Being a business major has taught me a lot about the finer workings of a business and has familiarized me with accounting, marketing and management, but there are some valuable entrepreneurial lessons it didn’t teach me. While having a great idea is an important start, there are a number of crucial requirements for starting a business that are simply not discussed in business classes. Unfortunately, I had to learn these lessons the hard way through my experience starting a company. I feel it’s always best to learn from the misfortunes of others so as to not unnecessarily repeat the same problems yourself. Here are the 5 lessons I learned in the conference room, not the classroom:
How To Sell
B-school marketing teaches you how to advertise and position your product in a way that is attractive to customers, but nothing in school teaches you how to actually sell. Research doesn’t hurt, but the only way to actually master this art form is through hands-on experience that must be gained outside the classroom. It’s one thing to have a girl reject you at a college party, but having the door slammed in your face when you’re making a pitch is an entirely different animal. Selling is the key to your business, but in addition to providing revenue, it also provides insights into what others think about your products. The best way to learn how to properly sell is to get firsthand experience through internships and other opportunities that will allow you to continually develop this critical skill before starting a company.
How To Work With Non-Business People
In school you probably had friends in different majors, but how often did you work or do projects with them? For me, the answer was hardly ever, because most of my classes and group projects were only with business students. Now this was great for building my business skills, but as an entrepreneur you have to be able to work with a wide variety of people in order to build a successful company. So during school it’s important that you find ways to work with students and people pursuing other degrees, with other interests and from different backgrounds. Whether you dive into this by playing a sport, being part of a club or volunteering doesn’t matter. What matters is being able to effectively communicate with people who have different agendas. When starting a company, you’ll have to speak with all kinds of people from UX designers to product manufacturers, so learning how to work with others will greatly improve your chances of success.
How To Fail
Throughout our entire education we are taught that failing is bad and that we should only be focused on getting A’s in all of our classes. While this makes sense in school, it doesn’t apply to the real world or to entrepreneurship. I am by no means encouraging you to purposely fail, but if you are going to fail (which most entrepreneurs do at some point) then you need to learn how to do it the right way. It’s also important to understand that one failure isn’t the end of your entrepreneurial path. I have learned far more from my business failures than I have from my successes because failing forces you to evaluate what went wrong and to find ways to prevent it from happening again. It is not always easy to be critical of yourself after a failure, but if done correctly it will allow you to grow immensely.
How To Negotiate
Negotiation skills are crucial to all aspects of business whether it is selling, fundraising or any other contracts, but I’ve yet to come across a class that teaches students the proper way to go about this. Your management professor may explain the basics of negotiation, but it is unlikely that you will get any real experience negotiating while in school. Therefore, it is important to talk to mentors and learn outside of school before you make your own negotiations. The last thing you want is to be taken advantage of or to offend anyone. Of course, this is a skill that will naturally be perfected over time, but having as much experience as you can before negotiating your first deal will save you from giving away too much value.
How To Hire
Hiring is one of the most important things you do as an entrepreneur because finding other people who share your vision will help your business expand rapidly. There are no classes for this in school because management just focuses on how to handle employees once you have hired them. Therefore, recruiting and hiring employees is similar to learning the how to’s of sales in that you have to find alternative ways master this skill. If you think about it, it’s also similar to sales in that you’ll have to pitch your business to someone and get them to like it enough to invest their time and energy into it.
Though my business education is great, some of the crucial lessons an entrepreneur must learn cannot be taught in the classroom. To be successful you must develop these skills in alternative ways so that when you go to start your business they are second nature to you. Though it does take extra time and effort, honing these skills will absolutely pay off in the long run.
Kevin Zell (@Kevin_Zell) is a marketing intern at Spinnakr, a new kind of analytics that takes action for you. Previously, Kevin co-founded FirstFunder, a crowdfunding platform for young entrepreneurs. Kevin is a rising sophomore at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Image credit: CC by Julia S