How to become an entrepreneur: 15 lessons you won’t learn in school

They say there’s no better teacher than experience, and when it comes to entrepreneurship, they’re absolutely right. Getting a business degree can teach you a lot about how to become an entrepreneur. However, that piece of paper isn’t your automatic, all-access pass to success. Some of the most important lessons aren’t taught in school; take it from someone who took an alternative entrepreneurial path. I am mostly anti-college if it’s not a requirement for your chosen profession, such as a Doctor or lawyer. Now, if someone else is paying for it, then it’s a nice four-year party, and you should go.

Todd Snively - Entrepreneur

Growing up, I served in the US Air Force, flew planes commercially, and then decided to build my own escape hatch. I created a business empire online and learned countless lessons along the way. I met obstacles, experienced failure, and realized it’s up to entrepreneurs to educate themselves on the career paths they want to pursue. Looking back, I can see that those experiences were my guide, steering me in the direction of freedom and success. I also learned what it means to be truly happy.

Now I’m going to share my secrets with you, all the tips and tricks you won’t find in a textbook. Whether you’re wondering why to become an entrepreneur or how to become an entrepreneur, to start, the following 15 lessons will deliver the guidance and confidence you need to build your empire, with or without those formal qualifications.

1. You can’t avoid failure

“You have to see failure as the beginning and the middle, but never entertain it as an end.” 

-Jessica Herrin, founder, and CEO of Stella & Dot

School teaches students to fear failure, as it impacts grades, awards, and academic opportunities. But failing is an inevitable and essential part of succeeding in the business world.

You need to try all sorts of things to succeed, and experiencing failure is an excellent tool to steer you in the right direction. When your sights are set on big things, it’s best to accept failures and use them as opportunities. Embrace life outside of your comfort zone, work hard, and never let failure slow you down on the road to success.

2. Learn to ask WHY

“If you know too much before the start, then you will get overwhelmed. Come up with an original idea, and don’t copy because there will be no passion. You need that otherworldly passion. Just start.”

-Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

School doesn’t always teach you to question things. You spend days digesting lectures and chunks of text, taking notes, and accepting the teachings as undeniable truth.

But being innovative is all about learning to question reality. Become curious about why things are the way they are. Ponder the ways you could step in and change those realities with your ideas. That’s how great business ideas are born.

One of the “why” questions I asked is why I listened to a “teacher” who was earning $50k/yr telling me about life and how to run a business. I finally did learn that I needed to surround myself with the people who had already accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and being in college wasn’t the place to do that for me.

3. Learn the financial aspects now

I’ve heard so many people say that they wish there had been a class on money management in school. Topics like debt, investments, and cash flow are crucial for business, but we usually have to take the time to learn about them on our own. If you are lucky enough to have a school teaching entrepreneurship or make money with your own business, take those classes.

The financial aspects of business management are crucial, and without them, you won’t get very far. So take the time to form an understanding of how money works, and you’ll already be miles ahead.

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking

“Your ability to attract, evaluate, and forge strong working relationships with co-founders, early employees, and investors often mean the difference between failure and success.” 

Clara Shih, Co-founder of Hearsay Systems

In the business world, who you know is often much more important than what you know. Sure, your knowledge and skills are valuable, but they’re nothing without the network of employees and freelance talent, investors, and co-founders by your side. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve gone to my database of those that I know to learn something to accomplish a goal.

Take time to value and invest in the people that want to see your business succeed. Take the time to learn the art of networking, and you will reap the rewards throughout your entire career.

5. Time is a valuable and finite resource

Remember that time is a valuable resource. It is essential to learn how to balance your priorities to succeed in life and business, and this starts with developing effective time management. I do this by outsourcing work to professionals who can do things better than me. I have the business idea, I manage that aspect, and I find the right professionals for all the other elements.

It’s up to you to develop and maintain that work-life balance that will sustain you throughout your career. Choose a path you’re passionate about, and be sure to balance it out with quality time with loved ones, hobbies, and activities that energize you enough to keep going.

In my mind, true success is when you can control your schedule so that the balance you work so hard for is finally achieved.

6. Cushy corporate jobs aren’t the biggest opportunities

Those fancy corporate positions may sound nice, but they are not necessarily your best opportunities. Sometimes the best path involves risk, investment, and an unconventional approach.

And sometimes, like in my case, you weren’t meant for the 9-5 grind anyway. There are so many paths to success, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to find the opportunity that works for you. How to become an entrepreneur? Stay away from “jobs”.

7. Take time to learn the practical skills

Business school won’t teach you those practical skills that are essential for business success. From hiring and firing employees to conducting sales calls and balancing your own books, there are a lot of skills you’ll have to learn. And all of that while trying to build an empire. Taking the time to learn these skills can be the difference between failure and success, so it’s worth the time it takes to master them on your own.

8. Perfection is not a requirement

“Start as small as you can. When I started SkinnyMe Tea, I had $24 in the bank, and I was entirely self-funded. If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product; you’ve launched too late.” 

-Gretta Rose van Riel, Founder of Hey Influencers

Business school might teach you only to launch when your idea is perfect. But ideas grow and morph along the way. So it’s best to get them out there and in the hands of the target market as quickly as possible. If you focus too much time on fixing little bugs and issues, you’ll never launch your business.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said that I’ve never done anything perfectly. I am the guy that jumps off the cliff and builds the plane on the way down. Launching is much more important than waiting for perfection, which, by the way, is an illusion. Taking action is what is going to pay off in spades.

