Any experienced entrepreneur will tell you that there are no real shortcuts to success. The rise of our digital age may have revealed more opportunities to start a business, it has even given greater access to information and potential customers. However, that doesn’t mean that the environment today makes it any easier to be a successful business owner. Indeed, the odds are still very much against the majority of enterprises finding longevity.
By JORI HAMILTON
So, it’s important to understand what elements can help to build your toolkit of advantages that can help make certain you and your business endeavors emerge triumphantly. There are certainly a lot of mixed opinions on the matter, and the path will often be personal to the individual entrepreneur, or even the timing of their entry into enterprise. One aspect that is still a matter of debate is the impact of higher education upon your chances of success.
Does getting a degree or any other formal certificate make a tangible difference to your ability to rise above the crowded marketplace of businesspeople? Are self-drive and enthusiasm more reliable indicators of success? We’re going to review some of the important considerations surrounding education as a contributor to your enterprise.
Why Take a Course?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: you don’t need a degree to be a successful entrepreneur. There are always tales about those such as Richard Branson who didn’t attend university at all or Steve Jobs who dropped out of college. However, that doesn’t mean to say that there is no value to be had from engaging in higher education to some extent. It’s important to assess what you can get out of it that you can apply to your business. At the very least, the life experience of attending a university, and being surrounded by the diverse backgrounds and ideas of other students can be inspiring.
Taking the most linear approach, studying for a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) can help with practical aspects of running a business that you’ll come across. In many ways it bolsters the skillsets that are supportive of entrepreneurial activities — there are tracks specifically geared toward financing, market research, even cross-border operations for those interested in an international pathway. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to start an MBA as soon as you’ve completed undergraduate studies. Sometimes it can be most useful once you’ve spent some time in the business landscape and gained a greater understanding of what you need to learn.
Remember, too, that even education that is not geared toward running a business can give you great insights into elements that help direct your company in innovative and fruitful ways. Jane Wurwand, the founder of Dermalogica, graduated as a skincare therapy instructor, and her experiences helped her identify gaps in the market that she sought to fill. Initially, she opened a skincare school, followed by Dermalogica, and now a foundation that includes the Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship program; providing women in business with access to funding, resources, and training. The key is to establish what learning approach could support your areas of interest, entrepreneurially or otherwise, and explore what those courses have to offer.
Formal education is not necessarily accessible to every entrepreneur. This can be from a financial perspective — a degree is increasingly prohibitively expensive to gain, whatever field you focus on. Personal background can also be a factor, as educational opportunities are not always as easily available to those who are marginalized based on race, gender, or sexuality. Apart from anything else, not everybody finds the formal approach to education to be the best way for them to learn. As such, you may find that alternatives to traditional higher education can be more supportive of your entrepreneurial ambitions.
There are many e-learning courses available, both from traditional universities and independent providers. However, a structured course or certification is not always the best way to go. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on the vast majority of subjects. If you need to understand data science to improve your approach to taking risks in your business, or graphic design to produce branding materials yourself, some content producers provide professional insights. Indeed, there are certain industries — particularly in coding, the arts, and film production— where being self-taught tends to get you hitting the ground running quicker than formal education.
This brings us to another approach to self-learning: just getting started. Entrepreneurism can be learned on the job, as can the technical aspects of the industry — as long as they don’t require certification to get a business license or to operate. If you’re not immediately ready to start a company, beginning small as a freelancer, perhaps as a side-hustle to your day job, can be an enlightening experience. This also clues you in on finding more efficient ways to undertake the administrative aspects of your business, such as setting up modifiable invoice templates. This kind of entrepreneurial life hack ensures that you keep the essential paperwork in order, while also giving you time to learn more about the areas of the business that you’re passionate about.
Building a Community
Whether you choose to undertake traditional higher education or self-learning practices your business endeavors will benefit from engaging with a community. Take this from a mutually supportive perspective. Make efforts to establish a network in which you each act not just as bloodhounds for opportunities to get new leads, but to keep learning from one another.
If you are committed to building a small local business, this can often be best achieved by teaming up with others in your area. Attend local chamber of commerce events, make an effort to visit businesses, and speak to their owners. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal arrangement, but make it clear that you want to work together for mutual benefit. Talk to one another about changes to the local commercial environment, share skills — one of you may be adept in digital marketing techniques, another in legal business protocols. The key is to establish an open dialogue and welcome new entrepreneurs.
Online communities can be equally advantageous. Indeed, successful entrepreneurs have recognized just how important learning from other business people is that they have developed organizations around them — the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Program and the Kauffman Foundation among them. However, you can start by reaching out on your social media channels, or joining communities on LinkedIn. Aim to make genuine, meaningful connections rather than transactional ones and you can make a supportive network that keeps you learning over the long term.
Education is important no matter what professional field you choose to enter. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go the route of traditional higher education. On your path to becoming a successful entrepreneur, you can benefit from gaining your education from a variety of sources. Yes, there are benefits to be had from getting your MBA. However, those with self-drive can make gains through leading their own learning online and through experience. Along the way it can be important to develop a tight network, to ensure you benefit from up-to-date and enriching information.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity, marketing strategies, and startup efficiency. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter: @HamiltonJori