GO YOUR OWN WAY Insights for Small Business:  Personal Development

After a 35 year career working for large companies (including in a senior management role), I started my own small business. Many of the things that I learned while working at a large company carry over to how I manage my own business. One area that I constantly see as I am working with small business owners is a lack of quality time for personal development.

Many large companies have on-staff trainers or regularly send employees to seminars or conferences. The small business owner, especially those with no or only a few employees, doesn't have the resources or money to invest in development. They may be working 80 hour weeks while struggling to pay rent, advertising expenses, payroll and the endless line of fees for equipment, internet service, office supplies and more.

Your business may require that you or your employees complete annual certification training, or maybe you can pick up new info listening to a speaker at a networking association luncheon, but personal development goes deeper. I'm talking about focused "learning" that has a direct impact on your personal or business success - learning that makes you stronger and more competitive in your field.

For example, I have been a photographer for more than 20 years. However, when I started my own business, I knew I needed to immediately expand my knowledge of every aspect of the camera operations and post-processing in photoshop. And, although I had spent 35 years in a marketing/advertising role, I knew that I could not rely on what I already knew, but instead needed to be sure I continued that education because the digital media landscape changes every day. If I was going to successfully help my small business clients and consistently deliver quality work, I had to get better, and I have to continue getting better every day.

As with most new small business start-ups, I did not have hundreds of dollars to pay for personal training or even to attend classes. I had to figure out how to find the knowledge and insights I needed on my own - for nickles and dimes. I also found that where I had SO much more flexibility with my time and schedule as "my own boss", there was never enough time to get everything done. Priorities from new business prospecting, branding and marketing development, tax and government compliance, insurance, contracts/legal issues, yada yada yada.... you know the drill. I had to make a specific AND consistent commitment of my time if I was going to be serious about broadening my expertise so I could do the best possible job for my clients.

In the beginning, I was fortunate to be in a position to take a few months to formulate my business plan. I executed a soft-launch of my business with specific quarterly objectives and went to work. Now, whether I am working 20, 40, 60 or even 80 hours per week, I consistently dedicate an average of 30 minutes each day to my own personal development and learning.

There are an average of 2,400 minutes in each work week, if you only work the traditional 40 hour week. Here's an overview of my 3-step budget plan that averages only 15 minutes per day (75 minutes per week) of my time.

#1 – I spend 15 minutes every day watching a video or reading an article related to the primary scope of business. Resources are endless and easily found with a simple Google search or by building a following of people and companies on either Facebook or LinkedIn. You can find a tutorial video on just about any topic by searching youtube.

#2 – I ask a successful and seasoned small business owner to join me for coffee each month. Because I'm trying to limit expenses, I may visit them at their office. I chat with them about how their business is going, what new successes they may have had, and ask that person for advice on whatever my current biggest challenge is. I have to remember that I am not there to do the talking, I am there to listen and learn.

#3 - I send one email and/or make at least one post on LinkedIn each week asking for advice. People love to give advice! Even if the topic is something that I feel I am pretty knowledgeable about, I am never surprised that someone responds with new and helpful insights.

I'll be the first to admit that I am addicted to my phone and social media, and am a chronic multitasker. I understand that there are 'right' and 'wrong' times to multi-task (...I'm trying to get better!). As many social contacts as I have, you'd be surprised at how much of my news feed is filled with posts that feed my thirst for knowledge. Safe and productive multi-tasking for me includes reading informative articles that have filled my facebook/linkedin feeds from groups/companies I follow while I'm watching a football game. I listen to youtube tutorial videos or audio podcasts to improve my photography skills while I'm editing photos. I will voice dictate my weekly email or post soliciting advice while I'm in line at Starbucks or walking through the grocery store. If I'm going to multi-task, I want it to be because I want to increase my knowledge - and not because I feel rushed with too much work to do.

Because multi-tasking doesn't always work out, I schedule learning time. When I was working in the corporate world, it was suggested as part of MBWA ("managing by walking around"), the manager should put a daily appointment on her calendar to get up and step away from her desk with no purpose but to go to and talk with her employees. Managing development time for "me" requires that same tactic. I place an appointment for learning on my calendar. I keep my learning appointments as I would if I was meeting with my best customer. If you don't do well with appointments but are a master with "to do" lists, include your specific learning steps on the daily to-do checklist. In a very short time, you will find you are not only more successful and confident in what you do, you'll be less stressed. The stress of falling behind the times or not keeping up with your competitors will be gone. The stress of not knowing what your customers need will go away. Who among us could benefit from a little less stress!?

What other tips or suggestions do you use to consistently invest in yourself to be a more knowledgeable and successful business owner? Share here.

Pam Wagner is owner of pamarazzi small business services in Medina, OH. She has 35 years of experience in marketing, media and recruiting. Pam is also a professional photographer.

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