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Work in Progress: We’re All Generalists! by @projectmaven

Work in Progress: The Life of an Entrepreneur in Beta

This is a series dedicated to the new entrepreneur. Welcome to the life you’ve always dreamed of creating.

Being an entrepreneur means by definition that you are responsible for overseeing many levels of your business. However, given our economy and the rapidly changing corporate landscape, today’s managers and even administrative personnel in small, medium and large offices are being called upon to exercise many skills that have not previously been part of their training or experience.

The day I showed up for my first temp job after graduation, my new boss handed me a shoebox full of receipts and said, “Do something with this.” Was I a bookkeeper? No. But I took a column pad and divided up the expenses into categories, and made sure everything totaled up properly. It wasn’t that hard. As a bonus, after a couple of months I discovered that the office manager was writing herself extra paychecks. When she got fired (and prosecuted) for embezzlement, I got promoted to her position.

My next office management job was at a small medical practice. Since I already knew my way around a column pad, adding payroll to my list of skills wasn’t a big stretch. That and all the rest of my daily administrative tasks quickly grew to include all manners of patient interaction, including fielding medical questions, playing DJ (important to set the right mood!), calming nerves and cooling tempers when the schedule went awry, not to mention making sure the boss was fed...

When I segued into the event production industry seven years ago, I found that all of the skills I had developed in my earlier jobs were completely transferable. Instead of calming distraught patients, I was soothing anxious clients. Regardless of the business, I encountered people daily who depended on me to provide accurate information, clear communication, technical expertise and a relatively stress-free experience.

Anyone who is intelligent and motivated can develop a comfort level working with new software programs and online platforms. This site is filled with expert tips on which pieces of tech are best suited to your needs. The kind of skills that I’m talking about are the ones that typically develop over time, after you’ve worked in a number of different types of business situations.

This is good news, given how volatile the job market is these days. Many of us are in the midst of changing careers, being re-assigned or just plain looking for work. Whether you are launching a new entrepreneurial venture, trying to manage an expansion of the scope of your  present job or looking for work in a new field, it’s important to be able to articulate the things that you know how to do so that you can claim your authority and if necessary, distinguish yourself from everyone else.

Here are some great skills to polish up for the days ahead:

Time Management - Personally, I think this one is paramount. A key ingredient to having a productive and satisfying work experience to is to start out each morning with a plan that pairs a list of priorities with a reasonable expectation of what is possible to accomplish in a given day. Put down the most important things first, and the times when you’ll be working on them. Scheduling it all is really helpful and gives you a better shot at completing the tasks. Just make sure you factor in some “crap time” to allow for the inevitable last minute things that come up.

Ego Management - It really helps if you can develop some ability to manage your need to be right all the time. Put your ego aside, and let your boss and your clients be the right ones. They are the ones paying you. Unless your point needs to be made in order to save the integrity of the entire company, or the fate of a huge campaign, or a major project, or your physical well being or integrity, (I’m not advocating any kind of abuse here), then let it go. If what is being asked of you is truly a deal breaker, and there’s no room for negotiation, then consider walking away - it’s not healthy to be in a situation that makes such unreasonable demands of you.

Diplomacy - I’m a bit of a natural people pleaser (which has its pros and cons), so I can often tell when situations need a little more smoothing over. But the flip side of this is that you need to be clear about boundaries and expectations, so that there are no surprises or miscommunications. Yes, there are tactful ways to say things. You can be kind at the same time as you are stating something very firmly. My friend calls me the “velvet hammer.”

Flexibility - You gotta learn to go with the flow. It’s pretty much the name of the game. No matter which scenario you find yourself in, circumstances can change in a heartbeat. Funding falls through, you lose accounts, technical glitches impede progress, deliveries are late, vendors flake out, snowstorms destroy your event attendance, shit happens! Best to cultivate a positive attitude, so you don’t get completely derailed every time something goes wrong.

Self-Discipline - There are going to be parts of your job that you can’t stand. It’s just the nature of work. Hopefully, there are parts that you really love, too. Make it a point to dig into at least one task that you really hate first thing in your day. Get it over with. Then, move on to the part of the job that you love. If necessary, reward yourself with a cappuccino, or ten minutes playing around on Facebook before moving back to the next unpleasant task. But remember, every time you check one of those nasty bits off your list, you get to pat yourself on the back for being so mature. Besides, delayed gratification is always so much sweeter...

Perspective - At the end of the day, it’s a job. It’s not your soul, your spirit, or your essence. (You get to keep that part for yourself and explore it on your own time.) This work - it may be what occupies much of your waking hours, but in the end, you are more than just your occupation. Keeping this in mind will allow you to let go of the frustrations that might otherwise end up making you kick the dog, or worse. Even if it’s your own company, and you are pursuing your life’s passion, your dream job - you still have to maintain SOME form of life/work balance, otherwise you, too can end up dribbling into a cup at the end of the day.

Being A Renaissance Person - Make a list of all the diverse things you know how to do. You’d be surprised how handy some of these skills may come in… Used to be a DJ in college? Make a great mixed tape. Make a great Spotify mix that helps set a good mood in the office. Got a license? Pinch hit as a driver or errand runner… Learn your way around Quickbooks, Mailchimp, Paint or Dropbox so you can make yourself useful in other ways. Bilingual? Use your second language!

The bottom line is, the more tools you are familiar with, and the greater variety of talents and skills you bring to the table, the more useful you will be to your team, as an assistant, a collaborator and a supervisor. It’s a new era. We’re all becoming generalists!

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