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The Age of the Expert Entrepreneur and the value of upskilling

Identifying your niche in today's competitive space of specialists, experts and entrepreneurs can be daunting. We evaluate the importance of continued learning in the context of facilitating individual initiatives, self-branding, and self-development.
From pipe dream to empire

The Age of the Expert Entrepreneur and the value of upskilling

The scribble

Whether it’s in a tiny sketchbook, in a folder on your desktop, on a mind-map in your bedroom, or just lying latent and brewing at the back of your mind, everyone has a pipe dream. No matter where you’ve scribbled your big idea, it should be in your immediate vicinity, ready for you to amend it and elaborate on it at any time. Turning those scribbles into gold might not be as implausible as you imagine. It’s time to pull that castle out of the sky.

The distilling

During employment, during unemployment, during your studies, and during your breaks, you should consistently work on your vision. Add to it, adjust it, adapt it, draw up a list of competitors, hone your mission statement, and sketch out ideas for your branding. Distilling your vision is a consistent work in progress. Let every bit of experience you encounter trickle down into building it up.

The empire

Whether you want to translate Shakespeare into Setswana, own a yoga studio tailored to modern dancers, go into artisanal online retail, or host a podcast on pop culture, there could be a space for you to shape your vision into an empire.

Here are a few examples of local entrepreneurial empires, some up-and-coming, some firmly established: Developing your flair for entrepreneurship does not mean you should never have a job. Experience gained from employment can be invaluable to starting your own endeavour, but it is not a necessity either. It’s important to dismantle the mentality of being bound, limited, and stagnant under traditional employment norms when you have the option of pursuing your own initiative.

Why you lack the confidence

“Growing up”

Often, our societies and cultures thrust giant logistical barriers in our way before we’ve even tried: what about your benefits, medical aid, insurance, retirement annuity? They quickly discourage the idea before you’ve even had a chance to explore it. Disillusioned, you retreat with your pipe dream and your tail between your legs, ready to work a nine-to-five until you die, somewhat fortified against accident or illness. As adults, we are expected to make provision for life’s inevitabilities. Rather than being encouraged to innovate, we’re urged to financially brace ourselves for all worst-case scenarios. Could there be a more dull way to live?

South African culture

According to the SABC, a 2016 survey hosted by the PPC Student Confidence Index found the following: “60% of graduates indicated that they would rather secure employment than pursue entrepreneurial opportunities or pursue a post-graduate qualification.” (South African Broadcasting Corporation)

Business training expert and technical marketing specialist at PPC, Motshabi Nomvethe, asserts that:
Many skilled South Africans are scared to take risks and traditional thinking influences this fear… from a young age learners are told to ‘go to school, get a degree, get a job and work on a retirement plan’. (Own emphasis) (South African Broadcasting Corporation)
When asked: “In comparison to the rest of the world, are we lagging behind when it comes to... entrepreneurs?”, Nomvethe replied: “We definitely are – and I think it’s because the culture again has not been conducive to being entrepreneurs.” (South African Broadcasting Corporation)

Fear of the non-conformist

We are programmed to cling to security when we could achieve legacy. Risks are part of entrepreneurship, and society can be unforgiving when it comes to failure. Entrepreneurs, however, don’t forfeit their security; they create their own, which does require time and dedication. Ultimately, it is up to your commitment (to your vision) whether or not you conform to a financially traditionalist culture.

We’re not taught how to take risks or persevere as sole proprietors. But that doesn’t mean you can’t teach yourself these skills that society and mainstream education largely omit. Upskilling in your chosen field of expertise, as well as in entrepreneurship and business management, will help inform and equip you in the face of risk evaluation, funding red tape, collaborative networking, expansion planning, and the sustainability of your private practice (whether a partnership, a small business, or a sole proprietor).

You are the product

You can and should brand yourself, your name, and your persona. You are the product and the brand, so invest in yourself and hone what you represent in the market. The entrepreneurial, expert space is a constantly evolving, competitive space. Niches are being grabbed and dominated every day.

The importance of upskilling

Apart from improved job opportunities and promotions, upskilling can give you the edge to compete within your industry as an independent expert or rising entrepreneur. Your relevant supplementary skills can add professional value to your individual brand.

There are cost, pressure, and time concerns involved in upskilling, particularly if you’re already working. Studying part-time from home via a distance learning institution can contribute to a healthy balance between your studies, home life, and work life. Nonetheless, upskilling does require determination. The question is: is it worth it? As your industry evolves and adapts, so must you, to maintain competitive advantage. Continued learning is integral to sustainability as an expert or entrepreneur. Staying in high demand means being up-to-date in your field and in a few other fields too. So yes, it is worth it.

Your digital footprint

In the Information Age, where your credibility is as solid as a Google Search results page and human interest can be measured by metrics, upskilling should definitely include e-skilling. Computer studies courses and social media management training are paramount for any individual or start-up today. People tend to believe what they read online, and your influence is only as vast as your digital footprint. When a prospective customer or collaborator Googles you, they should find your online presence current, accessible, unique, credible, and impressive enough to want to work with you.

According to the Sunday Morning Herald,
Expertise is now a subjective thing... Naturally, one trusts the research one has undertaken with one's own determined late-night keystrokes far more implicitly than the research some distant egghead has done in an actual university. That's human nature. But the range of professionally acquired knowledge that we classify as contestable is growing, as a direct corollary to our ability to patchily self-educate. (Sunday Morning Herald) (Source)
The internet is a cluttered space, saturated with groups and individuals fighting against transience for lasting visibility online. You need to refine your digital voice and make it as specific as possible. This is where your niche becomes important.

Finding your niche

The Age of the Expert Entrepreneur and the value of upskilling

Your niche lies at the confluence of four areas: your talents/skills (what you’re good at), your passion/interests (what you love doing), your experience/training (what you’ve learnt how to do) and the market demand (what people will pay for).

You can enhance your training through upskilling, and you can do market research to discern the demand. But your talent and your passion tend to remain fixed, which is why you should start there, by distilling your vision.


26 Jul 2016 14:46


About Mia Arderne

Mia Arderne writes blog posts and press releases for Oxbridge Academy. She is also a freelance columnist and fiction writer based in Cape Town. She enjoys exploring themes of marginalisation, identity, and the virtual world.

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