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COVID-19 Pivot Part 5: Exit Quarantine with New Skills in Tow

Following is the fifth in the Economic Alliance’s six-part “COVID-19 Pivot” entrepreneurial support series. Read Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

By Jesse Erickson

If you think back to your days as an employee, you may recall that one of the best cases for a raise, a title change or even a promotion was to just learn new skills. For your business, the path to operational improvements, margin increases and new revenue streams is identical.

When it became clear that a real quarantine was going to be put into effect and that it was going to last a while, I immediately did four things:

  1. Put an exercise bike in the living room (to force myself to work out);
  2. Wrote a goal prominently on a post-it by my desk: Read two books by end of quarantine.;
  3. Purchased a new, rather large, LEGO set (still an engineer and child at heart); and
  4. Explored online courses on data analytics and new software tools.

Of course, no one knew what was going to happen or how long this would last when it began, but I did know that I should use this time to catch up on some things. This happened to include reading a few books that had been collecting dust on the shelf with the hope of “getting to those someday” and taking some online courses to further my understanding in some key initiatives I wanted to build into my skill set in order to future-proof my resume and business.

Most entrepreneurs have those looming tasks in the back of their mind every week: “I really need to learn how to…” and “That book I got for Christmas probably has the tips I need to implement [fill in the blank] for my company.”Unfortunately, the daily sales funnel churn, emergency firefighting and unavoidable interruptions of our busy work lives often prevent us – both physically and mentally – from having the time and energy to invest in ourselves and our businesses. But, then then pandemic arrived.

Though the vast majority of concerns, interruptions and impacts of COVID-19 are negative, business owners always need to be looking for opportunities. It should be part of your DNA. The most significant opportunity I’ve seen for all businesses is the opportunity to take some of the extra time away from interruption to focus on learning. I don’t mean turn on a podcast in the background of your workflow or skimming a long book to just get it off the stack. I mean truly investing in a skill. Here are a few steps to get there:

  1. Before diving in, target your learning efforts. The first idea or item on your list might not be the best skill to learn right now. Give it some real thought. If I have to choose between a book on strategy and one about talent acquisition (and I did), it’s likely that strategy is going to be the more important skill to wield as we determine how to pivot our work coming out of this. Unless you’re a human resources recruiter, in which case maybe the second option…
  2. Make sure you’re ready to go deep. The passive learning of quick tips from your last podcast is not what I’m suggesting here. Those are great to get out of our own head and hear some other perspectives, but they aren’t typically for deep learning. In other words, don’t stop at hearing an idea or a quick tip. Take this rare occasion to immerse yourself in the content. Approach as you did in school and finals were just around the corner.
  3. Don’t stop at the introduction. And, I don’t just mean the first few pages in the book. More often than not, the first book or course you take is designed for beginners. Definitely learn that content and practice it, but start going further. I know most entrepreneurs have some familiarity with how to post on Facebook set up a basic page for their business. However, most stop there. Facebook is packed with tools, analytics and settings to help you grow your following effectively. Many of us ignore these mastery tricks because it would take a few hours to understand it well. Don’t be surface level; learn it to retain it and use it.
  4. Take notes, just like you used to in class. We have a habit these days of not taking down notes (hand-written or in a digital notebook) because we believe we can always get back to the content to review. That’s true. But do you? Rarely, I’ll wager.
  5. Take your notes, and write an action plan. This can be small, simple, long or detailed. But, write something that actually spells out the strategy for implementing your notes into your business. You learned about key performance indicators (KPIs)? Great. How will you measure them each day and USE the data to implement valuable insights? Tried your hand at a new service line or revenue stream? Fantastic. Now, will your employees learn this skill, will you add it to your value proposition or make it available as a new offering?

Once you start to look at your book reading, course watching and podcast listening as a part of the strategy implementation for your business, you’ll quickly realize how important it is to do learning well just like you make your product or perform your service well. You wouldn’t leave a client job 90% complete or leave out a component of your product, so why read half of a book and leave your notes in a forgotten folder?

You still have some time to walk out of quarantine with a new tool in your belt to confront the new world order in which our businesses must survive. Use these last few weeks of semi- or full isolation to make a difference in what comes next.

JESSE ERICKSON is president and CEO of Catalyst, a Kankakee, Illinois-based business and organizational consultancy. Catalyst leads clients through business and strategic planning, development of new revenue streams and cost-cutting tactics, the implementation of better financial management processes, and the integration of strategic initiatives to improve organizational visibility, data analysis and overall growth. Jesse is a Quickbooks Certified ProAdvisor, an Asana Certified Pro and a Certified Business Incubation Manager. He holds a Doctorate in Business Administration (Strategy & Innovation concentration), Master of Engineering Management (Technical Entrepreneurship concentration) and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.

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