read to succeedIf I could help all admins develop one thing more fully, it would be stronger business acumen. You must read to succeed!

What is business acumen?

Business acumen is the keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. The term “business acumen” can be broken down literally as a composite of its two component words: Business literacy is defined in SHRM’s Business Literacy Glossary as “the knowledge and understanding of the financial, accounting, marketing and operational functions of an organization.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines acumen as “the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions“.  (Excerpts from – bolding/emphasis added.)

When you continually cultivate your knowledge and understanding of how businesses and organizations run at every level, it facilitates your ability to make good judgments and quick decisions each day as the administrative professional supporting them.

Why is this important?

We are the eyes and ears of our executives and 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, we aren’t as equipped as we need to be.  Even if you don’t like numbers, you need to understand how to read financial documents.  Even if the thought of selling something terrifies you, you must understand how the marketing and sales cycle works and how it impacts every other area within your company.  Even if you think you already have a pretty good sense of how things run, there’s room to learn more – a lot more!

How do you strengthen your business acumen?

I had a client ask me recently, “How do you know everything? You’re like super woman or something.”  My answer was, “I make it my business to know everything. It’s the only way to stay relevant in my profession and provide significant value to those I support.”  But that got me thinking.  How do I know what I know?  What are the specific things I do to make sure I’m ahead of the learning curve?  I shared several ways I expand my expertise gap in a recent article, and every one of those points tie into developing stronger business acumen as well.  But I want to focus on just ONE simple thing you can start doing right now that will make a HUGE difference in your ongoing business education:


Online, offline, and everywhere in between!  Read books. Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read junk mail. Read blogs. Read new stories via smartphone apps. Download free reports off of websites. Scan the content on social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Read and learn!

But who has time for all of that reading, you ask? YOU do when you MAKE THE TIME to do it.  Quite honestly, you cannot afford not to do it.

I’m not suggesting you read everything you touch cover to cover.  This is easier for some personality types to become comfortable with than others.  But the more you read, the better you get at this.  When I’m reading, I’m scanning for content that will help me better understand today’s business environment, give me a deeper understanding of industries I support or have supported in the past, and educate me on new technologies and emerging marketing practices on the web.   I scan the random magazines and junk mail that comes across my desk just to see what’s in them.  I find marketing ideas for clients and professional organizations I belong to. I learn about best practices for HR.  I discover innovative ways to incorporate social media into marketing campaigns. I find new ideas for how to use social media for building corporate brands and promoting products and services online. I uncover new resources for event planning and meeting coordination. I learn how to use software programs more efficiently.  The list is endless.

I want to share some excerpts from Dan Kennedy’s book, No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs:

You MUST read to succeed.  Here are the reasons:

(1) Varied, diverse input, ideas, viewpoints, life stories, examples, all the essential raw material poured into your subconscious mind, for it to sift, sort, try matching up with other puzzle pieces it already has, so it can occasionally yell “Eureka!” and hand you something profitable – without daily flow of new stuff, it just sleeps…

(2) Without exposure to others’ thinking, your own range of thought shrinks.  Soon you are a mental midget.  Your range of thought narrows, like your range of motion shrinks if you don’t move or exercise.

(3) You can’t stay current. I read a monstrous amount and I still can’t stay current. If you’re not reading a book or two, a dozen magazines, a few newspapers, and a few newspapers every week, you must be way, way, way behind.  Pretty soon, your conversation reveals you a dinosaur.

(4) If you have kids, you want to set a decent example for them.

These principles apply for any person who wants to be successful in any area of life.  Dan Kennedy also has a list of questions you can use to quiz yourself at the end of each week to help you focus and spot the right things in 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?
  • 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, 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?

Dan 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’s what will help you STAND OUT as an administrative professional in ways you never imagined.

So here’s my list of ideas to help get you thinking about what you can find to READ in the week ahead:

Book topics:

  • Business practices
  • Marketing
  • Leadership
  • Entrepreneurism
  • Negotiation
  • Self-Motivation
  • Career development


  • Local newspapers
  • Regional business journals
  • National newspapers (My personal favorite is The Wall Street Journal.)

Personal Tip: I love my iPod Touch apps for staying current with national newspapers and news organizations.


  • Event planning and trade show publications (e.g. Meetings & Conventions, Midwest Meetings, Exhibitor – all free!)
  • Industry related
  • Profession related
  • Business related (e.g. Inc, Entrepreneur, Success, Fortune, Forbes)

Personal Tip: Magazines can make a workout go much quicker. And you can find a lot of good FREE magazines in various categories at


Here are some websites to get you started. Create a favorites list of “Reading Materials” in your web browser and scan these sites and their associated blogs regularly.  Many sites have daily or weekly e-mail bulletins they can send to you also if you sign up for them.  I recommend creating a separate e-mail address solely for developing your business acumen.  Gmail accounts are free.  If you don’t have time to scan and read websites or e-mail bulletins on a daily basis, just do it once or twice a week to work it into your routine.

Social Media Sites

  • LinkedIn – Join some profession or industry specific groups. You’ll be amazed at the information that is shared in these forums. You can also ask questions and search for resources.
  • Facebook – Research your customers, clients, and competitors here.  See what they’re doing and share what you learn.
  • Twitter – This is one of the most under-utilized resources by admins.  Search for your customers, clients, and competitors here also.  Search for resources to make you more effective as an admin (career topics, time management, leadership, etc).  Here is a compilation of some of my favorite Twitter resources for admins to help you get started:

The thing about reading is this: the only one who can do it for you is YOU.  And you have to make the time to do it.  It can be squeezed into places with amazing ease when you concentrate on making it a priority in your daily and weekly routine.  I now carry reading material with me at all times for those 5-10 minute waits before appointments or picking my husband up after work.  I love to read while I’m working out; it makes time fly!  I don’t accomplish the same amount each day.  Some weeks it’s easier to do than others.  But a read to succeed habit is one you CAN develop.  Once you do, your business acumen will become stronger by the day and you will become increasingly more valuable to everyone you support – now and in the future!