Business Skills for Success in the Workplace

September 08, 2017 - DOM BARNARD

Success in the workplace is not necessarily tied to how intelligent you are, how many qualifications you hold or even how hard you work. While these traits are important, marketing, selling, networking, management, negotiation and communication are the real determinants for success.

Hard work will help you secure a job in the workplace, however your career progressions will stall without developing your business skills - here are the essential skills to improve.

Communication skills

Communication forms the basis of interaction in any workplace, it mediates the spread of ideas, innovation, and opinions. Communication helps you cultivate loyal employees, charm customers into coming back time after time, find new suppliers and secure investment.

In demand soft skills

The most in-demand soft skills, from LinkedIn research. Note that communication is at the top.

To communicate effectively, you’ll need to have a grasp on written, verbal, and non-verbal communication. Written communication can be tricky - whether it’s a short email or company memo, it can be easily misinterpreted as the conversation is less free-flowing – being able to use the right words in the right context is key.

A large part of communication is listening. Being in business means working with other people, both as a leader and as a colleague. Both roles require humility, respect, a civil attitude even under duress, and respect. Try to listen at least as much as you talk.

Improving your communication skills, aside from allowing you to express your ideas and opinions more openly, develops your empathy by allowing you to understand the opinions of others.

The ability to construct an argument and make your case forcefully and clearly to your boss, client or co-workers will bring your ideas to fruition.

Develop your communication skills:

  • Learn to express yourself - You should be able to clearly articulate your opinions, thoughts and ideas both orally and in writing. Get out of your comfort zone and speak up in meetings, ask questions at conferences, arrange to meet high profile influencers in your industry – these are great ways to force yourself to grow.
  • Improve interaction skills - A good way to build up your confidence for one on one engagements is by getting to know your workplace clients and colleagues on a more personal level. A simple, ‘how is your day going’ and other small talk works well.
  • Listen more than you talk - In the words of Ernest Hemingway ‘when people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.’ People love to hear their own voice and often disregard the opinion of the other person - if it’s just you talking, it’s a lecture, not a conversation.
  • Use available tools and services - attend seminars, Toastmasters, clubs, use virtual reality to practice, take an online course or listen to audiobooks - there are plenty of training tools and services out there to help improve your communication skills.

Leadership skills

Leadership is the art of persuading and managing people with the aim of achieving set goals and objectives.

You must be able to motivate your staff in order to get the best out of them and improve productivity. Have regular assessments and progress meetings (at least every six months) to make sure your employees are happy – spend time listening to their issues and needs and do all you can to help them out. People work hardest when they're happiest.

If you intend to grow your team or business, you’ll need to hire more people – leadership skills play a big role in attracting the best talent and retaining them through tough times.

Skills leaders need

The data for this graph comes from 332,860 bosses, peers, and subordinates through research conducted by HBR.

Knowing the boundary between employer and employee is crucial - you should be liked but not overly friendly, able to maintain authority but also inspiring, encouraging and understanding.

Cultivate people to develop their own skills to help with retention within your team and business. Try to recognise people's strengths and use that to the business' advantage.

The best run businesses are not only marketing led but have strong leaders at the helm who know what's required to attain set goals.

Becoming an effective leader

  • Communicate – effective communication is one of the fundamental pillars of leadership. You cannot lead if your followers lack a basic understanding of your aims, and objectives. A good leader should be able to communicate his or her motives clearly with careful body language and diction.
  • Mentorship skills - Can you effectively mentor a colleague? If you’re unsure about your answer, you could undergo a mentorship program yourself and learn what works and what doesn’t from your own experience.
  • Sustainable relationships - Going the extra mile to initiate and maintain healthy relationships positively impacts the work environment, and is critical for workplace efficiency and productivity. A simple ‘hey, how are you doing’ or recalling seemingly trivial details is enough to develop a healthy relationship.

Negotiation skills

With time, you’ll learn what negotiation strategies work, what to say and how to say it, in order to get the best deals for your business. The better at negotiation you are, the more money you’ll save from suppliers, the more money you’ll raise form investors and the more you can charge customers, all allowing your business will grow.

