I’ve written before about the importance of relationships and networking for successful women entrepreneurs. But it’s not just who you know. Sometimes, it really is what you know—or how you react to what you don’t know.
I have been lucky enough to meet some pretty incredible businesswomen through my research, my job, and my work as a member of Astia’s Board of Trustees. These entrepreneurs have out-innovated and out-performed the competition so well, so consistently and confidently, that it can be easy to forget that they’re mere mortals. They don’t actually know how to do everything when it comes to business. What sets them apart is not their smarts and capabilities. Instead, they’re distinguished by how they react when they don’t know something.
Not one of these women were born knowing how to get funding, start a business, grow a business, answer to a board, or to face failure head-on. When I talk to successful women entrepreneurs about their trajectories, I hear the same types of comments over and over: “I had no business starting a business,” or “I had no idea what I was doing; I just had to figure it out.”
How can you “just figure it out”? Here are the give steps that work for successful entrepreneurs. See where they can take you.
Step 1: Get a Grip and Get Out of Your Own Way. This is the most important step. Stop judging yourself for what you don’t know. Instead look at gaps in your abilities as data points to be addressed.
So many new female entrepreneurs I talk with apologize profusely for not knowing something. I never get that from their male peers. Ever. Successful entrepreneurs adopt an objective approach to their gaps. You need to let go of any negative feelings you might have toward what you don’t know. Then you can refocus your energy on moving forward.
Step 2: Know What You Know; Figure Out What You Don’t. Ok, so now you are in the objective, observing state of mind. You are entering new territory—maybe it’s your first funding pitch, or you’re putting together your board. Visualize the great pitch that you want to develop or the great board you know you can assemble. Now, list everything that needs to be in place, or everything you need to do, to get there. Highlight what you are capable of doing given your skills and experience. Circle the rest.
Step 3: Prioritize. Are there any common themes among the gaps your circled? Any areas that can be grouped together? Then list the top three competency gaps or clusters that are the most critical right now. If something is keeping you from moving ahead, then it counts as a priority. That said, you can’t have ten or even five number one priorities and still manage your daily business and personal needs. Keep your list manageable by keeping it small.
Step 4: Find the Path that’s Right for You. There’s more than one way to get smart. Think build, buy, partner. What do you need to personally master and what can you outsource? What you need to know yourself, and what you can outsource. You probably don’t need to be able to draw up a balance sheet like an accountant, but you probably do need to know how to make decisions from a financial statement. So make two lists, one for things you need to know personally and one for things you can outsource or partner up on and still achieve the same outcome (and, in some cases, close the gaps even faster).
Step 5: Make it Happen with a Little Help from your Friends. This is where your relationships become really important. Tap into your network. Who can help you get the exposure you need to learn more about pitching? Who can you talk to about bringing a CFO on board to fill gaps in your financial knowledge? Is there someone you know who might know a good distribution partner?
With these five steps, you can develop the competencies you need for any phase of your business – without having to become a superhuman know-it-all yourself. Now it’s your turn to try them out.