THE BLOG
11/04/2014 09:51 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2014

The Competitive Edge: Grow Your Business by Growing Your Professional Skills, Knowledge, and Network

In your career and your business, moving forward is about what you know and who you know. Are you dedicating enough time and energy to growing both your skills and your circle?

How can you get - and keep - an edge on your competition?

In your career, your obvious competitors are the people you may be up against for a job or promotion. What skills and experiences are the most promising candidates bringing to the table? Could you be a stronger candidate with an additional certification, skill set, or strategic contacts?

To be an MVP, you also need to stay on top of your company's competitors, including their products, marketing, team, and ways of doing business. That competitive monitoring becomes even more important if you're on the executive, product development, or marketing team.

If you're running a business, consider your competition not just those with similar products or services, but the people intent on disrupting your field - innovating, networking, leading. Even if your competitors make you want to swallow glass, chances are you can learn something from their approach and apply it to your business to make your own company stronger.

How can you keep growing personally and professionally - even if you're out of school?

Don't make the mistake of believing that learning ends on graduation day. It's just beginning. In fact, with many careers, the skills you learn in school are just a preview of what you'll actually need to know to be successful in your career.

The truth? In this day and age, you can't afford to stop learning, whether you're an entry-level assistant or the CEO. Things change too quickly and your skills have to stay sharp if you're going to dominate your industry.

"But Ciara!" you complain while sifting through your Netflix queue. "I don't have time for that!"

Of course you do. The solution is being strategic with the time you do have - here are three places to create more time and focus to stay on top of your professional skills:

  1. On Your Commute. Load up your mobile device and read on the subway or bus, or subscribe to a podcast if you drive or walk to work. If you work from home, stream talks or videos on topics relevant to your business.
  2. On a Break or After Work. Combine your coffee break with a new article, video, or learning module. Better yet, grab someone you admire and take them to coffee, lunch, or a drink so you can find out more about their professional path. Caution: there's a right way to ask (and say thank you!) - check out my article on how to get that meeting.
  3. During Your Workday. Designation a day to attend a professional off-site event is almost always worth the investment. Convince your boss that your attendance at a class or conference is a win-win proposition by listing the benefits for your company, your team, and your future projects. And don't forget that industry events are often the best places to make valuable new contacts.

Never stop learning. Get your ass to class... or a conference, or a book, or a podcast, or a webseries, or an app, or a website with great content. Prioritize your knowledge and your value will increase. Take care of your network and your network will take care of you.