University can be a great experience and for many sectors, such as law and medicine, where it’s a prerequisite. Many employers still see a university education as essential too, but with rising student debt and thousands of graduates struggling to break into the business world, bypassing higher education doesn’t have to equal career death, especially when it comes to setting up your own business.
A survey of 2,000 entrepreneurs commissioned by Amazon last year revealed that the level of education achieved is not a barrier for today’s entrepreneurs, with just 22% having a post-graduate degree and 29% listing their highest educational achievement as A-level or below.
Here at BizBritain, we see a lot of driven individuals who go on to build successful businesses without a degree, me included. We have found that regardless of their background, successful entrepreneurs have two things in common: They are determined to do what it takes to achieve their goals; and are open to feedback and suggestions from experts who can help them learn the ropes of their chosen industry.
So what steps can an aspiring entrepreneur take to set up a business and make a success of it?
Use the resources available to you
Anyone starting a business needs to tap into as many free resources as possible.
There is a plethora of organisations which are established to support and guide entrepreneurs on how to apply for funding and grants and how to develop your skills in marketing, finance, social media or anything else you may need to know about.
Many organisations now run online webinars as well as free face-to-face training events, so look at the British Chambers of Commerce of the Federation of Small Business to see what they can offer and keep an eye on local media for information about free training events tailored for local businesses; success in business depends on being resourceful and making ideas work, so take advantage of the business support which is available in your local area.
Expand your network
Networking is essential when you’re building a business. Meeting other entrepreneurs and engaging with other business people has a number of benefits, enabling you to find potential clients and suppliers.
Networking also helps you to build a support network of people who can help you work through problems and issues. Many of them will have experienced the same issues you face and will be able to advise you on how to address them.
Networking can be nerve-wracking, most people are nervous about walking into a room of complete strangers at first, but everyone is there for the same reason – to make contacts – so most people tend to be friendly and supportive.
Many networking events do ask attendees to explain about their business, so make sure you have your ‘elevator pitch’ prepared. The pitch should be around 30 seconds long and explain clearly what it is you do and what makes you different. If you can’t do that within 30 seconds, then the chances are other people will struggle to understand what you do.
Engaging with people means more than just talking about your business though. People like people who are interested in them, so ask them questions and be interested in what they do.
If you are looking for contacts in a specific industry, think about where you will find them and how you will engage with them. Look into the events, conferences or trade shows the people you want to meet attend and find a way in.
Finally, don’t just leave the event and forget about it. Make an effort to make contact with people after the event and follow up by email or by connecting on LinkedIn. You never know where the initial meeting will take you!
Sales through networking won’t happen overnight, but you must make a dedicated and continuing effort to meet people and expand your network.
Find a mentor and make the most of them
Online resources and being able to access a wealth of information at a click of a button mean that a lot of young entrepreneurs fail to recognise the true value of having a mentor. Regardless how driven you are or knowledgeable about your industry, a good mentor will support you and help you overcome obstacles.
Ideally, a mentor should be someone who has started a venture similar to yours and who understands the trials and tribulations of building a business area and the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis.
It’s vital to know what you want to achieve from the relationship before you contact them, so make sure you are clear on your goals and expectations. Have an honest discussion with them about your needs and, once you have established a relationship, develop a consistent meeting schedule with your mentor and invest in your relationship.
Be a smart worker not a busy worker
When you are setting up your own business you will need to put in the extra hours as and when required so be prepared to work hard. But here’s the thing: being busy doesn’t equate to producing results. Busy often has no strategy to it and it isn’t linked to goals and action plans, so just take a step back and look at the way you operate at work. Is your ‘busyness’ helping you achieve your work objectives?
Allocate your time effectively by going through your weekly activities and determining which ones are actively helping your business grow and which ones aren’t generating results. As little as 30 minutes of planning can yield significant gains in productivity. The days will feel a lot more manageable when you have a plan because all you have to focus on is execution. If hard work is the brick of success, then working smart is the cement that keeps everything together.