Staying ahead of curve has many angles

As the business owner, it can be difficult to find time for your own improvement.  But at the same time, you’re the one who most impacts whether the company is working well or not.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there.

We typically think about professional development as “send someone to a class.”  That’s fine for certain kinds of skills, but can fall behind in the application of skills to a worker’s situation. This structure is designed for technical skills, things which are taught primarily through lecture and demonstration.

Soft skills are a bit more difficult to teach. An instructor can explain at length how you should motivate your employees, but your one-to-one discussions end up having a lot of twists and turns that were never taught in class. This is where experiential exercises, coaching and feedback sessions can give you a more powerful learning environment.

There’s another category, though, which is less about your behaviors and more about the way you think. For instance, I’ve been involved with the Fort Collins Chamber’s monthly EntrepreNerds program. This is a powerful way for me to keep current with the latest thinking about innovation, management, business models and a wide range of other topics.

Yes, I could just go out and read the books they recommend. But it’s more important to me to engage in the discussions around each topic. I’m able to actually apply this leading-edge thinking to my life and business, and it’s a whole lot cheaper (in time and money) than going to some all-day seminar in another state.

Another great resource is the Small Business Development Center, which has locations across the country. They do a great job of having bite-sized presentations and workshops on a range of useful topics. Many are tuned to new entrepreneurs, but much that’s useful to more experienced businesspeople.

Chambers of commerce can be quite valuable. I follow various chambers from Denver north to the Wyoming border, because it’s an easy drive if there’s something valuable and compelling. I find lots of inexpensive workshops, networking functions and more structured events. During the summer I’m taking advantage of a more laid-back personal schedule to be able to travel a bit further and meet new people. Most events are open to nonmembers, usually at a reasonable cost.

Let’s not forget BizWest, the Denver Business Journal, InnovatioNews and similar business publications. I keep up on developments with these publications daily, staying on top of local business events and useful connections. It’s not just about the articles; industry lists, notices and even advertisements can be incredibly helpful.

Of course, you’ll have your own industry publications and groups. I’m a member of the International Coach Federation, and subscribe to various relevant magazines and newsletters. But there’s a danger in focusing too much energy on this: Industry-specific publications tend not to give you leading-edge thinking from the broader market. I tend to find that some of the best ideas are simply leveraged from solid thinkers in other industries, precisely because those ideas aren’t as well known in my own.

Sometimes I feel guilty about not having enough time to read all the books that I’d like to. Instead, I monitor a range of newsletters, podcasts and news feeds. I can be skimming for new ideas and interesting information while the TV is on in the background, or listening to a podcast while mowing the lawn or driving between meetings. There’s a wealth of useful information out there in these formats, almost all of it free.

It’s one thing to have news and information wash over you, but you may not learn anything important until you take action. So when you look through the paper, always be looking for what you can learn and apply. When out networking, I’m always seeking out people who will challenge me and bring me new ideas. A deep conversation will usually result in both of us getting great value, and developing a relationship for the future.

Don’t neglect your own development! Your business is at its current level largely because of what you know and how you act.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is www.smallfish.us.

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