Entrepreneurs spend plenty of time coming up with a brilliant idea, securing funding, and developing a marketing strategy for their business. However, one thing first time entrepreneurs frequently underestimate is the importance of good management. Even if you're just a team of one, when your business grows and you bring on staff, management quickly becomes essential - and at the early stages when money is tight, you can expect that role to fall squarely on you.
While it's difficult to know the right path in uncertain times – and a new venture is definitely uncertain - it's critical to project an image of confidence to those around you. Employees want to trust and respect their leader, and decisiveness, projected strength, and communication are the essential ingredients to gaining confidence. You always want to lead by example. If you're asking your staff to put in 60 hours per week while you spend half that time at the golf course, you're unlikely to gain their trust.
Ability to deal with conflict
If you're unable to quickly and effectively diffuse employee conflicts, your venture could be in big trouble. Your best bet is to stay in close contact with your staff, and when you see a problem, confront it swiftly and directly. Get both sides of the story, arrange a meeting where both employees can air their grievances, and discuss the conflict openly and honestly until it's resolved. Once that's done, forget about it and move on (and follow up to make sure your staff members have moved on as well).
If you can't manage your time effectively, your entire business cycle could grind to a halt while your staff waits for your input and decisions. Create a rough schedule for yourself, complete the bulk of your work when you're at your best, plan and take breaks, and use time management software if you need to. This kind of regimented work ethic can not only help your business run more efficiently, but can prove contagious in the workplace.
Handling employees of all ages
Entrepreneurs are getting younger and the workforce is getting older. Chances are, you're going to be managing employees who have been around a lot longer than you have. Be respectful to them at all times, and be patient if they're slightly less tech-savvy than you. Offer up tips and pointers on new technology, and by all means, always have an open ear. Just because they're employees doesn't mean their years of experience can't benefit your business strategy.
Dealing with criticism
As the manager of a small business, you need to give credence to all criticism - and I'm not just talking about a bad online review or a customer complaint. Even more crucial is dealing with employee criticism. In most cases, a critical employee is not complaining out of spite, but because of a legitimate issue. Take it seriously, deal with it in a mature fashion, and see if you can use it as a springboard to improve your operations.
If you can't effectively communicate with your staff, you won't succeed. Too many leaders have tried and failed with the top-down approach of launching commands from the throne. Instead, get to know your people on a personal level, make yourself available to them at all times, and try to genuinely understand their wants and needs. Employees who feel like their comments go unnoticed are eventually going to find another job.
If you experience success early on, reward your team. If you make a mistake, fess up to it and move on. And once you've got all of this seriousness out of the way, remember to encourage your staff to have fun. They look to you for guidance, and if you're perpetually anxious and stiff-necked in your approach, your employees are never going to feel comfortable and do the job they're capable of doing.
What other management skills can you think of that first-time entrepreneurs need?
David Bakke runs a small business in Atlanta and writes about business, finance, and lifestyle topics at Money Crashers Personal Finance