My daughter is finishing high school soon, and like all seniors, her head is everywhere but the school she currently attends. Senioritis is in full bloom throughout the land, and graduation is soon to arrive.
It took a long time and a lot of work for her to get to this place, and I am reminded that there have really been two sets of requirements that she has faced the past four years: first, the minimum requirements needed for graduating, and second, the requirements needed to get into a university.
In that regard, she is not very different from many small business owners. New small business owners and new students have a few things in common. It takes both of them some time to find their footing and become independent. To take the analogy a little further, for the entrepreneur there are also basic graduation requirements as well as advanced study requirements.
Any small business owner who wants to graduate from novice to pro needs to take and pass the following “courses:”
1. Profitability basics: This may seem obvious, but in reality it’s not. People start businesses with all sorts of dreams and aspirations, but it is safe to say that concrete, realistic profitability plans are not always part of the equation.
Maybe these folks want to create a great product, or maybe they want to pursue their passion every day. Whatever the case, it can be a rude awakening that the entrepreneur not only has to come up with a great idea, find a location, get funding, name the business and get started, but he or she also has to begin making a profit, pronto.
- Learning how to price one’s services appropriately,
- Sourcing products at a good price,
- Selling, and
2. Math for non-majors: There is a lot of math to master when you are a small business owner. You have to get a handle on taxes, spreadsheets, budgeting, inventory, buying and selling, profit and loss statements and other basic accounting skills.
3. Marketing 101: As I have said before, the only way new clients find you is via your consistent marketing efforts. As a result, the only way you will be around for the long haul is if you have a basic understanding of how to get your name out there and get people to remember it. Marketing is an extremely important element to master.
What if simply graduating from small business school is insufficient and you have higher aspirations? Then you will also need to pass the following “upper division-level courses:”
1. Labor law: Many small business are content to be one-person shops — indeed, most small businesses in this country are solo endeavors. But if you desire to keep growing, you will need to hire people at some point, either employees or other independent contractors. So, in this “course” you will need to master:
- Interview techniques,
- Hiring, and
2. Advanced advertising: Doing the same old thing when it comes to your advertising strategy is fine, but it will get you the same old results. If you want to stand out to customers, you will need to show your advanced advertising competence. This “course” is always evolving, but currently the curriculum involves the following: Web 2.0, social media and mobile marketing.
3. Philosophy 200: In this advanced entrepreneurship course, you will be asked to articulate a vision for your business. Your vision must be based upon your core competencies, your company culture, your business values, the essential products and services you offer and your dream for the future of your company. You will also be asked to engage vendors, employees, customers, investors and the public at large in this vision.
If you have done all of this, then congratulations are in order — you’ve been accepted to Career College!
What “courses” do you feel new small business owners should pass? Share your thoughts below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss