When you get into the business world, you realize how many things about business you didn't learn in college. College is great for teaching you the fundamentals of the academic side of business, but there are a lot of lessons you learn through real-life experience.
With lots of trade and business colleges popping up, I'm noticing that they are graduating people who are ready to work: plug and play for specific jobs. I went to college at Bryant University, strictly a business school. You could choose to major in Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Management, Information Technology, etc. After being in the small business world for over 15 years now, I realize now that there are a lot of things they don't teach you in school. Here are 15 business lessons I didn't learn in college.
A topic I have seen recently from a lot of sales managers is that college graduates don't know how to sell. Why isn't the subject of sales taught at college?
I was pretty happy and impressed wheny my brother Mark Roberge told me that he had been hired as a Senior Lecturer at Harvard to teach Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing.
When you get into the real business world, you will realize that sales are the lifeblood of any business. So why isn't sales a course you can take in college? That I can't answer, but I suspect we will see traditional colleges expand their curriculum to meet the needs of the current workforce.
2. How To Scale
Starting a business is not hard, but scaling a business is incredibly difficult. In college, you get the framework for starting a business because you get exposed to the various departments that make a successful business tick. Scaling is hard and I bet teaching it would be even more difficult; probably why it is better learned in the school of hard knocks.
3. Inbound Marketing
The principles of inbound marketing were invented over a century ago, so why didn't I learn about it in college? Inbound marketing is powerful and it is here to stay. I hope that today's college curricula focus heavily on inbound marketing, but I can't say for sure. Attract your prospects, educate them, make them love you, and convert them to customers.
4. Strategic Planning
I never learned the intricacies of building a business strategy in school. I was lucky enough to get accepted to and graduate from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. Honestly, I really think this program was a game-changer for our business. What I liked most about the program is that I worked on a developing a strategic plan for our business and then got to put it into action.
5. Exit Planning
You don't touch upon small business exit planning too much in college. However, in the business world, it needs to be part of your plan right from the beginning. Your exit plan defines where you are going and it changes as you grow. Without an exit plan, how can you keep on track? Not having an exit plan is like going for a hike without a destination; you just keep going and going. Many business owners assume someone is going to want to buy their business, but they never actually plan the sale. That is why some owners can never successfully get out of their business.
6. Why Accounting Is Useful
In college, I learned debits = credits, what a profit and loss report means, and the mechanics of a balance sheet. I understood accounting; it made sense, it was logical to me. However, many of my classmates struggled with accounting and couldn't wait to finish the prerequisite. Anyone who has launched a successful business will tell you how important accounting is. You have to know your numbers in and out. We develop bookkeeping systems that help businesses grow; that is our mantra. Your accounting is a useful business tool and you need to understand the basics and importance of it.
7. Hiring And Firing
Yeah, why didn't I learn how to hire and fire employees? I'm at business school, seems like in order to grow a business I might need to know how to hire and fire people. Hiring and firing is just a job for human resources right? Sure, if you can afford a human resources person, but typically when you are small you can't, so it falls on your plate as the business owner.
This lesson was a big one for me. I totally underestimated the importance and difficulty of hiring and firing people. People want to work, right? And they will want to work for me and be inspired by my mission? I couldn't have been more wrong. And when I have to fire someone, it will be easy because they will deserve it. Again, a huge lesson learned from the real world.
Now, after years of experience, attracting and retaining top talent is one of my biggest concerns. We are always looking for good bookkeepers.
8. Difficult Decision Making
As a small business owner, you are going to constantly face difficult decisions. To educate yourself on making difficult decisions, read Ben Horowitz's The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
As for my advice on dealing with making difficult decisions: I suggest finding yourself several good mentors. Nobody is good at everything and no successful business owner got to where they are by themselves. Don't try and make all the difficult decisions by yourself.
9. How To Fail Properly
In the startup world, it is almost as if you are expected to fail. Startup founders wear their failures as a badge of honor, and then they have a big success.
Your lesson here is that you will fail; over and over again. The only way to fail properly is to learn from your mistakes. When you fail (and you will), analyze what happened and why you failed. Learn from your mistakes and make yourself a better business owner.
What you need to know about pricing is that the lowest price doesn't necessarily win, especially in the service industry. When you compete on price, you are Walmart and all you will ever have is the ability to offer the lowest price. Sell value and make sure not to offer the lowest prices.
Unless you are just naturally a really good people person, your first few networking events will most likely be just completely awkward. When you start networking, try and be yourself and act natural. Remember, there are probably plenty of other people in the room who don't know anyone either, so walk up to them and talk to them.
I think the biggest issue with networking is that people that don't get it; they just try and sell. Let me give you some advice that really helped me. You are not at a networking event to sell to the people you are meeting; you are there to try and build a relationship with them. Think about the people you are meeting as your sales force and you are seeing if they know anyone who could use your help. Give selflessly when networking and genuinely try and help people; believe me, it will come around.
12. Venture Deals And Raising Capital
Shit. Raising money is just tough. If you are a startup looking to raise capital, just get used to hearing the word, "No." If you have a fear of rejection, then entrepreneurship is probably not for you.
The good news is that, if you are trying to raise money, there are a ton of people out there who can help you. Personal introductions go a long way in the venture capital market, so get good at networking your brains out. Don't forget that having a good CFO to watch your back and help you is crucial. If you want to raise capital: read books, find a mentor, and build meaningful relationships with connectors.
13. How To Actually Run A Business
Hey, when I was in business school, why didn't anyone teach me how to run a business? Duh! Running an actual real-life business is pretty tough stuff. The best part is, just when you think you have it down and you are getting good, it changes and you face different growing pains.
I'm going to again refer back to finding a good business mentor. It is absolutely ridiculous to think you are just going to launch and run a successful business on your own. A business mentor can really help you accelerate the growth and success of your business. I feel like new business owners don't ask for help from a mentor because they feel like they would be bothering them. Honestly, you would be surprised at how many successful entrepreneurs would be willing to help if you just asked. Also, when you are looking for a good mentor, aim high first and then work your way down your list.
14. Effective Time Management
In college, you definitely learn time management skills, so at least you are not going in completely blind. However, in the business world, things are a bit different. As a business owner, you simply DO NOT have enough time in the day, so you better make the most of it.
I have a few suggestions for you in the area of time management. First, understand what your most productive times of the day are. If you are a morning person, then get your most critical tasks done during that time period. Second, take breaks and do something unrelated to work throughout the day to remain effective. A brisk 5 to 10 minute walk in the fresh air can do wonders for your productivity. Third, understand the tasks you should not be working on and either delegate them or eliminate them. Last, become a master of managing your calendar. Make sure all of your important tasks actually get scheduled on your calendar and then stick to it.
OK, so what did I miss?
What lessons have you learned in the business world that you wish you'd learned in college?
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