When I speak with people who are interested in starting a business, one obstacle they often feel they have is that they didn’t go to business school. They believe they’re not qualified to be entrepreneurs without that formal education.
While certainly, having a business degree will provide you with knowledge that will make running a business a bit easier, it’s certainly not a requirement to go back to school. In fact, there are some components of starting and running a business that a degree simply can’t teach you.
1. How to Understand Your Customer Needs
In business school, you hear a lot about Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. It’s important to understand each of these elements, but the best way to figure out what your customers need is by paying attention to them. No degree needed.
Conduct customer surveys. Troll Twitter. Ask questions at the point of sale. All of this research will net you better results than four years and tens of thousands of dollars in education.
2. How to Build Trust
Again, textbooks can only take you so far. But when it comes to branding yourself or your business, you need to establish trust. You do that by showing that you know your industry, and by contributing knowledge on your blog and social media, as well as through speaking engagements and writing.
3. How to Delegate
The problem with a business degree is that it gives you a little information in a lot of categories. Marketing. Finance. Management. As a business owner, you’ll probably be adept at one of these areas, or even possibly two. But you’ll never be a master of all. In starting a business, you learn to delegate and hire people to do what you’re not good at. That helps you focus on what you’re best at: running your business.
4. How to Network
Networking is a very organic entity. It can’t really be taught. You can learn the basics of how it works and even craft your elevator speech, but it comes down to your personality and how you interact with people. If you focus on delivering value to people you meet — rather than closing a sale — you’ll help build trust (see #2).
5. How to Embrace Risk
Nothing can make you risk-averse if you’re not already, but if you fear anything, you might not be cut out to be an entrepreneur. Business owners take risks daily, especially starting out. You risk not making enough money to pay yourself or your staff. You risk creating angry customers if your products and services aren’t stellar. You risk losing everything you’ve put into the business. Know that going in, and it will be easier to handle.
6. How to Juggle Your Business and Family
If you think becoming an entrepreneur will be glamorous, you might take a beat and reconsider, especially if you have a family. It requires time — often more than you’d put in at a typical 9 to 5 — as well as high levels of stress. Business school can’t save your marriage, so make sure that you figure out how to balance both your burgeoning business’ needs as well as those of your family.
7. How to Work on Zero Budget
For all the accounting advice you get in business school, the bald truth is: small businesses sometimes have no budget for areas like marketing and employees. You get by on what you have, and that often means juggling multiple roles yourself until you can afford to invest in solutions. But having no budget for, say, marketing, doesn’t mean you can’t still find effective and free resources to use. Just dig a little.
8. How to Underpromise and Overdeliver
Customer delight should be your number one goal with every sale. You can follow the textbook on customer service to a degree, but it’s really an intrinsic skill you develop over time. If you pay attention to your customers and their reactions to your service, you’ll quickly pick up on what works and what really shows customers you’re willing to go above and beyond.
9. How to Shift Gears
In business, you quickly learn not to get too used to anything. As soon as you do, a competitor pops out of nowhere and obliterates your formally amazing idea. Being nimble and flexible helps you stay competitive. Read competitors’ sites, blogs, magazines and books to stay on your toes.
10. How to Trust Your Instincts
Shun the idea that a formal business degree would give you more knowledge and confidence to run your business. Instead, focus on your instincts. You likely are passionate about your industry, and know the field inside and out. While it’s helpful to know the basics of running a business, skills like managing your accounting and creating a website can be learned or outsourced. You, the business owner, are the real asset, and you will learn as you go. Save that $50,000 tuition to invest in growing your business.