One of the simplest questions I get from aspiring entrepreneurs, and ironically one of the hardest, is “How do I start?” I want to tell them to just start anywhere, but I realize that most have no idea where anywhere is. They just aren’t prepared for the life they want, and are really asking me how to learn to be an entrepreneur. It takes more than passion and a course on business basics.
We all come from the era where our society and education prepared us for the labor market, meaning working for someone else as an information professional, a factory worker, or a retail associate. Now, change is driving an opportunistic society, where the next step is undefined, and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of people whose best skill is learning how to learn.
I recently found an interesting book authored by a group of fifty current leaders from across American life, “America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age,” which points out some of the best tools that can help us learn how to learn in this rapidly changing world of opportunity. I have adapted their key recommendations for aspiring entrepreneurs here:
- Business gamification and simulation. Learning doesn’t have to be all work. We now know that people learn at a younger age, and come back to learn more from sources that are both entertaining and educational (edutainment). With new tools like Thrive15 and GamEffective, people of any age can learn to start or take their business to the next level.
- Adaptive business advising and learning. Every business and every entrepreneur is at a different stage, so it’s time to seek out learning tools that can adapt to you, rather than the other way around. Universities and the marketplace are creating tools like OpenStudy—a learning network enabling massively multiplayer study groups.
- Help entrepreneurs with constant learning. The wealth of online education offerings is a great start, but is not enough. Business advisors need to be ready to help at every stage, and I see it beginning to happen. Yet many new entrepreneurs are hesitant, perhaps out of fear or ego. If you are not constantly learning, you are falling behind.
- Mix business learning with doing. Entrepreneurs don’t need to know everything about business before they start. They do need the first few steps, and where to find the next steps. There is no standard course for this, but the answers are accessible online, if you know how to search, follow blogs, and interact with the relevant social media groups.
- Business financial aid alternatives. Crowdfunding is the latest alternative to assist entrepreneurs in need, supplementing the existing options of loans, grants, angel investors, venture capital and many others. These days if you can’t find money, either you haven’t tried hard enough or maybe your idea isn’t a good one.
- Utilize business content curators and coaches. Potential resources available to entrepreneurs are enormous, but are often under-utilized. The challenge is to find these just in time, including community and university startup incubators, accelerators, and advisors. Entrepreneurs should monitor online curator platforms and blogs.
In this new opportunistic society, the personal traits for success have also changed from the industrial age and the information age. The days of long-term loyalty to an employer and methodically following direction are gone. Now the premium emphasizes creativity, willingness to take a risk, and ability to keep up with change. Persistence and problem solving are sought-after virtues.
Nurturing these traits and practicing incremental and continuous learning are the best ways to start the life you want as an entrepreneur. Finally, before you start, you need to define what success means to you. It may include financial gain, but more likely the lasting satisfaction and happiness will result from your legacy of change in technology, or your impact on the social ecology of the world. If you can’t tell me where you want to go, I can’t really tell you how to start.
Image credit: CC by Startup Weekend Compiegne