Get into the habit of negotiating lower prices whenever you buy or order something in your day-to-day life, it will give you invaluable practice and help you understand which techniques work best for you. It'll show how you can almost always get something extra or cheaper if you just ask.

Next time you’re buying something, you could try:

  • Aggressively cutting down the price down of a product
  • Mentioning competitor prices online or in different stores to reduce price
  • Seeming only passively interested in a product and mention you’d be interested in buying if it was cheaper

The best negotiation is done with a smile – it’s much more effective to charm your way to a good deal and get the other person to want to do business with you. Try to always be polite, even when you're being firm.

There’s no standard blueprint for negotiating, it’s a skill that takes time to master and each person has their own methods that work. To develop your negotiating skills, try to negotiate as often as possible, whether it be at a car boot sale or in a local shop.


Business networking

If you took a sample of ten directors of a company and asked them how they managed to get to the top in the competitive corporate environment, chances are high that most of them will mention networking.

Networking in business is one of the most efficient, low-cost ways of creating and converting sales opportunities. It will give you, your team or your business the necessary edge to succeed in the current marketplace.

Read about more advantages of networking.

Professional networking as a business skill

Building good relationships through networking will also help you climb the corporate ladder and get hired at leading companies in your industry.

Improve your professional networking:

  • Never underestimate social media – it’s an easy to way to connect after an event and liking the odd post or promotion on LinkedIn will keep you in their conscious.
  • Attend face to face events – this is the best way to connect with people, whether it be at a conference or a Meetup.com event. There are plenty of networking opportunities for you to build your network and expand your influence.
  • Build an online personality – if you want to network with the right kind of people, do your best to present yourself as someone who is very good at what he or she does. Create a personal webpage and keep your LinkedIn profile up to date.

Management Skills

In every business setting, there’s a need for someone who can plan and execute projects, manage people to do the tasks, and take responsibility when problems arise.

Like leadership skills, a firm grasp of management puts you ahead of your colleagues when promotions come around.

Failure to delegate is a trap many business owners and managers fall into, usually because they are reluctant to let go of control. Managing your time effectively may mean delegating responsibility to someone else in the business or outsourcing to contractors. Identify the important tasks, or tasks you are best at, and try to delegate the rest.

If you’ve recently hired or are thinking of hiring additional heads soon, you'll need to be able to set them goals, motivate them to perform to their best and fit in with the company culture – this last point is particularly important to naturally foster a positive working environment.

Make sure staff are aware of where the company is heading (it’s vision and mission statement), their role within the department and their personal objectives.

There are plenty of apps to help you stay organised, manage teams and plan meetings or events. Here are some apps to help your project stay on track. For further details about apps in this list, visit The Best 8 Project Management Apps.

Useful project management apps


Sales and marketing

The competitive nature of the business world has made it necessary for businesses to prioritise their sales and marketing approach if they intend to remain competitive.

You’ll want to discuss which marketing route(s) you want to follow, whether it be a corporate blog, forum, webinars, PPC, email marketing, promotional e-books, social media (all or just a few?) and so on.

Inbound vs. interruption marketing

Decide the marketing strategy for your business or product and which interruption or inbound methods you want to use.

Employees and team members with a thorough knowledge of sales and marketing concepts like advertising, efficient pricing structure, sales techniques and competitor analysis are an asset to any organization.

Marketing can drive customers in to your business, but sales are going to be what keeps them coming back and keeps putting money into your pocket.

Running your business for your customers’ needs is a great way to build a successful business. Clearly understand what their needs are and provide products and services to match those needs. It’s therefore important to provide good customer service and understand new features or products your customers are looking for.

Selling is almost an art form, and everyone has probably sold something in their lives already. Whether you’ve sold a car, a house or applied for a job with a resume (selling yourself), you may already have the basic skills required.

Good sales people rarely leave a meeting without an order or at least a commitment to continue negotiations. Just dropping a few leaflets off at a potential client without any follow-up will not get you the sale.

Recommended marketing and sales blogs to read:


Financial management

A good understanding of financial management as a business skill, allows you to plan new projects and services – you’ll have a great understanding of what is selling well and how best to generate additional revenue.

