October 14, 2020 8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
This article was written by Alex Sixt, a member of the Entrepreneur NEXT powered by Assemble content team. Entrepreneur NEXT is our Expert solutions division leading the future of work and skills-based economy. If you’re struggling to find, vet, and hire the right Experts for your business, Entrepreneur NEXT is a platform to help you hire the experts you need, exactly when you need them. From business to marketing, sales, design, finance, and technology, we have the top 3 percent of Experts ready to work for you.
Whether you’ve been a business owner for years, or you’ve just begun your journey into entrepreneurship, professional development is likely one of the last tasks on your mind. With so many business needs pulling you in multiple directions, it can be easy to forget to spend time developing yourself. However, taking time to step away from your to-do list to focus on your own professional needs is just as important.
Everyone, not just business owners, needs development in at least a few professional areas (yes, even you). Although most business owners are finished with their formal education, that doesn’t mean learning has to stop beyond the classroom – in fact, continuing your education can even improve your business and your team. Thankfully, this type of learning doesn’t include shelling out thousands of dollars for one course or trying to sit still in a three-hour lecture (and “diligently” taking doodles- erm, notes). Unlike traditional education, professional development allows you to take control of what you learn and can even easily accommodate your work-from-home (WFH) schedule.
Even if you feel that your professional skills are up-to-snuff, development is an essential activity to help ensure you’re giving your team and your business your best skills. Although it can take up time typically dedicated to your business, development is worth fitting into your busy schedule and work on yourself, as it is an investment that can pay off in the long run.
Helps you lead your employees.
It seems odd to say that working on yourself can improve your team, but it’s true. As a business owner, it’s likely that you’re responsible for a team, even if it’s just your best friend who takes care of your social media. Although it’s not possible to simply pass your new education onto your team once you’ve completed your development (we wish), your development can still greatly benefit your workers and your business.
It’s common knowledge that when you’re not at your best, your business and team are affected. Without development, it’s very likely that you’re already an exceptional leader; however, if you’re lacking in a particular skill (everyone is at some point), it can have a negative impact on the business. Great business owners understand that they encounter obstacles the same as anyone else, and professional development can help them evolve into better leaders, constantly improving themselves over time.
Professional development helps you to tap into your full potential, which in turn can help you lead and instruct your team in a greater capacity than before. Every team comes across challenges, if not constantly. By pursuing development for yourself, you’ll be better prepared to lead your team through any issue and come out the other side stronger and more prepared to take on the next under your leadership.
The number one problem shared among entrepreneurs today is finding, vetting, hiring, and retaining expertise.
Improve in areas you didn’t realize you lack.
Let’s face it: we all have a blind spot when it comes to our professional life. No one is truly aware of every area they need help with, and that’s okay. The beauty of professional development is that it can help you to identify areas that could use improvement, and allows you to strengthen them at your convenience. It’s impossible to be a perfect business owner or leader, but working toward improving your areas of weakness will help you become more in tune with your skills and perform better in your role.
To help you identify possible areas to work on, consider what tasks in your job you tend to feel the most challenged in or even dread taking on. You’ll never love every part of your job (if you do, please spill your secrets), but professional development can help you to gain a better understanding of how to tackle those tasks. You may even discover weaknesses you didn’t know you had through development activities, which can help you to plan for future professional development.
Despite having weaknesses, you also have your strengths: the parts of your job you love the most and knock out of the park every time (go you!). However, even within your areas of strength, there’s always room for growth. The world of work constantly shifts, and the chances are high that your area of strength is likely to evolve over time, as well (for example, social media or web design). Think of your strengths as a muscle—to maintain their effectiveness, you need to exercise and challenge them regularly to continue to keep them strong. Although it may feel odd to enroll in professional development for your top skills, continuing your education in those areas will serve you well, long term.
Hone in on the skills you want to use.
We all have areas that we really enjoy or wish we could specialize in, but time or money doesn’t allow for you to pursue them in a school setting. Enter professional development: although it’s not the equivalent to a college degree, the skills you learn are still of incredible value to you and your business. From research to certificates and more, professional development offers the opportunity to earn new skills or experience without the high costs of formal education.
It’s human nature to become curious about new topics or skills that seem interesting; especially as we enter a post-Covid age where the business landscape is moving faster than most can catch up with. To keep up with the industry as it shifts, it’s vital that as a business owner, you set aside time to ensure you’re ready to lead your business and team through the impending changes. By investing time into yourself to learn the latest in-demand skill or technology, you’ll also make an investment in the success of your company for the future.
The best part about professional development? It allows you to explore a completely new skillset without too much risk. As mentioned above, nearly every industry is currently experiencing incredibly disruptive change that you must tap into as an owner. These trends move quickly, and with change happening so often, it would generally be difficult to justify going back to school or stepping away from your role to develop new skills. This is where professional development saves the day: you can take on new skills with little risk financially or time-wise, and easily stay up to date on the latest changes within your industry.
Where to start.
Professional development doesn’t have to feel like a second job. As necessary as it is, it should be an enjoyable experience. While there is no one-size-fits-all development course, there are plenty of resources you can explore to find the right fit for you. LinkedIn hosts a variety of courses (most are free) aimed at helping professionals hone new skills. Another great option is Masterclass, in which celebrities and well-known experts in a multitude of fields teach classes about their particular craft.
If you’re seeking more specialized development that is outside the mainstream, your colleagues and mentors are the greatest resource of all. Chances are, the people you’ve worked with in the past have wanted the same development you do at some point, and know just where to find it. Facebook groups that are related to your profession are also excellent resources for finding development opportunities, as these digital networks include professionals from all over the globe who are sure to have an idea of where to look.
As a business owner, there’s no doubt that most of your time should be dedicated to tending to your business, especially in these difficult times of change. Nonetheless, it is incredibly important to take time to develop yourself, and professional development is an excellent way to ensure success for both yourself and your business. The more skills and professional areas you refine, the better prepared you’ll be to lead for the future and help guide others toward success.
The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.
The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.
The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.
“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.
GDP number just announced. Biggest and Best in the History of our Country, and not even close. Next year will be FANTASTIC!!! However, Sleepy Joe Biden and his proposed record setting tax increase, would kill it all. So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2020
The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.
Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.
“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”
Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.
“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.
Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.
The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.
Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.
Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.
“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”
The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.
The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.
“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.
Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.
“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.
Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.
As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.
“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.
“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”
The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.
The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.
More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.
These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.
The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.
Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”
“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.
Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.
The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.
After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.
China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.
Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.
“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”
China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.
Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.
A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.
People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.
The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”
Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”
But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.
“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”
The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.
Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.
The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.
“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.
First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.
Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.
Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.
China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.
Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.
Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.
In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.
More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.
Ana Swanson contributed reporting.
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