9. Scrap the business plan

“Any business plan won’t survive its first encounter with reality. The reality will always be different. It will never be the plan.”

– Jeff Bezos, Founder, and chief executive officer of Amazon

You probably don’t need that business plan either. Don’t believe me? Bill Gates and Steve Jobs never had them, and look at how well they did.

Business school may spend countless hours drilling the idea of a business plan into your head, but many entrepreneurs have achieved success without one, and you can too. After all, expectations are always different than reality, so it’s best to form your plan as you go, through actions and lived experiences.

10. Rules should be broken

The business guidelines taught in school can and should be broken if it will help you on the road to success. You can use them to guide you along the way, but don’t be afraid to break them if they’re limiting your growth. Challenging the rules can lead to outstanding results, business ideas that may never have come to light if entrepreneurs always chose to play it safe.

11. Success doesn’t happen overnight

Textbooks talk about the fast growth and success of companies like Amazon or Facebook. But that’s not how it works for the majority of successful businesses today.

You need to work hard and stick with it if you want to achieve those ambitious goals you’re dreaming up. If you go to business school, or buy an online training program, expecting to get rich quick, you may be disappointed when the path to success is tough and filled with obstacles. Small daily steps in the right direction, along with a healthy dose of perseverance, are key to achieving success in the long term.

By nature, I am not a patient person. I have a hard time understanding why tasks cannot be accomplished immediately, moving us towards a determined goal faster. I like to get stuff done. So, when I learned that I needed to outsource in order to grow, it was a difficult lesson, because I had to learn patience.

12. Marketing is mostly about trial and error

“It’s important to realize that a brand is much more than a logo and slogan. A brand is who your company is: how you function and make decisions.” 

-Joanna McFarland, Co-founder of HopSkipDrive

There are a lot of different marketing strategies out there, but not all will be effective for your unique business and audience. You will need to spend time testing and developing the strategy that works for you.

This process is about experimentation, trial, and error. And the market is constantly shifting, so testing many options will serve you well when adapting your strategies over time.

13. Managing people is an art form

“Success depends on employees. For me knowing and connecting with my employees is very important.” 

-Divine Ndhlukula, founder and managing director of DDNS Security Operations Ltd

In business school, you won’t learn the intricacies of managing people, working with teams, and developing a business culture that sets employees or freelancers up for success. Skills like persuasion and teamwork are crucial for building successful teams, whether they work with you as employees or are outsourced talent.

You’ll need to know how to recruit the right people and convince them to work toward your vision. Assembling and effectively managing teams is crucial for scaling your business, so take the time to master these skills as you develop and grow.

14. Your bravery is an indispensable asset

“If something is important enough, or you believe something is important enough, even if you are scared, you will keep going.” 

-Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX

Be it for the lessons you learn or the debt you leave with after earning your degree, business school may make you less willing to make bold decisions. But if you’re too risk-averse, you’ll never see the results you’re after, and you may never seize that one big opportunity that leads to your greatest success. You have to be willing to take that initial leap into the unknown to find out what works and build from there.

15. Education doesn’t end with school

“There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it, for whatever success I have attained has been the result of much hard work and many sleepless nights.” 

-Madam C.J. Walker, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist

Students may think they’ll graduate with all of the tools they need to succeed in business, but I’d argue that that tool kit will be expanding for the rest of your life. New strategies and technologies are constantly changing the face of business, and the things that you learned in business school can become obsolete quickly.

You need to take an active hand in continuing your own education to stay on top. Look for the opportunities to learn something new, and don’t be afraid to let new insights shape your path moving forward.

Want to know how to become an entrepreneur?

Just go out and make it happen. Take those risks, make mistakes, pick yourself up and keep going. No matter what you learned in business school, life will teach you that there are countless paths you can take to achieve success. I’m living proof, and I’ve helped thousands take an alternative route to achieve wealth and freedom for themselves.

My course Wholesale Product Mastery teaches you how to become a professional Amazon seller using the wholesale distribution method. It’s how I achieved eight and nine-figure annual sales and as part of my course, I’ll even share with you my supplier database and product software chooser.

Sure, there’s a lot to learn in the world of business, but you won’t find all of it in a textbook. Entrepreneurs learn their greatest lessons by taking risks, getting their hands dirty, and working hard to achieve their goals every day. I hope the lessons I’ve learned can inspire you on your own path and encourage you to see any setbacks as opportunities for growth.

You’ll learn some of your best lessons from the school of hard knocks, but you can gain wisdom from other entrepreneurs who have taken similar paths. Looking for more tips?  My blog has articles full of tips and tricks to help you succeed. I’ve taught thousands how to achieve success through my unique business model, and I invite you to explore it as an opportunity for yourself.

Todd Snively has been a serial entrepreneur since 1983. Now, Todd is best known as an Eight Figure Amazon seller, creator of multiple seven and eight-figure online income businesses, and consultant to thousands looking to make money online. He has taught over 6,000 people the wholesale distribution method of selling name brand products on Amazon using the buy box rotation method. Todd is available for speaking engagements all over the world. He is a frequent guest on some of the best-known podcasts in the world. His keynote speeches at masterminds are always well received. Todd has two books coming out, "The Amazon Code" and "How to Become a Virtual CEO".