Like parenting, running a business does not come with a handbook or guide. There are plenty of experts with plenty of insights, stories, and advice to share, but like kids, every business is different and requires a unique and customizead strategy. Many business owners will start a business thinking that having the knowledge of their product or service will be enough to be able to make money and it might for a while, but the business side will eventually catch up with the owner and overwhelm them with challenges. Just because you are great at something does not mean you don’t need training for everything else and here is why. When you start a business you are of course the expert at what you plan on creating. The hats you wear in your business are more than the expert, designer, developer, and visionary, because if you have not hired anyone else to work in your business your hats include potentially all of these (or more).
- C-Level management
- Marketing strategist
- Website developer, manager, and support
- The corporate face (chief networking officer and brand manager)
- Finances (CFO, accounting, bookkeeping, accounts receivable and payable, clerk, corporate value, contracts & loans)
- Legal (contracts, customer disputes, employees, contractors, incorporation)
- Operations (delivery, manufacturing, product creation, development, maintenance, quality control, shipping, inventory, and customer support)
- HR (payments, contracts, disputes, employee benefits & support, Health & Safety)
- Sales (prospecting, presentations, contracts, administration of, follow-up, stay-in-touch)
If you have not yet read Michael E. Gerber’s E-Myth books, I highly recommend you do so. In his third book, “The E-Myth Mastery” he tells his story about having a successful business, with over 100 people working for him and grossing millions of dollars in business, that almost went bankrupt. Hearing his struggle to keep things moving forward, to pay his debts, to save face and integrity is difficult. He attributes this downfall to his lack of focus on his money and the people he hired to look after it. If you are running a business of one or one-hundred, you are responsible for the business growth and failure. You have to know what is going on, and that means training. Here are my top 5 recommendations for training:
#5 Traditional Education
This route will not be right for most entrepreneurs. It requires a longer time commitment (1 year or more). The great thing is it can often be done as a part-time program, allowing you to start or run and grow a small business while you learn. The benefit of this type of education is the recognized credentials that come with it, which can often open doors more quickly. The downfall of this type of education is that the professors and instructors may not have any entrepreneur background and the content may be out of date or too theoretical. My policy is that all knowledge is valuable and can be applied, but if you have to bridge the gap between knowledge and real-world application, you will need more time.
- Look for Entrepreneur programs in colleges and universities. There is a trend to offer programs that focus on entrepreneurship. I teach at Georgian College in Canada that offers both Entrepreneurship diplomas and post diploma programs.
- The Kauffman Foundation has created entrepreneur programs that are offered in many other locations.
- Business programs, like an MBA are offered at many universities worldwide and produce amazing entrepreneurs.
Attending conferences that focus on business development can be one of the best ways to get up-to-date knowledge from current, legitimate ‘doers’ (the people in the trenches of business). Choose conferences that have speakers you are interested in hearing from, topics that are current, and content that is valuable to your learning needs. There are literally thousands of conferences every year. On my way to a conference in Colorado I spoke with a woman who was going to attend a conference that focused on apartment management. One of the main speakers this year was Barbara Corcoran and Michael J. Fox and last year they had Richard Branson. If you don’t know these incredible leaders then look them up. I looked through their agenda and all the breakout sessions would have been valuable to any business owner (branding, marketing, managing clients, etc.)
#3 Paid Programs from Experts
Experts in your field are often offering free and paid programs. Go and learn from the best. Don’t just learn what they teach, observe what they do and model the pieces that will work with your growth. Many experts (like me) have free programs to get you started. Do the work, then be ready to invest to go deeper. Darren Hardy has an investment rule for his education. He puts 10% of his yearly earnings into learning from people that are ahead of him in ‘the game’ of business. If you are unwilling to put out any money as an investment in your #1 corporate resource (you) then you are already on a track to fail.
#2 From A Mentor
Do you have someone in your life that is successful and you look up to? They don’t have to be wealthy or running a multi-million dollar business, they just have to be doing something really well that you would like learn from. I have been fortunate to have had many mentors throughout my life. Even as a teen, my boss at the pool store where I worked taught me how to be a strong leader in business and how to treat clients and employees. She was well liked and people treated her with the respect she had earned being friendly, supportive, and a straight shooter. She was no pushover, which in a time when women were not as well respected in leadership roles was impressive and unusual.
Who do you know that could teach you new skills, which you could use to run your business? Always be looking for that person and you will continue to have mentors over the years.
Note – you must also be willing to be a mentor. You will learn a great deal from this position, including how to be a great leader.
#1 By Failing
Yep, the number one way (in my opinion) to learn is to do the work knowing that it is not going to be perfect and that you are going to fail on occasion. The key to learning from failure is to be willing to accept that you did something that did not work and know how to evaluate it. The way to the best answers is to ask the best questions. Questions like “What went wrong?” Don’t just accept the first answer to this question, you need to dive down deep to get all the nuances of everything that could be a factor in the event.
If you would like a tool to help you evaluate a problem then try a Fishbone Diagram. This will help you brainstorm the major categories of causes of the problem, like:
- Sales process
- Tools (like software)
By using this tool you will ask a lot of questions around your company and its processes and it will generate some great ideas for improvement.
Expect to be learning for the rest of your life. You can stop, but I bet your competitors won’t and that is when things will change. It is easier to stay on top when you are acting on new opportunities and learning about the industries trends and economic change, then it is to catch up after the opportunities have passed you by and your competitors have seized the market.