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Julie Williamson : Must-Have Skills for Entrepreneurs in 2024

Julie Williamson, P.h.D and Co-Owner at Karrikins Group

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what got you into entrepreneurship?

If I’m honest, I fell into being a business owner in an almost comical way. But I’m glad I did because now when we are consulting with entrepreneurs about their businesses, I have a much greater appreciation for what they are going through day-to-day as they gut out the hard work of bringing their vision to life.

In bigger firms, I was pigeonholed  into roles that felt limiting and reductive. I think that’s a common experience for entrepreneurs - they feel confined within the walls of corporate life.  I knew I wanted to explore, grow, and expand my impact in ways that just weren’t possible inside of a machine. That brought me to the boutique company that evolved into Karrikins Group.

What are the top three skills you think are crucial for entrepreneurs today?

1. Absolute conviction that you have an impact to make. I’m not sure if that’s a skill or not, but having this end goal  is crucial to get you through the hard work that has to be done along the way.

2. The ability to communicate your vision and align a team around it. If you can’t do that, you won’t grow beyond your own ability to sell and deliver. Alignment and scale go hand in hand. 

3. The ability to grow through failure. It isn’t all going to go smoothly. Clients will give bad feedback, employees won’t come through, an issue that you never imagined will come up, things are going to happen. You have to be able to roll with it. I talk with business leaders about being vulnerable enough to learn and tough enough to take it.

How do you think the role of technology has impacted these skills in recent years?

I think that especially for younger entrepreneurs and business owners, being able to grow through failure is challenging in our increasingly digitized and hyper-connected world. Technology is a wonderful tool for giving us access to each other and the world at large, but it does come at a cost. It is harder to fail, learn, and move forward today.

What would have been minor blips for a business 20 years ago can quickly explode into an international crisis in today’s world. A negative online review from a customer can spiral into a PR nightmare. A misplaced word from a business owner or employee can be represented as a political statement or unfavorable position that results in a dramatic, oversized outcome for the business or brand. Technology gives us reach, but it gives everyone else reach too.

These are the moments when the ability to align a team around your vision becomes even more important. It is crucial to have people who can speak up for you and your brand, and people around you who can support you when something goes wrong.

Could you share a story with us about how you used some of these skills to overcome a challenge in your journey?

I absolutely 100% believe in the work we do at Karrikins Group. I’ve seen the impact it has had on senior leaders and their teams - in fact, I get thank you notes about it from people who have participated in our programs. If it weren’t for that, I couldn’t spend nights and weekends worrying about what comes next for us. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t survive as a business owner.

I think I made a fairly common mistake similar to one start-ups make as they get going. Early on I managed to convince myself that if I wasn’t involved, it wouldn’t work. Luckily, I had colleagues around me who were willing to disabuse me of my opinion! Having a small group of colleagues who are equally committed and capable has been the most rewarding and amazing part of my journey as a business owner.

An example of that is when we launched our Alignment Institute(™) The Alignment Institute is our channel to provide the work we do to smaller companies, teams, and individuals. It was born out of a desire to make the impact we have available more broadly in the world. When we were first standing up the Institute I was trying to do everything, including delivering on engagements with all of our clients. It was impossible! Luckily, my colleague Kate Huckabay, stepped in and took on the work of building the Alignment Institute from the sketches we’d put together. She now chairs the Institute and runs it herself, with some oversight and input from my business partner and me. If I’d kept on trying to do it all myself, it would have been a colossal failure.

In your opinion, how important is it for entrepreneurs to adapt to changing trends and what do you see as the biggest trend in 2024?

The biggest trend I see in 2024 is the degree to which generative AI is going to impact so many industries. Just the other day I used AI to create a travel plan for an upcoming trip to Scotland. It was quick, easy, and I learned a lot about where to go and what to see. I ended up contacting a travel agent with my well-developed itinerary, got some additional tips and suggestions, and she took care of the bookings for me instead of me having to reach out to resources in each town individually. AI didn’t do the whole job for me - but it gave me a great starting point.

For many jobs, AI can help people to get further, faster rather than replacing them. Any entrepreneur would be well advised to stop and think about how AI can do that for them and their team. Otherwise, their customers might pass them by, and once your customers are savvier than you are in technologies that are impacting your business, you might be too far behind to ever catch up.

What's one common mistake you often see new entrepreneurs make, and how can they avoid it?

The most common mistake I see is, with apologies to Shel Silverstein, the ‘woulda, coulda, shouldas’. If only 'we woulda invested more in…,' ‘we really coulda done better at….’ or ‘we shoulda done…. sooner’. People know what they need to do, but they find a hundred reasons not to do it. Entrepreneurs never wake up with nothing to do for the day - they are the busiest people I know. That makes it easy to never get to some mission-critical things about the business, especially for people who really love the work, but don’t love working on the business.

We call this the Failure Gap - agreeing that something is important but not getting aligned to take action on it. Falling into the Failure Gap is a tough mistake for any business leader, but especially for an entrepreneur who may not have a big team around to help dig out.

How do you keep learning and growing as an entrepreneur?

How do you not keep learning and growing as a business owner? For me, there is regularly something to grapple with that I’ve never thought of before. Who knew trademarks have to be filed in so many different countries? Who knew it’s a good idea to put expiration dates on proposals? Who knew taxes could be so complicated? I’m not ashamed to say the list goes on for me - I’ve learned things the hard way for sure, including the importance of having experts advising us on certain matters.

Outside of the school of hard knocks, I think it is also important to keep reading, listening, and talking to people in the precious time you have available to do so. For me, that comes down to having a diligent morning and evening routine to create the space for those kinds of activities. I don’t manage it every day, but I’m pretty consistent about having an hour or two a day to read (my preferred method).

There’s lots of tactical advice like that about how to make time to learn and grow. But, I think it isn’t really about having a process or a discipline. I think the most challenging thing for business owners is finding ways to fuel their curiosity and imagination. Owning a business can be overwhelming - there’s always a customer needing something, employees asking questions, and bills to pay. It takes energy to learn, and it is easy to lose steam with the busyness happening around you. I’d encourage anyone who owns a business to learn to gauge your fuel tank and when it is running low, figure out what works for you to fill it up. If you don’t, you won’t ever have the energy it takes to grow.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their entrepreneurial journey in 2024?

First I would say congratulations - it’s an exciting journey, and you’ve taken the first step! Once started, half done, as my dad liked to say.

Second, I’d say keep a business owner’s journal. Use it to keep track of how you are doing on a regular basis, through good times and bad. Take notes on what works for you and what doesn’t, your best successes and your worst failures. Become an observer of yourself and what energizes you and what depletes you. Write it all down, just for yourself. Over time, you will start to see trends that you can build from to strengthen your leadership and your business.

Third, I’d say get support wherever you can - don’t try to do it alone. In the United States, there are resources at the local, State, and Federal levels to help people start their own businesses. Industry groups and universities are other resources to tap into. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it is the bravest thing you can do.

Finally, I’d just say know your numbers. If you don’t know how to model your business, talk to someone who does and get their advice. You don’t need to be the ‘numbers person’, but you need to understand your data well enough to make sound business decisions. It isn’t enough to just have a burning passion or a great idea - you also have to tend to building the business. I know it might not be your favorite thing to do, but if you don’t, you won’t even know you are failing until it is too late.


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