Being able to effectively managing your finances is a critical for your business or department. You will need to be able to forecast your cash flow and sales, as well as, monitor your profit and loss. Therefore you’ll want at least knowledge of balance sheets, profit and loss sheets, and basic bookkeeping.

Cash is the lifeblood of any business and profitable businesses fail and go bust if they run out of cash and can't pay their suppliers or their employees. Supplies soon dry up and they have nothing to sell and the employees leave and find alternative employment.

Understand your company’s financial needs, as well as the intricacies of what the market is current demanding.

Improving your financial management

  • Analytic Thinking - to be skilled in financial management, you have to adept with critical and analytical thinking. Try to surround yourself with reviews, publications and general content related to finance. Reading Bloomberg or skimming thorough Google Finance would help.
  • Use the latest technology - gone are the days when Excel spreadsheets were the only way to analyse data – research the latest FinTech in your industry, the caveat is that you have to first understand how to use this technology which isn’t always trivial.

Entrepreneurial and innovation

Ideas, innovation, calculated risks, and a creative mind. These traits have earned entrepreneurs fame and huge profits – they use to be only associated with start-ups – however it’s now common to find innovation departments within large corporations as they try to fend off start-ups and keep their competitive advantage.

Keep up to date with technology and innovation by reading a variety of blogs and sites - you’ll be able to identify competition early, plan new product lines and learn about acquisition targets.

Entrepreneurial blogs and sites to read

Develop your entrepreneurial side

  • Be creative – read biographies, listen to entrepreneurial podcasts, read about start-up accelerator teams, attend innovation meetups.
  • Be a risk taker – it’s never too late to start familiarising yourself with risk taking. The risk taking mentality is one that places emphasis on long-term goals – the big picture rather than short term achievements.

Time management

People who manage time properly are generally more productive and stick to deadlines. An individual with effective time management skills is an asset to any organization - such people know how to prioritise tasks to get the essential jobs completed first.

The ability to stay organized and prioritize tasks will go a long way to moving you and your team forward. It’s also important to make quick decisions and act on opportunities without getting paralysed by analysis.

Quick time management tips

  • Learn how to Prioritize - work can be overwhelming at times, it’s up to you to categorize tasks by importance and letting the less important ones remain uncompleted.
  • Keeping a to do list - well curated to do lists function as an always on hand extension of your memory. It gives you a basic rundown of things that need attending to and saves you the stress of thinking each time you need to hop on to the next project.

Time management mistakes

  1. Failing to keep a to-do list
  2. Not setting goals, targets, aims
  3. Not prioritizing tasks
  4. Managing distractions
  5. Taking on too much
  6. Underestimating the effort something will take
  7. Multitasking
  8. Not planning ahead
  9. Ineffectively scheduling tasks
  10. Focussing on the wrong thing
  11. Being a perfectionist

Delegation

In the context of a business, delegation entails transferring duties and tasks to colleagues. Ideally, this should be the long-term goal of every business personnel, reaching the stage where your business or team work for you and not the other way round.

Managing people, or even working alongside colleagues, doesn’t mean taking on all of the work yourself. In business, a spirit of collaboration benefits everyone, and part of collaboration is delegation. This means offering other people opportunities to do work and grow.

No matter how talented and educated, one individual cannot do everything that needs to be done to keep an organization on track toward its goals. The ability to surround yourself with talented people, who can fill the gaps in your knowledge and expertise, will help complete projects of all types.

Delegation is also an important detail of time management. If you take everything on yourself, chances are your work in key areas will suffer. Someone who excels in business will be able to manage their own workload by appropriately delegating tasks and projects to colleagues and subordinates.

Learn how to delegate

  • Improve your communication – You cannot delegate effectively if your colleagues do not have a clear and concise understanding of what you want them to do.
  • Be a good mentor – Don’t just delegate because you want to pass on responsibilities, delegate because you want your colleagues to grow and improve.
  • Learn to trust others – You have to trust the capabilities of your colleagues to perform a giving task. Resist the urge to micromanage as this creates a sense of insecurity which ultimately leads to inefficiency.


This guide has led you through important business skills you need to flourish within your business or workplace. Try to develop one of these topics every week - you’ll be surprised how much improvement you see over a couple of months.