The digital agency landscape is changing at a rapid pace. Having laser-focused technical skills, like website coding or second language skills, might not serve you as well as they would have in the past. That’s because soft skills, like interpersonal skills and time management, are now also needed to ensure the success of a business, client, brand, or individual.
In fact, a 2017 study by Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan found that dedicated soft skills training boosted productivity by 12% and provided a 256% ROI.
So what soft skills are absolute must-haves in order to run a successful agency? At Credibly, we examine the skills and ethics that you need in order to thrive as a small business owner.
Brands are built and broken on communication. The ability to write a proper email or proposal goes a long, long way. And it doesn’t stop there. Communication means being able to manage people, and connect with colleagues on a personal and professional level. It means being able to deliver constructive feedback with empathy and understanding. It means being able to put your thoughts into words, having a careful eye for detail, and understanding how to read a room.
Social media posts rely on communication. Influencer marketing relies on communication. Even just summarizing complex data for your clients means having the ability to distill data down to its essence, to turn it into something understandable and relatable that makes sense. Without adequate communication skills, your project is doomed to failure before it’s begun.
If you’re running an agency already then you know that leadership skills are vital. Leadership means more than showing up and giving orders, though. It means being a team player, navigating conflict resolution, providing motivation and encouragement, and the appropriate delegation of tasks. For example, you wouldn’t give a team member who is creatively-minded the task of complex data analysis. You’d be setting your team up to fail.
Leadership is considered an important soft skill because it’s more than just sitting in a big office. Leadership is about knowing your team well and using them according to their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Every company, brand name, pitch, and product begins with one thing: creativity. Brainstorming ideas, thinking outside the box, experimentation, chasing trends and inventing your own. Every industry could benefit from injecting a bit of creativity into their day-to-day operations, but nimble digital agencies, in particular, thrive on this soft skill. Creativity is going to get you clients (what can YOU offer than other agencies can’t?) and get your clients results (how do you make potential buyers pay attention to YOU in saturated marketplaces?).
Steve Jobs’ infamous slogan for Apple, “Think Different,” emphasizes the need to stand out in a marketplace that relies on tried-and-true and status quo. Creativity, and the willingness to indulge it, will give your agency a boost. Some people are born with a natural mind for creativity and others have to go hunting for inspiration. Either way, creativity is one thing you can never have too much of if you want to run a successful agency.
No matter the planning, the strategy, the preparedness, something will inevitably go wrong. This is true for all industries. Good problem solvers are cool under pressure, adaptable and flexible, and both creative and critical thinkers.
Your company’s reputation is on the line. You must be able to address challenges head-on and stride towards the best case resolution in every circumstance, no matter how unexpected. Your team will be looking to you for guidance when something goes wrong. You have to be prepared to address even minor problems before they become all-consuming black holes.
With the internet at your fingertips, no skill is too far out of your grasp. Most projects won’t require you to pick up, say, an engineering degree on the fly but it always helps to have tools ready to help you navigate new technologies, platforms, and trends. Being able to self teach is an invaluable soft skill because it means that no scenario is out of your grasp. No one expects you to be an expert at everything thrown your way but demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow should be the cornerstone to every professional portfolio.
This doesn’t mean signing up for night classes at your local college, either. Self-teaching is just about absorbing new knowledge every day. Read books related to your industry, interview people in your field, listen to podcasts. Never stop learning. Become a student of your craft and impress the importance of doing so on your whole team.
You really can’t fake organization skills. The state of your workspace gives you away immediately. If you tend to lose documents, miss deadlines, and have an office filled with unnecessary clutter, you are doing yourself and your team a huge disservice. Being organized isn’t just about having your area “look tidy”—it’s a mindset that involves pristine time management skills. This includes calendar organization, staying on top of all the moving parts of your business, and following up with employees and clients.
And if you need a little help in this area, there is absolutely no shame in employing some solid project management software for creative teams to help you stay on top of things. The digital world has a wealth of tools for staying on top of tasks, projects, budgets, and time. For example, if you know planning and scheduling your team and resources is something you struggle with, it’s worth considering investing in some resource management software. This will help you prioritize the projects and clients that provide you the best ROI.
You don’t have to go it alone. Are you more a visual person (try a whiteboard for your notes and ideas) or a data person (organize tasks in a sorted spreadsheet)? Organization comes in many forms so you can easily foster this soft skill by finding what works for you.
Are you reliable, self-motivated, and do you go above and beyond in any project or task? Do you come in early and stay late just because you are passionate about the quality and quantity of work that you do? Do you take initiative when it comes to getting the job done or taking on new responsibilities? These are signs that you have a great work ethic, which is another soft skill that you absolutely need to run a successful team.
Your customers and clients will likely pick up on your work ethic right away. Are you quick or slow to respond to emails? Do you check-in regularly, instead of waiting to be called upon? Just as important: Your teams will also see, and emulate, your work ethic. A strong work ethic makes for a great role model, something both your clients and employees will appreciate.
“Customer service” can mean so many things. You may be great at sales pitches and closing a deal. You may have a keen diversity sensitivity, making you able to handle clients of differing backgrounds with empathy, respect, and ease. You might be great at navigating the inevitable complaint here or there and working towards a mutually satisfying resolution. These are all emblements of customer service, a soft skill which all businesses can use more of.
But customer service doesn’t have to start and end with getting people in and out the proverbial door. It can be about spotting trends, reading body language, and knowing your target market so well that you can help predict what they need before they even know it themselves. Customer service is what keeps people coming back. It turns a simple transaction into a lasting relationship.
It seems so cliched but a bit of infused positivity can lift your team’s spirit, attract new customers, and help build existing relationships. People can tell when you are smiling on the phone or when you are being too curt in emails. It changes the way they react to you and how they go about the rest of their workday. A surefire way to lose trust is to be a Negative Nancy on the job.
Like Willie Nelson said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” Your employees and clients will appreciate having someone around with a good attitude. Positivity is infectious. It’s also something that can’t be “taught” so you will stand head and shoulders above those who haven’t mastered the skill for themselves.
We’re able to offload more and more of certain hard skills like calculating and forecasting to business intelligence tools that can do the heavy lifting for us. In this environment, soft skills are highlighted as a valuable asset to develop in any team. In the fast-paced landscape of digital innovation, soft skills like creativity and customer service will ensure that you stand out