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5 entrepreneurs share the critical skills they learnt on the job

And what you can learn from their hard-won experiences


While books, mentorships and training programmes can help prepare entrepreneurs for some of the challenges they may encounter in the course of running their businesses - there are, however, lessons that can only be learnt through experience. 

This often steep learning curve is one that most entrepreneurs will be familiar with. From critical sales and tech skills to the often overlooked interpersonal skills, we speak to 5 entrepreneurs to find out the biggest lessons they have had to learn on the job. 

They are: Jimmy Christelis, founder of Jimmy’s Killer Prawns – a seafood franchise that operates locally and internationally; Lance Baum, founder of Wazupa, an online platform that connects chefs and foodies; Andile Khumalo, founder of Andy Tosh SP, a PR, communication and management company; Pancho Harding, founder of Origin Systems, a legal and software consultancy and Jeandre Leslie, the co-owner of MIR PR Agency, a public relations and events agency. 

Left to right: Lance Baum, Jimmy Christelis, Jeandre Leslie, Pancho Harding and Andile Khumalo

'Motivate my staff'
 - The first unexpected skill I learnt was how to motivate and train my staff effectively. When I first went into business I quickly realised that staff are the face of your business and they directly impact the success of your business. For them to be effective and profitable they need to know your product extremely well and be able to pass that knowledge onto the customer in a quick and easy to understand way. They also need to be friendly and personable and passionate about what they are doing. I learnt that the only way to do this was to have regular training sessions and also recognise success and correct failure in a positive manner – Jimmy Christelis

'Listen' - I became a more active listener. As we deal with so many different stakeholders – clients, employees, suppliers and investors – each with their own requirements and end goals, and each essential to the success of the business, it becomes imperative to listen actively to have a meaningful engagement. One also becomes more adept at non-verbal communication. Today, continuously strengthening emotional intelligence is essential - Jeandre Leslie 

'Maintain good relationships' - When you work in the industry I'm in you encounter different people and some [who are difficult], but you'll find yourself needing their skills in order to achieve certain goals and tasks for the client. So you have to be able to manage and control all situations as an entrepreneur, and yet at the same time maintain good relationships with people because they are worth more than your qualifications, they make your business - Andile Khumalo

'It's in the details' - ​The management skills needed to handle non-income-generating back office work such as accounts, technical infrastructure and key external providers such as internet and telephony providers, have proven to be extremely important – Pancho Harding

'Delegate to get it done' - As an entrepreneur you juggle many different balls, but you cannot do everything yourself. To be successful (and not burn out in the process), the art of delegation becomes one of your most important skills, supported by a system of control to track completion of delegated tasks - Jeandre Leslie 

'Maintain records' - I wasn't aware that I would have to print out all my invoices, POPs (proof of payments), contracts, receipts, strategy documents, press releases, reports - everything that has to do with the day-to-day running of the business and file it – Andile Khumalo

'Business savvy' - ​Being more a tech person I have had to apply myself to the financial side of the business just in terms of preparing financial projections and dealing with the payment side of our app – Lance Baum

'Know as much as your accountant' - I studied entrepreneurship and project management as additional modules whilst studying IT, but not in much detail. Now I make sure that my books balance and that I keep records of all transactions. This is a skill I had to master before I could even think of getting an accountant to do my books – Andile Khumalo

'Map out a strategy' - When running your own business, effective research becomes your most important skill. You cannot make decisions or map tactics and strategy without knowledge. And knowledge is gained by research. You need to know how to find the information you need, and more often than not, you need to know how to find it fast - Jeandre Leslie

'Trends and changes' - Being able to early identify trends or changes in the market that could impact on my business or open up opportunities for me has been critical. This ability is becoming more important as the rate of change is now happening so fast. I also learnt the importance of data in growing my business, and to select only the data that is relevant and that will give a good overview of the business – Jimmy Christelis

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