With as fast as technology changes today, keeping your business development abilities fresh can be a challenge. What works on social media now can fail to pass muster six months later. The same holds true with business operations such as marketing, sales, and customer service. And as Michael Marshall, business consultant and CEOWORLDMagazine contributor, notes, if those items remain isolated from each other or lack executive leadership, business sales and growth suffer.
Fortunately, a solution to the problem exists. Technology offers opportunities to expand your learning, as do the people you work with.
According to American Express’s OPEN Forum, business development involves nine tips, with the first being to know yourself and your competition. It’s good advice. By knowing what makes your business stand out, you’re better able to position its products and services for your customers. But that knowledge isn’t the end of the work. These six other resources can help you hone your business development skills and secure your spot in the marketplace.
- Business Advisors and Coaches
Business advisors and coaches seem so similar that they could almost be the same thing. However, they perform different functions. A business advisor helps you set a long-term strategy; that is, they advise, the same as a financial planner would.
A business coach, by contrast, sticks with you. They, like a football coach, put you through the paces. A coach also monitors your progress and makes sure you stay on target with goals. Both advisors and coaches charge for their services, but they can be helpful, particularly when you’re seeking help with something specific, such as technology investments or human resources matters.
- Business Mentors
Successful mentorship occurs on two levels. One, you receive mentoring—you never outgrow the need for someone invested in your success. Sheila Eugenio, Entrepreneur writer, makes a solid case for seeking out a mentor, saying it increases your chances of entrepreneurial success.
She also says a mentor could help you develop stronger emotional intelligence, a quality needed when hiring, firing, and managing employees. You can find mentors almost anywhere, but a good place to start is SCORE, a mentorship program that partners with the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Two, you pair employees with mentors, usually through a formal mentor program. Doing so offers measurable impact, improving employee retention and job satisfaction. Mentor programs also bridge generational gaps, develop talent, and transmit intellectual knowledge—the information people know after years of work experience but couldn’t ever document without writing a full-length memoir.
- In-Person Networking
Rhonda Abrams’ USA Today article about networking states, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” You know the truth of the statement, if only experientially. Some of your clients and customers might come from cold calls. Most, however, likely come through referrals, recommendations, and relationships.
To increase those personal connections, spend more time networking. But be smart about it—not all network groups or events will result in referrals and sales. You want groups where you not only have fun but also learn and gather leads.
- Local Associations
Besides networking, you should avail yourself to local associations and informal groups. One of these associations is the National Business Development Association (NBDA), which oversees chapters throughout the United States. It primarily aims to share business development best practices through building relationships, offering classes, and showcasing executive speakers.
Other local organizations depend on your interest. For example, if you work in marketing, you could join the American Marketing Association (AMA). Organizations specific to accounting, minorities, women, human resources, and health care management also exist. For more informal gatherings, check out Meetup. You can find groups specific to mobile application development or local forums and tech breakfasts.
- Video and Audio Networks
If your eyebrow rises at the mention of YouTube, please set your skepticism aside. More than cat videos and aspiring pop stars call the platform home. You can also find channels for TED Talks, Google Business, Entrepreneur, and well-known figures like Gary Vaynerchuk and Brian Tracy. For more must-watch channels, visit Mark Fidelman’s article at Forbes. He delivers a list of twenty contenders and promises that they “will change your business.”
Podcasts also offer a treasure trove of business-related information. You can find shows about almost any subject under the sun and listen to them whenever you wish—at the gym, sitting in traffic, etc.
If you’re just venturing into podcasts, give Mixergy a try. Its host, Andrew Warner, sometimes organizes interviews into how-to business courses. You can find more business podcasts to listen to by reading Matt Mayberry’s The 24 Best Podcasts for Entrepreneurs in 2017. He offers a good mix of potential podcasts as well as a slew of ones about start-ups. To discover other podcasts, run a query on Google, iTunes, or Spotify.
- Online Subscriptions
YouTube and most podcasts tend to offer their content for free. Other places, such as Skillshare, Treehouse, Lynda.com, and Udemy, charge a subscription fee. You should think of these sites as digital subscription boxes. Once you join, you can take as many classes as you like for a set price per month, quarter, or year. The sites mentioned here are by no means the end; visit The Balance to view twenty-six websites that teach “incredibly useful new skills.”
If you find the traditional classroom setting more to your liking, worry not. Local co-working spaces and General Assembly can assist you. The former often offers informal learning and networking opportunities. The latter provides some learning events for free but typically charges for semester-long classes.
Once you know yourself and the competition, spend some time with the six resources shared above. They will enhance your business development skills. Perhaps more importantly, they will help your business flourish for many years to come.