The most valuable lessons you can learn as an entrepreneur, come from the doing, not the reading. While education, school, and business books all have their place, there is nothing quite like running a business to teach you the in’s and out’s of being an entrepreneur.
I can tell you this from first-hand experience. As a sixteen-year-old high school student, I bought a retail surf shop in Sydney, Australia. I employed up to three staff at any one time and ran the business after school and on weekends.
At the same time, I studied every business orientated course I could. Both in high school and University. What I remember most from this period of my life is not the words or case studies written in textbooks, but the trials and tribulations I faced as a business owner.
Managing cash flow, balancing the risk of acquiring stock, hiring employees, firing employees, and making bad decisions are concepts that no amount of reading can prepare you for. Sure, understanding the theory can help. However, it’s a bit like reading how to drive a car. Until you do it, you have no idea what you are in for.
So what does that mean then for students in 2017 who want to be an entrepreneur?
Well, the good news is that it has never been easier to be an entrepreneur. When I was sixteen (around ten years ago now) the iPhone did not exist, no one had heard of apps, and e-commerce was a relatively new concept.
Today, however, you can fire up a website, create an online store or code an app, and be selling to customers anywhere in the world.
If you are reading this as a student (or a parent of one), then I highly recommend creating a plan and diving into the world of business as young as you feel comfortable. Even if it is not something you end up pursuing for the rest of your life, the process will provide valuable lessons that serve you well in the corporate world.
4 Steps to Building an Entrepreneurial Career:
Start saving some money that you can invest into your business or idea. This money should not come as a handout from your parents or grandparents.
If it is money, you have worked for and saved yourself you will treat it like gold. You will make smarter decisions because it is your money on the line.
Identify a passion you are interested in and one that has a viable market.
When you start a side business, it has to be something you are passionate about. If the business gets any form of traction chances are you will spend your spare time and weekends working on it. So it has to excite you.
That, however, is only one part of the equation. There needs to be a market for what you want to sell. But the good news is that with the internet there is a market for almost everything. So find your niche, check there’s a passionate audience, and get started.
Great businesses for students to start include things such as:
- eBay or e-commerce stores selling rare or unique things (i.e. don’t try and compete on products that Amazon sells)
- Creating service based businesses where you have a natural advantage over your older peers. For example managing the social media channels of small businesses/brands that don’t have the budget to afford someone full-time.
- Utilizing your skills or experience to create tech products or services. While this one does require some unique skills, I have heard about and met some amazingly talented developers in their early teen years. There’s no reason why they cannot create an app or an online SaaS business that can generate recurring revenue
With whatever you do start small and aim to invest time rather than money. No matter what idea you choose you should learn to do it yourself.
If you have to pay for someone to build an online store for you one, it is going to cost too much money and two, you will not learn anything. As much as we want this business to succeed it is also an opportunity for education.
Augment your real life experience with studying.
Nothing made studying business and economics in high school and university easier than owning a business. It allowed me to apply the concepts I read about first hand in my business. I could relate to the content and also developed a sense for when theory does not always match reality.
That is why as important as the lessons are from actually running the business I still believe in studying the content concurrently at the same time. Essentially it will provide you with a more rounded understanding of business as a whole.
Overall, this model does work and can be repeated. It is not the size of the business or the opportunity that dictates its success, but rather the lessons you learned on the way. Since owning a surf shop ten years ago, I have gone on to create and launch a number of other startup businesses. I firmly believe in giving to the community and do that by blogging about the journey to launch my startup.
If you too find success in your entrepreneurial endeavor, my hope would be that you look to pay it forward as well.
Paul Towers is a 3x Entrepreneur and Founder of Task Pigeon, a web app that makes it simple to create, assign and manage the tasks you and your team work on each day. Paul also founded Startup Soda to help source and promote interesting and insightful content from the startup community.