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Even the smallest business owner can benefit from learning new skills or refreshing old ones – without spending a fortune.

Entrepreneurs often have a natural talent for identifying demand, creating a product or service to meet that demand, and selling their product or service. There are many examples of successful people who left school early or with few or no qualifications.

But while it is true that hard work and an eye for an opportunity can take you a long way, you can push your limits further by developing your abilities in areas such as financial management, human resources, negotiation and communication.

MBAs are often described as the gold standard for business education, but they are expensive and require a considerable time commitment. Fortunately, there are more practical options for self-improvement.

Speak up

One of the best ways to improve your verbal communication skills is to speak at business events or conferences, which are in addition an opportunity to learn from experienced presenters. You could also look at joining public speaking organisations such as Toastmasters.

We have spoken in the past about the value a good mentor can bring to your business, so why not use that experience to become a mentor yourself by completing a mentorship programme? It will certainly improve your ability to develop your own staff.

Haggling is not really part of Irish culture, but the ability to negotiate a good deal is a vital skill for any entrepreneur. This is not really something you can learn in a classroom – you need to practice and hone your skills in places such as garage forecourts or even car boot sales.

People power

It may seem as though everyone is an expert these days, but there are many respected entrepreneurs and centres of learning that share their insights online or in print and you can learn a lot from their experiences.

Identify people you respect or admire and look at what they have to say about running a successful business. Listen their podcasts and view their presentations.

It might sound old-fashioned, but a quick scan of the shelves of your local library might uncover some interesting biographies and business publications.

Financial acumen

A good accountant is worth their weight in gold to any small business. However, that doesn’t mean that financial management skills are less important when you have found an accounting professional who understands the world of business.

Even a basic knowledge of balance sheets, profit and loss and bookkeeping will give you a better insight into what aspects of your business are working well and the areas that need improvement.

Courses such as the Introductory Certificate in Bookkeeping from the Bookkeeping Academy of Ireland are designed for business owners and manager who want to get a better understanding of the finances and tax obligations within their business.

Couple this with the financial data and commercial insights available from a cloud based accounting package such as Big Red Cloud and you can plan for the future with greater confidence.

Marc O'Dwyer

After completing a Graduate program in Marketing, Marc’s impressive sales career began at Allied Irish Banks, Pitney Bowes and Panasonic where he received numerous Irish and European sales performance awards and consistently exceeded targets and expectations. In 1992, Marc’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to set up his own business, Irish International Sales (IIS). Initially, this company was a reseller for Take 5 Accounts and Payroll software. Within four years, IIS became the largest reseller of Take 5 in Ireland, acquiring four other Take 5 resellers. He also found time to set up two mobile phone shops under the Cellular World brand and a web design company offering website design services for small businesses. In 2001, he bought the majority share in a small Irish software business, Big Red Book. At that time, the company was losing money. The company became profitable within two months, and Marc then acquired a payroll company to compliment Big Red Books Accounting products. In 2003, IIS were appointed as Channel Partners with SAP for their new SME product, SAP Business One. Marc sold his Take 5 business and concentrated on developing this new market for SAP As a result, by 2007, IIS was recognised as the largest Channel Partner for SAP in EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa). In 2008, the IIS Sales Manager bought the Company from Marc in an MBO. He launched Big red cloud in June 2012, the online version of big red book, to date the company successfully converts 59% of trials into sales and the number of customers is growing rapidly. Marc continues to run both Big Red Book and Big Red Cloud which now support 75,000 businesses. He is a very keen sportsman, having played rugby for 20 years, represented Leinster at under 16 and under 20 levels, and league squash with Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club for 10 years. Marc has competed in 11 Marathons, including the London and Boston Marathons, and has completed several Triathlons and Half Ironman races. He has also completed six Ironman Races in Austria(x2), Frankfurt (Germany), Nice (France) , Mallorca (Spain) and Copenhagen (Denmark)

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