Upskilling for entrepreneurs: futureproof yourself with 6 essential skills

Here, we delve into what upskilling is, what skills you need in 2024, and just how you go about getting those skills

Upskilling has become a buzzy term this decade as employers and staff scramble to adapt to changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise of AI and the cost of doing business crisis.

In fact, the World Economic Forum has dubbed the 2020s as ‘the decade for upskilling’. According to its Future of Jobs Report 2023, employers believe that six in 10 staff members will need training before 2027.

Learning in and of itself is futureproofing, so it’s worth investing in yourself (not to mention your staff) to ensure that you’re adapting to a rapidly changing world. As a bonus, it helps you to expand your network as well as your professional horizons. 

We’ll be going over which skills are most advantageous for entrepreneurs in 2024 and what the best ways of upskilling are.  

Read up on the part you’re most interested in or read on for the full guide.

  1. What is upskilling?
  2. AI and digital literacy
  3. Digital marketing
  4. Financial literacy
  5. Creative thinking
  6. Leadership
  7. Communication and other soft skills
  8. How do I upskill?
  9. So, how should I go about upskilling?

What is upskilling?

Upskilling – in the context of a small business owner – is developing new skills and knowledge which could help close any skills gaps in your business. These skills could be relevant to a specific area of your work or they could be transferable skills such as communication or leadership training.

It’s easy to get upskilling confused with reskilling. Reskilling helps you develop skills for a wholesale career change or for ‘adjacent skills’ which are close to what you do, but not quite there. This could be someone with product management experience reskilling in people management, or those in marketing learning about psychology.    

Both will help you to achieve your professional goals and overall self-improvement while remaining competitive among rival businesses.

AI and digital literacy

Last year saw the surge of AI in the form of ChatGPT, with businesses trying to master the platform for a productivity boost. But without the knowhow, it’s mighty risky. Research from Riversafe shows that one in five organisations have had employees expose company data by using tools such as ChatGPT.

But it’s not just using the AI platforms, it’s about understanding their capabilities in and beyond the platform. “Entrepreneurs should upskill on understanding data – how to collect it, read it, leverage insights from it, and implement AI solutions. Don’t get left behind as these technologies reshape business operations,” said Vance Tran, co-founder of Pointer Clicker.

Digital marketing

These days, digital marketing can mean myriad things, which is why constant upskilling in this area is crucial. It’ll help you to reach customers, stay ahead of competitors and potentially increase your profits.

The UK State of Digital Marketing Report, surveying over 500 businesses, found that 38.2 per cent of businesses want more training in search engine optimisation (SEO). Meanwhile, 33.5 per cent pinned down data analytics as an area requiring further training.

Sound reasoning backs up these wishes. Spending on digital marketing grew to £25.84bn in 2022, making up 44.5 per cent of all advertising spending, according to Search Hog. What’s more, 65 per cent of businesses use video in their marketing strategies and the most in-demand skills are SEO, content marketing and social media marketing.

“In 2024, an entrepreneur’s personal brand and ability to connect with their audience across multiple content channels will be vital. Upskilling on public speaking, video presence, podcasting, and omnichannel marketing strategies will help amplify your message and outreach,” said Tran. “Written blogs and newsletters alone won’t cut it this year.”

Other experts agree. “If you don’t have a killer online presence and digital marketing strategy, you basically don’t exist as a business,” said Alison Lancaster, co-founder of Pressat. “You’ve got to deeply understand SEO, social media ads, email campaigns, analytics – the whole nine yards – to effectively reach your target audiences.”

Financial literacy

Even if you have an accountant, knowing your numbers can help you to understand and troubleshoot your business.

“Okay, I know numbers and spreadsheets aren’t exactly the fanciest part of entrepreneurship,” said Lancaster. “But understanding financials – accounting, forecasting, raising funds, managing cashflow – this is crucial for making smart business decisions and not running your company into the ground. Trust me.”

See also: 16 ways to improve your business cash flow – Read here for 16 tried and tested tips and tricks to improve potential cash flow problems

Creative thinking

Creativity goes way beyond producing content. A sizeable 61 per cent of senior figures in FTSE350-listed companies say that more creative thinkers are needed to make the most of AI tools, according to Universities UK.

The definition of creative thinking is pretty broad, with different branches covering wider areas:

  • Aesthetic (reframing problems to see beauty and value)
  • Divergent (brainstorming)
  • Lateral (unconventional/unexpected)
  • Convergent (more logical)
  • Inspirational (inspiration for the best problem-solving)

Within a business, creative thinking could look like finding original ways to solve problems or developing an existing product/idea.


Though it could be seen as a soft skill, leadership stands up as a skill in its own right. Boosting your leadership skills could increase productivity and positive relationships within your team. A lot of leadership effectively comes down to decision-making and conviction in said decision-making.

Millennials particularly value leadership. PwC found that they were more interested in developing leadership skills than they were in other perks such as bonuses. This goes in-line with research from EasyOffices, revealing that Millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation in the UK.

CMOE did a survey of 2,100 professionals over five years to find out to find out what the most desirable traits of a leader are:

  • Communication skills (45.2 per cent)
  • Interpersonal skills (44.2 per cent)
  • Values and ethics (41.9 per cent)
  • Personal attributes (30.2 per cent)
  • Coaching and feedback (21.8 per cent)
  • Credibility (22.3 per cent)
  • Direction and strategy (16.7 per cent)
  • Management essentials (5.6 per cent)

Communication and other soft skills

Speaking of soft skills, research by Skills Builder Partnership found that a lack of low-level skills building opportunities is costing the UK £22.2bn a year.

