I can still remember my mom‘s toolkit in the basement. As a kid, it was longer than I was tall and it was heavier than my own weight. I still have problems lifting it today. But it had absolutely everything in it. It was a dream come true for every home improver.
It was even popular among neighbors and they regularly came over to borrow tools. My mom’s toolkit is probably worth more than the first car I bought. I always wondered why my mom needed such a huge toolkit, which she was barely able to lift. She barely used any of the tools in it anyways.
So one day I asked her, “Mom, why do you need such a big toolkit? You’re only using a fraction of the tools in it anyways, right?” Up until now I never saw most of the sorts of tools in there ever again in my life. I didn’t even know how to spell most of them or what their name actually was.
What she told me that day made total sense to me, although I didn’t really understand all of what she was trying to tell me back then. Here’s what she told me:
“You never know what needs to be fixed next. It’s best to have a full set of tools available or no tools at all. If you don’t have a full set of tools, you might find some things you can’t fix, get discouraged and call a handyman.
And if you called the handyman once you’ll call the handyman over and over again, because he can quickly and easily solve all problems for you. Humans are a lazy bunch and convenience is everything.
So you either have a full set of tools or you’ll start to rely on your handyman… and that’s when it starts to get expensive ad you’re in trouble.”
Just recently I had to think about these words again when I was trying to prepare a presentation on skills you should have when you want to become an entrepreneur or find out why you suck at being an entrepreneur. A complete toolkit for aspiring entrepreneurs so to say.
Reflecting about my experiences of the past years and the people I encountered on my journey I tried to narrow down a list of skills which I found out to be most essential when trying to become or being an entrepreneur (feel free to add yours).
It actually took me many years, a lot of hardship, countless mistakes and probably way too much money to learn the importance of assembling my “entrepreneurial toolkit” in advance. A lesson my mom told me many years before already. But just like every kid I didn’t want to listen to her. I ignored her advice.
Most people (including myself) think the path to becoming an entrepreneur starts once you quit your job and start working on your own business. Even though this is possible, it makes a lot more sense to start working on the required skillset in advance.
I will call these skills muscles, because it is something you need to train and use all the time, just like your body’s muscles. If you don’t use them every day they will get weaker and weaker. But if you use them constantly they will grow stronger every day.
For none of the below mentioned muscles you need to have your own business. You don’t even need to quit the job that pays the bills. You can easily do all of these things at your regular job, on the weekends or during your free time…
#1 Networking Muscle
One of the most important muscles you need to develop is your networking muscle. These days, a lot of companies win the race just because they knew this guy or that girl at this one startup website or have some awesome biz dev contacts.
If you’re like me and bad at networking, hate being around people you don’t know or are fed up talking about some unimportant BS at networking events take a look at “How to be a Super Networker”. Feel free to copy the described strategy there.
#2 Giving Muscle
That’s actually a hard one. How can you give if you don’t have anything? The thing is, every one of us has at least some people they hang out with or know. You don’t need any money to train your giving muscle. All you need is to know about 10 people.
Know exactly what they do by heart. Think about what they would need and start looking for people that could fill their blanks. When I go to networking events I usually don’t go there because I need to find new contacts for some stuff I do (I usually don’t know what I want anyways).
Instead I just go there to find people that might be relevant for projects other people I know are working on. For me it doesn’t make any sense to harvest one contact after another, piling them up on my LinkedIn profile and watch them get all dusty and shit. That’s what most people will do.
But guess what. If the guy you met three years ago might become relevant for your stuff he won’t remember you. So he’d better remember you from introducing him to the one guy he made 10mn with, or the woman he’s now married to.
#3 Story Teller Muscle
If you’re not able to tell a story that fascinates people, that people will remember, you’ll just be a fish in a very, very big sea. You need to be the person that everyone talks about once the conference is over.
You need to be the guy people will talk about afterwards saying things like “This guy was so funny. He was telling awesome stories. I loved him. I don’t even care what he was selling, but I absolutely need to have it”.
