I regularly get asked what the one thing is that business owners need to do/have to be successful. A variation of this is what is the one thing that helped me grow my business to the success it has today?

While it’s hard to pin down one thing that can take your business from nothing to something, I think a key element is the ability to learn. Tied up in learning is the fact that it takes hard work to understand a new idea and turn it into something you can use in your work.

[Tweet “Taking your business from nothing to something requires the ability to learn.”]

It doesn’t matter if it’s a new application, or a new programming language, or a new business process. Taking in the information is only part of the equation. Once you have it in your head, you need to turn it into something that can actually be used in your work.

Change requires mental and/or physical activity. One cannot become physically stronger simply by wishing for larger muscles. Similarly, one cannot develop or enhance mental skills by allowing the mind to wander randomly from one thought to the next. – Resilience

You’re not born with it

Most people start a business because they can do a skill and are tired of working for someone else. They can already design effectively, or build sites, or fix bikes, and it seems to only be a small step to take that skill and charge money for it rather than trading your hours for dollars where someone else earns the profit.

Ultimately, success requires more than just the skill you’re selling. You need to know how to track your time, stay on track with your time, write good proposals, market your services…and a myriad of other things. Without all those other things in your tool chest you still have your skill — and you may even have nothing more than a hobby. You don’t have a business that pays the mortgage day in, day out though. You need to learn those skills and apply them effectively to your business if you want to be successful.

Traits of an effective learner

If you want to be an effective learner there are a few key traits you need to have in an ideal world.

First, you need to be willing to do the work required to have an opinion. While this is the intellectual ideal, it is certainly not achievable in every facet of a successful business. You can spend 12 months evaluating every possible billing software before you make an informed opinion on the single one you choose for your business. We’ll get back to this in a second.

The second thing you need to do is realize that you don’t have all the answers. Other people with divergent opinions are not stupid, they just believe something different than you do. You should always be willing to listen to the other side and weigh their opinion.

We don’t live in an ideal world though. At some point you have to make a decision and live with it while you get on with delivering work to your clients.

How much time to devote to learning?

Everyone says that learning is essential for companies’ success—and for your own. And yet, on a daily basis, who cares for your learning? No one. People care about what you have learned. They care about your results. Learning is great as long as you do it quietly, in your own time. – Gianpiero Petriglieri

When it comes to evaluating software tools I’ve already told you how I approach it. I look at the problems I have with current tools and then see if there are any options that may solve those problems without adding a host of new problems. I only do this once a year. Then I make my decision and live with it for a year unless something ends up being a terrible idea and needs to disappear.

For new skill development I devote at least an afternoon a week to developing a new skill. If I’m doing an online course I usually do a module a day. My reading is done pretty much every day because at night or when I have down time at home, I don’t choose to watch TV, I read.

For the rest of this month we’re going to talk about how to be an effective learner so that you can get the skills you’ll need to run an awesome business.

photo credit: billward cc

2 responses to “If you want a successful business, you need to be a learner”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    Technology and software require the ability to learn. In fact, that’s the number one thing that’s going to guarantee success over the long-term. Those who cannot adapt will not flourish. Thanks for reiterating this truth, Curtis.

  2. Ginger Coolidge Avatar

    Hi Curtis,

    Thanks for this topic. I’m trying to be smart about my time as I watch knowthecode.io labs to increase my development skills, and keep creating assets that I may market as products. I don’t want to go all one way or the other, I need to keep creating things since I learn that way as well.