For the sake of your professional relationships, it’s worth prioritising. Industry leaders praise soft skills over hard skills, especially as the former is not as easy to teach. “A majority of entrepreneurs are high-energy, fast-paced and go-go-go,” said Kevin Fitzgerald, managing director of Employment Hero. “Sometimes they just need to pump the brakes and really consider what they’re communicating. I don’t know if there’s specific training for that. I think that’s just being thoughtful and mindful.”

This applies as much to pitching and presenting as it does one-on-one relationships. “As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be able to convey your passion, negotiate deals, build relationships with clients and partners,” said Lancaster. “It’s how you’ll attract investors, win over customers, and recruit top talent.”

Other valuable soft skills for an entrepreneur include time management, resilience, negotiation, listening and teamwork.

See also: Why negotiation is an important skill to learn – Using data to back up your negotiating position is key, says negotiation expert Paul Fisher. But remember, negotiation is a skill that can be learned like any other

How do I upskill?

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to upskill, both on a formal and informal basis.

Courses and classes

As you can imagine, courses and classes are a cracking first stop for upskilling – there can even be a qualification at the end for you. Some platforms offer subscriptions or memberships so that you can keep upskilling beyond your first course.

“For building new skills, the traditional in-person class or online course route is great for foundational learning,” said Tran. “But for a constant upskilling mindset, I prefer leaning on educational hubs, joining niche online communities, and following topical social media experts to absorb bite-sized insights.”

It doesn’t even have to be formal. A quick online search can bring about some illuminating results.

“I feel like education came because you’re more senior. Now it’s just available everywhere. It’s levelled the playing field,” said Fitzgerald. “Going back to 25 years ago, there was no YouTube and there were no language apps. You go on and learn different things, you can get it and some of them are free. The ability to access that education just wasn’t there.”  

Resources: Online University courses, Open University, FutureLearn, Coursera, YouTube, LinkedIn Masterclasses, podcasts

Trying tools and strategies

Combining the right tools and strategies with your new-found knowledge will be a boon for you and your business.

That said, you might not hit the winning combination right away. “Experiment with apps like Calendly to optimise your workflow. Or hire an efficiency coach to analyse how you work and make it tighter,” said Lancaster.

Especially for elements such as digital marketing, trial and error may prove to be the best move. Think about a tweak to your email marketing or having a go at a new social media platform. “Try implementing digital strategies for your own business or by volunteering for non-profits,” said Lancaster.

Resources: Grow with Google, Small Business, social media, online forums, other businesses or organisations

Listen to different perspectives

There’s bound to be a range of voices within your industry, and you should be tuning into them, even if you don’t agree. “Make a habit of closely following influencers, podcasts, blogs, and other leading voices,” said Tran. “Upskill by being an early adopter of new tools, processes and philosophies as they emerge. The day you think you know everything is the day your business starts becoming irrelevant.” Look out for free webinars to gain some nuggets of knowledge too.

The downside of consuming free content is to be careful about what you go for as it might not be as effective as you’d hoped. Check out reviews and see what others have thought of it before you spend your valuable time.

Viewpoints don’t have to be from industry professionals, either. What about your staff? “As an entrepreneur, I seek out feedback from my team on a continual basis,” said Simon Bacher, co-founder of Ling. “Some of this feedback is informal, while other times it’s in a formally structured environment.” 

He adds that entrepreneurs need to learn the skills of failing upwards. Not to be confused with failing upward – or being promoted despite failing. “If you’re really good at something, you’ll keep being promoted until you’re given more difficult tasks until you reach a point where you can’t get promoted anymore,” he said. “This shouldn’t be reserved for leaders but encouraged throughout any organisation. I’m learning to tell my team leads to go for it. Try it. If it fails, just make sure you’ve learned from it so that we’ll be better in the future or won’t make the same mistake again.”

Resources: Your professional network, podcasts, online video, blogs

Networking and connections

You knew it was coming. Meeting people within your industry – or even outside your industry – could be immensely helpful to your business development. Perhaps you’ll meet a contact from a networking evening that you attend when you feel like doing pretty much anything else.

If you’re business is at its beginnings, getting some steer on shaping your idea or product is immensely beneficial. Kevin Fitzgerald suggests incubation programmes where you can go in and pitch your idea. Then you get that feedback in the training as you go along.

Lancaster advises you to seek out mentors who have been there. Start by contacting your existing network to find out if they have any contact details. Failing that, contact industry professionals on LinkedIn or go on the hunt for competitions that offer guidance/mentorship as part of the prize package. Your local council or Local Enterprise Network (LEP) may have some names on their roster that can help you.

Resources: LinkedIn, Meetup, local authority, business support programmes, grants/competitions, existing network

So, how should I go about upskilling?

There’s a lot to take in here, and only you can know what areas you need to upskill as an individual and a business owner.

A multi-faceted approach will often yield better results. “The best way to rapidly build up this entrepreneurial skill set is by combining formal learning with pure hustle and hands-on doing,” said Lancaster. “Take courses, find mentors, but also just get out there and get your hands dirty. It’s a never-ending process of levelling up as a founder.”

Read more

Reskilling and upskilling: the key to success in the digital revolution – Helping employees to develop is crucial to business success. Olivia Parrish from Haines Watts explains what employers need to know about reskilling and upskilling their staff

How to find grants for training courses – Eligibility for grants is usually dependent on the size of your company, where it is based and what you want to use the money for

Senior decision makers reveal people skills are an employee’s most valuable asset – More than two-thirds of business leaders in Britain (71 per cent) consider people skills to be the most valuable asset for employees

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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