People won’t remember charts, numbers, frameworks or some other highly specific stuff. They remember the stories you build around them. Your stories need to make them want to become a part of this story.
For example when I go on stage, I can talk about some of my stories for several hours. People are still fascinated about it. And guess what. You can make a story out of everything.
You can even tell great stories if you're a failed bum (like me). And people will love your stories. They will even want to get to know you because of the stories you tell. Not because of what you're trying to sell.
Most people that get in touch with me don't know what I do or who I am but they love the stories and then they start getting interested in what I do.
And trust me, everyone can become a storyteller. I was always bad at school in telling and writing stories. All you need to do is exercise it.
You just need a simple blog, a social media account, an account on meetup.com or a membership at a local toastmasters community. That’s all you need to start telling your stories and exercising your storyteller muscle.
That’s what I’m doing every day. Telling stories. And I’m getting better at it (or at least I can come up with story’s much quicker). The stuff you read right now is nothing else than just another exercise of training my storyteller muscle…
#4 Sales Muscle
The storyteller muscle and the sales muscle usually go hand in hand. But to be able to properly sell the product or service you were telling stories about you need to understand the entire psychology behind sales and your prospects.
The problem is that it usually takes quite some time until we are finally able to sell a product that we built for many months or sometimes even years.
When it finally comes to the sales part we are already too exhausted to pay attention to sales and are surprised and mostly desperate when our stuff doesn’t sell.
And then we quit. And we never really understood the entire sales game or were able to exercise our sales muscle. It makes so much more sense to start training our sales muscle with an easy to built and very simple product.
This allows us to exclusively focus on the sales part. It helps us to better understand the entire psychology behind sales and marketing. If you want to know more about selling products read the article “Why selling orange juice is better than building a tech company”.
The learnings will still be the same (complex or simple product) and they can easily be replicated and adapted to other products.
#5 Failure Muscle
Failing is always a tough thing. But what’s even tougher is to be able to dust off your shoulders, get up when you just got knocked out and still be motivated after 100 punches right in your face. But the good thing is that it can be learned and exercised as well.
The more open you’re to accepting failure, the more mistakes you make in the beginning, the more likely you’ll be able to deal with it and get up over and over again.
A simple way to train this muscle is to constantly bring yourself into situations where you can experience rejection.
Be it publishing a post on your blog, talking to strangers, going over to that girl in that bar, going on stage and presenting your ideas, making this cold call or sending that cold email and so on.
There are so many situations where we can train our failure muscle and pee our pants while on stage. And after a while you won't wet your pants anymore and grow some balls instead...
#6 Opportunity Muscle
There are millions of opportunities out there and that’s great. But most of us don’t really see most of them anymore. Sometimes we start working on one opportunity and then we usually begin to tunnel. We stop seeing other opportunities.
But the thing is that tunneling exclusively on one thing isn’t usually a good choice. Imagine the following situation:
You know that the probability of closing the deal with this big corporation is probably around 1% (maybe less).
After all you’re a startup with no track record or whatsoever. But you’ll nevertheless focus on this one big deal, start tunneling and don’t see all the other potential deals anymore (been there done that a hundred times).
You’re focusing on this one damn deal. But what you should do instead is to get in discussions with 200 people at the same time so you’ll make sure to have at least 2 deals instead of 1 deal with a probability of 1%.
Simple math. Simple theory. Even a five year old gets this (took me a while to really get this).
Unfortunately while tunneling most of us tend to forget about this simple but often quite deadly equation.
Tunneling is probably part of the main reasons for startup failure...
Key Take Away:
It makes a lot more sense to start training our different muscles way before we start working on our own company and quit our jobs.
If we only start exercising them once we put everything on one card (our own business) the things at stake and the risk is a lot higher.
And as every athlete and my mom knows, assembling a toolkit takes a lot of time and patience.
Something we usually don’t have when we start our own business and need to feed a family, pay the bills or need to show results to shareholders...
Recommended follow-up read: Confessions of an Entrepreneur
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