referred to as the FAANG group – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google – then starting your own seems like it could be profitable. Managing your own small business could also seem more appealing after the events surrounding COVID-19. However, there are a few steps you need to take. 

First, you’ll want to come up with an idea for your business. Identifying both a problem and a solution will be one of the keys to success, and make your business idea more viable. This idea can be updating an existing product or service, or even creating a new one. Once you have this idea, you’ll want to write a business plan, where you’ll describe your business in detail.

Securing funding is the biggest hurdle many startups face. Funding a business is the key to success, and there are many ways to do this – from bank loans to angel investors. You’ll then want to create a marketing strategy, which will dictate how you market your startup to prospective customers. Brand and marketing are essential parts of any startup.

There is more to it than that, but using those bare bones for your new business, you’ll be able to get a good start. As you go along, you’ll want to be continually evaluating and planning as you work, ironing out any problems that might arise. And to make a proper good go of it, and to bring your startup to success, you’ll want to have some business skills at your disposal. 

What are business skills?

So what are business skills? Business skills are skills that are necessary to be successful in your business management. Many business skills change depending on the requirements of the job or the nature of the startup. On the whole, there are some key skills that can be used across all roles and industries, which are primarily designed to help your startup succeed.  

We’ll take you through some of the best business skills you can have in your toolkit for a startup. These include more general skills, as well as more specific business skills that you can leverage to make your new business a success. Some of these skills you may already have – but building on and improving them will help you succeed in your day-to-day operations. 

General skills for startups (and how to build them)

Here we’ll take a look at some of the more general skills required for your startup. These include soft skills which are skills that come through via your general experiences and previous employment. Of course, it’s always worth looking to expand and build upon these skills if you can, as it will further your potential for success. 

Curiosity

Real innovation comes from thinking outside the box. Curiosity can often get overlooked, but when it comes to your startup, learning, exploring, and thinking are essential to finding the best solution to any problems you might face. Being curious about the world around you can trigger other people to follow suit and express their own curiosity as well. 

New businesses thrive on ideas. By developing curiosity you can help to drive innovation and change in your startup.

Effective communication

Communication and interpersonal skills at work ensure clear expectations and will improve relationships between co-workers as well. Effective written communication, as well as verbal, will assist you in building solid relationships with your clients, customers and suppliers. How you communicate should be a reflection of the startup and the image you’re looking to project.

Resilience

With such a high rate of failure for new businesses and startups, having resilience at work is incredibly important. You will certainly meet resistance in many different forms as you continue down the road to startup success, but don’t let this knock you down. 

Patience is important – you won’t be making millions overnight, after all. Be resilient in the face of adversity, and you’ll reap the rewards.   

Creativity

All startups must try and be different from what has come before. If your product or service is the same as other things in the market, why would anyone want your product or service? This is where creativity steps in. 

Improving your creativity will mean you become more innovative, as you’ll create new ideas and consider new and novel ways of improving and developing your product.

Business skills for startups (and how to build them)

Once you’ve aced those general skills, and have brushed up on your previous knowledge and understanding of each area, you can start to consider more business-focused skills that will help your startup. These include hard skills – for instance, coding for the web, or SEO marketing.  

It’s really easy to feel under-qualified when starting a new business, especially when you look at the competition from other startups in a similar sphere to you. By brushing up on these skills, and familiarising yourself with the different minutiae of each one, you’ll put yourself in a much better position to succeed with your startup, as well as building your self-confidence

Web development

It is likely that a customer’s first interaction with your startup will be via your website. In addition, the events of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have forced companies to focus on their online presence, and as a result, reliance on web development has taken the lead. This new tech-driven world is set to stay, so having some technical knowledge is vital. 

It is worth familiarising yourself with what the different coding and programming languages are used for, as well as getting to grips with CSS and HTML which will give you the building blocks necessary to create an engaging and intuitive website. You can even take this a step further and consider the uses of UX and UI in your web design, for a really slick visitor experience. 

Financial skills

Not only do you need financial backing to start your business, but you also need to maintain a stream of finances to stay in business. And while you don’t need to be a financial professional, it’s well worth your while familiarising yourself with the fundamentals of business finance. This will help you understand your budgets and financial performance.

As your startup grows, you might hire someone with a much better understanding of finances to focus on that aspect of the business. Nonetheless, it’s worth having an understanding of all things money. Planning, budgeting, and forecasting are essential aspects of financial analysis, and understanding these things will give you a much better overview of the startup.

Project planning and strategising

Starting your own business will mean you have to juggle multiple different projects simultaneously. Knowing the fundamentals of project planning, and then going on to successfully manage them, is a really important skill to have when starting a new business. Delegating different tasks to others will get the job done much quicker as well.

Strategising these projects is closely linked to the planning stage. You’ll want to obtain the best possible results – therefore, choosing the right problem to solve and optimising your resources will give you the desired outcome. By writing a business plan, you’ll be able to transition to business strategy and achieve your goals in a clear and organised fashion.  

Digital marketing

Growing your startup is one of the main goals, and the most effective way of doing this is by focusing your efforts on digital marketing. Before taking the plunge into the world of digital marketing, you’ll want to make sure you have an understanding of marketing basics as well. This will introduce you to more traditional marketing methods, which can be applied to digital marketing as well.  

Marketing not only pits you against your competitors, but it helps to reach out to an audience and make you seem like a more compelling option for them. This can generate significant revenue, so having a marketing strategy in place will facilitate this process. Digital marketing can also help you hire new employees as well, which will grow your team and put your strategy into action.

Managerial and leadership experience

Leadership and properly managing people is one of the most important skills required for your startup to be a success. Good leaders can have a huge impact on business, so knowing what makes a good leader is vital. . Motivating your teammates and coworkers will help them achieve their goals and therefore improve the success of your startup.

Delegation is also important when you start a new business, and a successful leader will know and mobilise their staff. People management skills often have to be learnt and honed over time. We have a range of relevant courses such as one looking at leadership theory, or one where you can dive into the world of international leadership and see how managerial roles have evolved. These courses will give you a well-rounded understanding of what a good leader is.     

Networking

Building good relationships with others will help your business get the support it needs and encourage growth too. Networking is the best method of doing this. Effective networking can help you share knowledge, grab new opportunities, and build your reputation as well. You can also meet other small businesses and startups, and help each other out.

Networking can often get overlooked when you’re setting up a startup – after all, you’ll find yourself with a thousand and one different things to do simultaneously. But building professional networks is so important and well worth the time and effort. You’ll end up with more knowledge, and you’ll also build on your confidence by speaking and networking with people.   

Why business skills are important

Making money is the crux of any business. Whatever industry you choose your startup to be in, your main aim will be turning a profit. Even if you know your chosen industry inside out, if you don’t have the necessary business skills, it will be tricky for you to succeed. 

Many of the skills will have a dedicated and professional workforce who focus on those areas alone, and down the line, it will certainly be beneficial to consider making new hirings. However, when you are starting out with your startup, you may not have the funds to be in a position to hire new employees. By learning these business skills yourself, you’ll set up your startup for success.

Final thoughts

So there you have it – a full guide to some of the most useful business skills that you might need for your startup. There will be additional business skills that are industry-specific, but the ones that we have outlined here can be applied to any industry.

If you’re looking for some additional resources that will help grow your business, check out our top 30 courses that will help you grow your business. And if you want to blast your startup into the 30th century and plunge into the technological and digital world of business, then you can read up on how big data can help your business.

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education

Related stories on FutureLearn