You’re already an expert in your field. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of starting your own business. Yet unless that field exists in a perfect, unchanging vacuum that’s not subject to new innovations or market changes, there’s always going to be something that you’ll need to learn.
That’s why professional development is so important to your continued success. Getting to the top of your game is only half the battle – the other half is staying up there for good. Here’s what you need to think about when it comes to choosing the best professional development solutions for you.
1. Keep Up With Industry Developments
This one’s a no-brainer, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t include it here. You’ve got a responsibility to keep up with the developments of your industry in order to remain relevant. Standards and practices evolve over time thanks to new technologies or even just changing cultural landscapes, and it’s important to adapt to these changes in order to continue to provide the best level of service that you can.
Attempting to use older, outdated methods isn’t just ineffective, it’s likely to mark you as behind the times. A good example of this is how the online marketing world has gone through so many changes. Digital marketing has gone from primitive search engine optimization efforts like keyword stuffing to much more advanced techniques like social media and influencer marketing. If you tried to run a modern marketing campaign using old, out-of-date methods, you’d never get anywhere, so it’s important to educate yourself on new techniques to stay current.
2. Diversify Your Interests
Now for something a bit more unconventional when it comes to professional development: diversify your interests beyond those that are directly related to your line of work. Such counterintuitive advice may resonate with the old saying about being a jack of all trades, but in this context it’s important to remember the rest of the saying: being a “jack of all trades” might mean that you’re a master of none, but that’s still better than being just a master of one.
No matter what line of work you’re in, you’ll benefit from a broader experience. Tapping into the curiosity of the human spirit and expanding your horizons into topics that are tangential at best might not seem like much of a professional benefit, but the truth is that broadening and diversifying your interests can pay off by giving you the opportunity to learn transferable skills that can support and enrich your efforts to make your own business more successful.
3. Work On Your Communication Skills
Any small business owner knows the hustle of maintaining positive client relationships. Ultimately this all comes down to being able to communicate clearly and with understanding, and that means that you’ll have to hone those communication skills, both spoken and written, no matter what line of work you’re in if you want to continue to build those all-important relationships.
Building on your current communication skills – or at least maintaining them at their existing level – doesn’t need to be an exhaustive endeavor; you don’t have to go and join your local ToastMasters chapter if you don’t want to. Honing interpersonal communication is often more about developing active listening skills when talking face-to-face or on the phone and reading comprehension when communicating over email or other digital mediums.
4. Commit to Earning a Sheepskin
Last but not least, there’s the most traditional and labor-intensive route when it comes to professional development: hitting the books. Whether it’s for a certification in a specific new set of technical skills or a degree in an entire field of study, going back to school and picking up a formal education is never a bad idea.
This is, of course, the one method that’s likely to take the longest and require the most commitment on your part. They’re also going to require you to invest the most in terms of financial resources. However, the potential benefits of picking up a new cert or two – or a shiny new sheepskin – are rather dramatic. Furthermore, you can think of it as an investment in the most important part of your small business: you.
5. The Sky’s the Limit
When it comes to professional development, there’s really no wrong way to go about it. As long as you devote yourself fully to learning something new and interesting – and you’re just as devoted to finding a transferable skill or developing a perspective that provides new life to your small business – almost any activity can be considered professional development.
Even the simplest and most seemingly frivolous activities can teach important lessons – just because you don’t learn it in an office environment doesn’t mean it’s not useful! Learning that you need to let the glue dry completely on your model airplane before painting it is an important lesson in patience, much in the same way that running from a bear you encounter on your nature hike a lesson in when to take decisive action.
Whatever route you take – picking up a new certification, taking time out to catch up with your industry’s latest developments, honing your interpersonal skills, or just taking the time to work on yourself – the person who comes out the other end is likely going to be a more effective small business owner than before. That’s the lesson to be learned here, and one that will serve you well in the future.
Author: Benjamin Shepardson is the founder of NoStop Ghost Writing, a Key West-based content agency specializing in delivering personalized experiences. With an extensive digital career dating back to before social media and WordPress, Ben personally works with clients to craft a content strategy that will scale and grow their business. Follow him on Twitter at @nostop_content