The 5 business development skills you need (and where to learn them)

7 min read
Kadambari Bahl

Running a business is tough — add a global pandemic to the mix and it becomes even more challenging. You start facing challenges you’ve never faced before. Improving your business development skills can help you tackle and conquer these obstacles.

You must learn how to identify opportunities, research leads, establish relationships with clients and understand the industry.

To run a successful business you don’t need a professional degree, but you do need a certain set of skills.

5 business development skills to help you boost your business

While there isn’t a straightforward answer to which business development skills would suit your business specifically, there are some skills that you should develop, regardless of your type of business. Here are some of them:

1. Communication skills

Effective communication is a vital part of just about any business. You need to be a strong communicator to be able to explain your point of view and share your business ideas.

  • Public Speaking
  • Active Listening
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation
  • Relationship Building

All fall under the ambit of communication skills. Is this your Achilles heel? Fortunately, the British Council has many free MOOCs (massive open online courses) to help you build these “soft” skills.

2. Digital and social media marketing

Second on our list of key business development skills is digital and social media marketing.

Handphone home screen showing social media apps

Many confuse digital marketing with social media marketing and vice versa. While the two might be related, digital marketing focuses more on data. Specialists in this field focus on items like search engine optimization, pay-per-click ads and analytics.

Social media marketing focuses more on:

  • Building a following on social networks like Facebook and Instagram
  • Brand messaging
  • Communication
  • Content creation

Digital marketing and social media marketing are both essential to business development, especially now, in the pandemic era.

It is also expected that the number of active social media users in India would reach 448 million by 2023.

Businesses just cannot afford to ignore the digital revolution and need to incorporate digital and social media marketing in their business strategy.

Check out these resources to learn and build these skills:

Editor’s note: Create and manage your online business listings, social media posts, promotional emails and customer reviews — all from one place with GoDaddy’s Digital Marketing Suite.

3. Networking

Another key business development skill is finding leads and convincing potential clients to work with you. It’s important to earn the trust of people and turn them into clients. This requires tact as well as the ability to stand out from the crowd!

Close-up of two people shaking hands
Maintaining strong relationships is key to long-term business growth. Photo: Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Many business owners are aware that by expanding their professional network and leveraging the same, they will be able to take their business to new heights.

If you’re struggling to connect with other professionals, here are some resources that might help:

Remember, there are many ways to expand your network. The best thing to do is get out there and start talking with other like-minded individuals. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish with the help of others.

4. Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are not just buzzwords; they're currently at the heart of technological innovation.

Businesses have been automating certain processes for years using customer relationship management (CRM) software, but the businesses of the future will go one step ahead and combine automation with AI.

Additionally, ML will help power the sophisticated AI of the future.

Getting comfortable with these technologies can no longer be ignored by business owners.

While this is a highly specialized field, you can enhance your knowledge of it to support the specialists you hire better.

The Government of India has a skilling ecosystem you can explore to learn about AI and ML. FutureLearn also has several courses on this topic (even one accredited by Microsoft) that you can check out!

5. Creative thinking skills

The ability to consider something in a new light is creative thinking. It may be a new approach and a resolution to a problem or a new result. Businesses need individuals who have the ability to think outside the box and bring a fresh perspective.

This is a soft skill that anyone can nurture and develop. Some aspects of creative thinking are:

While there is no specific resource available to develop creative thinking, INSEAD has a Design Thinking and Creativity for Business course.

Programs and resources that focus on entrepreneurship also help individuals develop critical thinking skills.

For instance, the Ministry of MSME has an Entrepreneurship Skill Development Program.

The Entreprenurship-Cum-Skill Development Programmes(E-SDP) offered by Ministry of MSME will have training programmes, “ upgrade skills of prospective entrepreneurs coupled with specific skills hands on practice or demonstration relating to activities.“

Additional ways to learn business development skills

While we have already mentioned resources to help you enhance your business development skills, here are some other resources that focus on entrepreneurship and business development:

A quick note on hard skills vs. soft skills

You may have noticed that all the business development skills we have mentioned can be categorized as hard or soft skills. What is the difference between the two? Keep reading to find out.

Hard skills

These skills are teachable and are easier to quantify -- most are taught in schools. Some examples include:

  • AI and MI
  • Digital and social media marketing
  • Language proficiency

With these types of skills, there are ample training materials available. They also tend to be job-specific and technical in application.

Soft skills

Soft skills are more subjective, harder to quantify and not necessarily taught. They are also known as “people skills” and relate to interactions with others.

Some examples of soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Networking
  • Creative thinking
  • Time management
  • Leadership

You need a combination of soft and hard skills to run a business successfully. Business development is constantly evolving due to the changes in technology, which is why you need to focus on both hard and soft skills. Certain businesses require particular soft skills, while others require hard skills. It’s important to see what would help grow your business and focus on that!

Some individuals get too focused on professional degrees and don’t develop their soft skills, which ends up hindering their business and its development.

It’s never too late to learn!

The pandemic has adversely affected all businesses, but it has also helped accelerate the digital revolution in India by leaps and bounds. The government, with its Atmanirbhar Bharat focus, is supporting entrepreneurship and changing the education policy to prioritize practical, hands-on learning.

In such an environment, it is clear that practical business development skills will become more important than ever!

If the last few months have been hard on you and your business, remember that it’s never too late to start your business development journey and upskill yourself. Now’s the time to build these skills and change the future of your business, for the better!