Successful business people are those who have the ability to adapt to an ever-changing business environment, something that’s facilitated by new skills sets. It’s true that what got you where you are today won’t be enough to take you where you want to be tomorrow — ongoing learning is essential if you want to keep abreast of the latest business trends and information and give your business and career the best chance of success. Skills and knowledge are as much a differentiator as great business ideas or a top-notch product.
For most people the obvious route to learning is through structured courses at recognised learning institutions, but continuous skills development can take a variety of different forms. Business coaching, networking and online learning can all contribute to a rich learning experience, complementing traditional forms of learning and providing you with a diversity of theoretical, practical and ‘soft’ skills.
South Africa has some outstanding business schools with affiliations to international universities and institutions. A full-time business degree is a luxury few can afford, but most business schools recognise the impracticality of business people studying full-time and also offer part-time degrees, diplomas and short courses.
Few things can match classroom lectures in providing a well-rounded education experience — they enable you to interact with lecturers and fellow students and ask questions in real time.
Choose courses that will provide you with both knowledge and skills to enable you to go further in business. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of your learning experience — do you want certain practical skills, a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of business or a qualification that will open new doors? This should inform the kind of course and institution you choose.
The Internet has opened up a world of learning that surpasses international barriers and allows learning to take place almost anywhere. Sam Paddock, managing director of online education company GetSmarter, points out, “Online learning is inherently flexible, which provides entrepreneurs with a chance to fit learning interventions into their hectic schedules.” He adds that provided the online education model is ‘high-touch’, incorporating regular proactive guidance and support, even the busiest of people will successfully complete online courses. For GetSmarter, ‘high-touch’ means a high level of proactive and personal contact with students, something that can approximate an in-lecture learning experience.
In addition, online courses enable entrepreneurs to gain access to many more learning opportunities than would usually be the case with contact-based learning, which is limited by their physical location. “When it comes to specialist skills this sort of access to education, which is independent of physical location, becomes critical for entrepreneurs,” Paddock explains.
Business coaching is one of the fastest-growing professions in the world — and with good reason. It provides business people with (typically) one-on-one targeted assistance focused on solving specific problems or achieving particular goals.
“Business coaching won’t ever necessarily replace traditional modes of learning and nor should it, but it can complement them by providing business people with real implementation skills,” says Harry Welby-Cooke, master licensee of ActionCOACH South Africa. Welby-Cooke believes that while many business people have the necessary knowledge to take the next steps in business, they don’t know how or even where to implement it effectively.
“A good business coach provides an important outside perspective.
“They don’t collude with you or allow you to hide from the things in your business that are lacking or require your attention. So if you’re not good at finance and you typically ignore that side of your business, the coach will force you to look at it, acquire and implement the necessary financial knowledge to bring this aspect of your business on track,” he explains.
A business coach can also be a spurring and challenging influence, as the president of the Cape Town chapter of the International Coach Federation, Axel Ritterhaus, points out: “For start-ups, coaching can provide the self-confidence and stamina needed to get through the first hurdles and later on can help you to refocus on the business when you might otherwise get overwhelmed by the different tasks and demands of running a company,” he says.
“Coaching can help executives to be better leaders. A coach can be a sparring partner who challenges you to take things to the next level, someone who is honest with you and provides you with real and valuable feedback that you can use.”
While less formal than institutional and online learning, as well as coaching, networking can also provide you with valuable skills. Apart from providing you with the opportunity to bounce ideas off other entrepreneurs, it can help you to build your team skills set.
MBAconnect.net founder, Colette Symanowitz, explains, “If your networking efforts enable you to meet and partner with other entrepreneurs who are strong in the areas where you’re weak, your skills will complement each other and your collective skills as a team will grow stronger. This applies to professional, technical and soft skills.”
But she adds a note about the importance of seeking out people who have different skills to yours: “Be careful not to partner with others who you gravitate towards simply because they are similar to you, as this can be destructive for your business. As difficult as it may be, in your networking efforts it is vital to seek out partners who are your skill-set opposites and who you don’t naturally click with.”
Choosing a Partner for Education
Who you learn with is as important, and indeed will affect what you learn, so choosing the right education partner is critical. Whether you are selecting a bricks-and-mortar institution, an online education academy, a business coach or a networking group, look for the following:
- An established reputation: Organisations of quality have a solid reputation for a reason. Beware of fly-by-night organisations and remember that education doesn’t come cheap, so you usually get what you pay for.
- Recognised accreditation: Relevant to formal qualifications, accreditation is an external stamp of approval, providing assurance that the education you are getting meets a particular standard.
- Endorsement from others: If other people in your field have found the institute, society or association helpful and valuable there’s a good chance you will too.
- Depth of learning: The educators and courses on offer should provide you with a depth of learning.
- Practical and theoretical skills: Business is about implementation so a quality institution will provide you with real-life and theoretical business knowledge.