Since I graduated from the University of Cambridge, I have had one job, worked in one company, and in one industry.
I am the founder and CEO of Ramsden International, which I established 25 years ago. Ramsden International is a U.K.-based international grocery wholesaler, and we export more than 24,000 British food and drink products to over 650 customers in 133 countries across six continents.
Of course, I have progressed professionally during my time running the business—going from micro to small to mid-size will always enable development given the various challenges to overcome at each stage. But there has been a natural limit to my experience, given my long tenure as the company’s founder and CEO.
I have often had to look outwards to gain new perspectives and learn new skills. On leaving university, where I graduated with an art history degree, I needed the practical skills to run a business and manage staff. As our business constantly evolves along with the economic landscape, it is also incredibly important to renew and develop wider—perhaps softer—skills to ensure I can lead our growing workforce across the globe and think creatively on managing future scenarios we may face.
Whether you are an entrepreneur embarking on your first project or a CEO with decades of experience, continued development is an important part of your role, regardless of your job title.
Identify your skills and knowledge gaps
Kickstart your journey of self-development by being curious, networking, embarking on courses, and digesting as much relevant content as you can. Entrepreneurs have access to a great deal of free and cost-effective resources. For example, Founders Network is a membership support platform that provides access to advisers, in-depth content, and local events. Incubator initiatives that are fully funded and have been tailored to empower entrepreneurs at any stage are also helpful.
Throughout your business journey, identify your skills and knowledge gaps so that you can continue to plan your learning, and your business growth, effectively.
Consider how much you should play to your strengths or develop your weaknesses. You can build on the things you’re good at while bringing other people with you that fill your knowledge gaps and compliment your skillset. Building a team around you that shares your vision and values while diversifying your approach is crucial for effective problem-solving and business development.
Keep the momentum
Build a network of peers at each stage of your business growth to match your size and scale. The aforementioned organizations and others like them are perfect for entrepreneurs, and so is YPO, the global leadership community of chief executives, for those meeting larger requirements around the number of staff, turnover figures, and investment secured.
I would also highly recommend seeking out and building a relationship with a mentor. One-to-one sessions with a mentor can be invaluable, providing insight, direction, and objectivity you may find hard to get elsewhere.
This can be a formal arrangement with someone who has a track record of business success, or a more informal relationship within your social circle or family, enabling you to take advantage of new perspectives, expertise, ideas, and support. Nonexecutives and board advisers can be a great source of challenge and advice that supports personal development.
Business journeys are not easy. A mentor offers encouragement and guidance at vital steps along the way, also serving as a reminder that hard work pays off.
Becoming your own development critic is important to continued learning and success. By continually evaluating your skill set, identifying your knowledge gaps, and finding an appropriate channel to build them, you will set yourself up for a lifetime habit of learning, overcoming challenges, and building a robust, successful business.
Sean Ramsden is an entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Ramsden International, a U.K.-based international grocery wholesaler, exporting more than 24,000 British food and drink products to over 650 customers in 133 countries across six continents.