School teaches you how to learn, but the 'school of hard knocks' will test all you learn. For all of the programs on entrepreneurship at respected colleges and universities, including this 2015 list of top 25 colleges for entrepreneurship, experts agree that truly learning the ropes of small business start-up requires real life experience beyond the balance sheet. Academics will give you tools, a process, and will teach you how to learn, but applying those concepts takes more than a course syllabus.
These practical tips to work into your start-up idea may help keep your planning focused, and your balance sheets in the black:
1. Seek out, successful entrepreneurs. Starting your own business doesn't mean reinventing the wheel. Listen to the stories of those who have gone before you, network. As you seek others, find someone, in particular, to act as your mentor. Friends are a great support, but mentors tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.
2. Research your business idea, industry, and trends. Today, that's easier than ever with the internet. Subscribe to blogs about your industry, follow trailblazers and study their stories.
3. Keep up on your academic learning, including seminars, free courses on business management, training on new technology. Everything changes at breakneck speeds. Keep an eye toward opportunities to learn what's up-and-coming. Be aware of what's ahead.
4. Volunteer in your area of interest. Take away the pressure of earning and submerse yourself in the activity for pure learning value or enjoyment. For example, want to open a restaurant? Volunteer at a busy soup kitchen.
5. Write a simple mission statement. Can you state your business goals in one short paragraph? By identifying your concise goals, you can relate every decision you make back to your mission statement. Does this technology purchase forward your goal? What expertise is most important in your next hire?
Once you've committed fully researched and committed to your start-up idea, follow these last three suggestions from some of today's entrepreneurs finding success. Reports are not encouraging, saying 80 percent of new businesses fail. Eight out of ten people who take the plunge don't sail into the sunset of prosperity. Why? The number one reason is running out of money. But the leaks start before the boat sinks.
6. Be unique. Don't open another sub shop if there's one thriving just down the street. Whatever your specialty, if there are plenty other firms offering the same service, your color will stir into the brown of what already exists. Be sure you enter the market with a unique product or service that is unrivaled by other companies.
7. Walk away from your back-up plan. "Ditch the safety net," says John Goscha of IdeaPaint, who said that his job at Goldman Sachs was a good plan in case his startup idea didn't work out. Instead, he said it kept him from pushing himself to make his idea reality. Fully commit and give it your all.
8. Be better than good by knowing your customer's needs. If you over-deliver, over-perform, you're sure to meet your customer's expectations. Mistakes happen, but they may not repeat. If you look at your relationship with your client as a partnership, and you know their business, you are more prepared to deliver the best possible product.
9. Don't give up. Lastly, they recommend you stay the course! Starting your business takes dedication, time and passion. If you fail to commit 100 percent, you're likely to be among the eight out of ten who go under.
Small businesses across the country report a positive outlook on profit and growth as the economy continues to strengthen. With research, connections, a solid idea and plan, dedication and expertise, yours could be as well.