5 Ways to Develop Your Admin Business Acumen

Nov 16, 2012 | Career Development

Learning the “business” of business is essential for career success.

Do you understand the direct connections between what you do each day as an administrative professional and how it impacts your company’s success?

Could you give a company tour and explain the core role of each team or department?

Do you know how your company makes money and delivers shareholder value?

For administrative professionals to be recognized, valued, and respected members of the teams they support, they must develop strong business acumen. When you continually cultivate your knowledge and understanding of how businesses and organizations run at every level, you improve your ability to make good judgments and quick decisions each day. These abilities also help you think more innovatively about the challenges you may encounter and help you find innovative solutions for solving them.

What is business acumen?

Business acumen is the understanding of how a business operates, how a company makes money and your role in that process. It’s an awareness of the drivers that move your company forward and what you can do to impact the bottom line. Business acumen is what you know about business and how you act upon – or implement – what you know.

To be a fully engaged employee and participant in your company’s success, you must understand how cash is generated for your company, what makes your company profitable, what creates growth for your company, and why your customers buy from you instead of someone else.

Why is strong business acumen crucial for admins?

We are the eyes and ears of our executives and the teams we support. We are there to assist with connecting the dots between departments and team members to keep the communication and information flowing and the projects moving forward. If we don’t understand the core business applications of sales and marketing principles, accounting practices, and operational functions within our respective companies, then we aren’t as equipped as we need to be.

When we overhear information being shared around us, we need to know how it potentially fits into other parts of the projects we are involved with or the initiatives our companies are pursuing, so we can communicate potential concerns or assist with the flow of information appropriately. Every action you take and each decision you make impacts another area in some way. You must understand how. If you don’t understand, you must ask questions and do additional research.

Developing your business acumen will also give you the knowledge you need to be able to participate in discussions of a financial or business nature with your executive and other team members. It helps you become more valuable to your executive and the company.

Business acumen development demands your time and attention. But this is a skill you can develop. The key is exposing yourself to a diverse and wide breadth of experiences, education, and resources to support your growth and development in this area. So let’s explore how you can do this.

5 Ways to Develop and Strengthen Your Admin Business Acumen

1.    READ! (Listen and watch, too.)
Online, offline, and everywhere in between!  Read books. Read magazines. Read newspapers. Read junk mail. Read news stories via smartphone apps. Read blogs. Download free reports off of websites. Scan the content on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. When you read, scan for content that will help you better understand today’s business environment, give you a deeper understanding of industries you support, and educate yourself on new technologies and emerging marketing practices on the web. When you scan the seemingly random magazines and junk mail that comes across your desk, you’ll often find marketing ideas, best practices, innovative ideas on how to use social media for building corporate brands and promoting products and services online, new resources for event planning and meeting coordination, how to use software programs more efficiently, business and industry trends and economic factors affecting business and markets. The list is endless.

2.    Join professional or industry associations
Staying abreast of the latest industry or professional trends is much easier when you belong to professional or industry associations. Attending conferences and seminars keeps you connected to the pulse of what is going on in your profession and industry. Plus you benefit from developing your professional network locally, regionally, and globally. Be sure to join the association groups on social media sites such as LinkedIn for added benefit.

3.    Enroll in continuing education courses
One simple and often overlooked means of furthering your business education is taking classes. Investigate what your local community colleges offer. Research online business courses you may enroll in. You don’t have to pursue a degree program or go back to school full time. Advance your education one class at a time.

4.    Participate in company projects or committees
One of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding of how your company runs is to get more involved in company projects, committees, or special initiatives. Does your company have initiates in progress related to quality improvement, cost reduction, or process improvement? What about community involvement with local or national charities? Volunteer to help support or chair charity campaigns your company participates in. Sometimes you may have to ASK to be considered as a participant, but what you can learn about how the business runs and about your company can be a business education in itself. At the very least, ask if you can job shadow or sit with a different team or department for a few hours each month to learn what they do at a deeper level.

