Although successful as an entrepreneur may depend largely on energy, luck, timing, and a great idea, there are skills and knowledge that are also crucial to launching a business. Although some folks are blessed naturally with the ability to effectively sell their concept or product, as well as an intuitive grasp of forecasting and management, these skills and knowledge can be taught. Fortunately, there are courses available to fill in any gaps, some of them for free. Pursuing such coursework is an investment worth any future entrepreneur’s time and energy.
Some background education seems obvious; you need to know your subject area. Whether you are going to sell yourself as an innovator in creating smartphone apps or tree trimming, artisanal goat cheeses or computer security, pet séances or DNA fingerprinting, or whatever, you must know your field of endeavor thoroughly.
This coursework may be available at college; other subjects may be taught at technical schools. If you undertake some sort of apprenticeship with an expert, document it thoroughly, with reference letters (and pictures or videos, if it involves hands-on training), to share with prospective clients if they ask.
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To obtain specialized courses, don’t be afraid to go to two schools. For example, a Wharton Graduate School student learned all the building trades during summer break in night classes at a technical school, despite feeling more than a little out of place. Through insightful purchase, renovation, and management of apparently worthless properties, this adjunct professor now has a long term, reliable, and hefty, income.
There are other non-obvious courses that an entrepreneur should consider. For example, if your first language is not English, you need to acquire complete proficiency as fast as you can. There are ESL courses at every community college, through many non-profit entities, and study materials available online. Many religious institutions, such as the Islamic Center in Washington, DC, and churches offer such classes, often for free or a nominal donation, and even segregated by gender. This is such an intensely local effort that you may need to make a few phone calls.
Another skill needed for any entrepreneur is public speaking. Although many high schools and colleges offer public speaking as a credit course, you can get a superb grounding at a nominal membership fee through Toastmasters International. This group meets regularly and provides instruction, opportunities for practice, and thoughtful feedback to all members.
You may, as an entrepreneur, need to deal with the local or higher levels of government. You need to know what is involved in this potentially lucrative, but paperwork laden market. Fortunately, the Small Business Administration offers self-paced online courses. Other entities offer similar material in a face-to-face class, providing more opportunity for questions and sharing of ideas and experience. There is a certification process as well.
Additionally, for entrepreneurial ventures that involve safety, for example, any business that includes food handling, there will be training offered locally, or you can take an online course. It is perhaps wise to take a local class, because you will be dealing with the governmental department that teaches the material in the future, perhaps regularly!
Of course, as an entrepreneur, you need to manage your accounting, finances, logistics relations with the legal system, and any personnel you hire, among other matters. For this kind of material, the courses in basic accounting and other business courses, always offered at a community college, are probably adequate. Such material is also available through online colleges, but be cautious that you pick one with transparency, certification, and a good reputation.
However, to put all these things together, you may need to be at a more sophisticated institution, or at least at a 2-year college that has developed associations with local businesses. There is no substitute for hearing and sharing the experience and expertise of business people who have already been through the struggles of establishing an enterprise. If you can, choose an AACSB accredited institution that offers some sort of internship program with regional businesses.
Some colleges offer courses in areas that are simply not the usual. ‘Sales’ is not something that has historically been taught, but a professor at the University of Chicago is giving it the old college try.
Some colleges have made a point of pride in creating an exceedingly realistic entrepreneurial experience for their students. If you are very committed, you could aim for one of these institutions for your degree. They range from Babson College, located in the leafy suburbs west of Boston, to the prestigious Stanford University, and the locally known University of Houston. Syracuse University’s Whitman School and Oklahoma State University represent the geographic spread of this education trend. Although some of the institutions offering such programs are very costly, as well as having exceedingly competitive admissions, sometimes, the low-priced alternative is better. As an example, Penn’s Wharton School does not necessarily get kudos for entrepreneurial coursework, but neighboring Drexel University’s LeBow School does! Check out online lists for some ideas of whom to contact, and become an educated entrepreneur!