5.    Develop your personal advisory board
A personal advisory board is a small group of objective people who know you well, who are interested in your personal and professional success, and who are able to help you think. They can help accelerate your success and take some of the fear and uncertainty out of the process. A good personal board will provide both support and wisdom for you as you pursue your personal and professional goals. It’s important to surround yourself with wise advisors if you want to develop your admin business acumen.  Your personal advisory board may include coworkers, colleagues from professional associations, friends, people you follow on the web, or even family members. Think about who has sharp business skills and experience that you want to learn more from. Then figure out how you can spend more time with them in person or virtually.

Make it a weekly action item

The best way to continually develop your admin business acumen is to make it a regular part of your weekly routine. Dan Kennedy, author of No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, has a list of questions you can use to quiz yourself at the end of each week to help direct your focus for the week ahead.  I’ve adapted his list a bit so it’s more directly applicable to administrative professionals: What do you know this week that you didn’t know last week about…

  • Your company?
  • Your industry as a whole?
  • Your company’s competitors?
  • Your company’s customers or clients as a group?
  • Your company’s top 10, 20, or 30 customers or clients? (If you don’t know who these are, then find out. You should know this!)
  • One of your company’s clients or customers, individually?
  • One of the top leaders in your field or profession?
  • Societal, cultural, or economic trends that may affect your company’s business?
  • A “success” topic – personal finance, self-motivation, time management, project management, staying organized?
  • A “marketing” topic – direct-response advertising, social media marketing, copywriting that sells, direct mail, the Internet?
  • A person, event, or topic in the current news of great interest or importance to your company’s clientele?
  • A “method” – a means, process, a technique of doing something useful to you, whether learning how to do a component of your job more efficiently or using a piece of software more effectively?

Kennedy says if you actually discipline yourself to get one answer to each question worth putting down in writing just once a week, after a year, you’ll be 624 big steps ahead of your peers and competitors. That is an amazing statistic! And it will help you stand out as an administrative professional in ways you never imagined.

Additional resources

This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are a few additional ideas to get you started actively developing your business acumen. Book topics

  • Business practices
  • Marketing
  • Leadership
  • Entrepreneurism
  • Negotiation
  • Self-motivation
  • Career development
  • Human resources
  • Economics


  • Local newspapers
  • Regional business journals
  • National newspapers

Tip: Smartphone and tablet device apps are great for staying current with national newspapers and news organizations. Magazines

  • Event planning and trade show publications
  • Industry-related
  • Profession-related
  • Business-related
  • Hobby-related

Tip: Search online for free magazines you can access directly from the Internet.

Websites. Blogs, and Social Media

Search topics of interest to you. When you find good sites, bookmark the site or subscribe to their RSS feeds.

Many sites have daily or weekly email bulletins (e.g., ezines) they can send to you. Subscribe to electronic newsletters related to the industry in which you work, administrative resource websites, hobby-related websites, or specific business areas you want to learn more about. Most of these are free and provide great content and resources. Create a separate email address solely for developing your business acumen which also keeps your work email less cluttered. If you don’t have time to scan and read the websites or email bulletins on a daily basis, batch your tasks and do it once or twice a week.

If you’re using social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, you can search for specific topics or industries. Find key influencers on your social media sites who post links to great information and resources. The biggest advantage of using social media is that you can do it in very little time at any time of the day. Almost every social media site is set up to work with mobile devices, so you can access them on the go! You can find a lot of free teleseminars (training by phone) and webinars (training by computer) using search functions on social media sites.

Strong business acumen is a requirement for career-advancing administrative professionals. It certainly takes dedicated time and a personal commitment to develop it, but the rewards and benefits are well worth it. You will stand out when you choose to actively pursue developing your business acumen. If you aspire to more senior positions, if you want to be more than ‘just the admin’ if you want to be your executive’s ‘Chief Executive Administrative Partner’, developing your business acumen is your path to career success!”

This article first appeared in Executive Support Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at www.executivesupportmagazine.com to find out more. Or to get your 30% discount, email sdouglas@executivesupportmedia.com and tell them we sent you.

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