Addressing Skill Gaps to Become an Entrepreneur

For the prospective entrepreneur, the potential benefits of starting a business range from having greater control over your work to simply making more money on the whole. There are benefits for society and the economy as well. New businesses generate more jobs for other people and drive economic growth.

Despite the upside, many people decide that entrepreneurship isn’t for them. They come to this conclusion before ever giving it a try. Sometimes it’s due to risk aversion, but often, we feel that the challenge of launching a venture is enormous, and we don’t have the necessary skills.

Even an intermediate step, like opening a franchise, can seem overwhelming. The existing structure doesn’t cover everything. You’ll need marketing services for local SEO and brand awareness, not to mention hiring talent and managing a performing team.

Some of those tasks can be outsourced or delegated, but not all. Yet even without an MBA, many entrepreneurs manage to start a business and achieve sustained success. To do the same, how do you address these skill gaps?

Know which skills to prioritize

Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of mastering entrepreneurship stems from a lack of definition on what to do. Most people do, in fact, possess some skills necessary to launch and run a successful venture. To make the challenge less daunting, we need to break it down into simple steps that yield concrete progress.

The Harvard Business School identifies ten skills core to a foundation in business competence. They include hard skills such as economic knowledge, data analysis, financial accounting, and business management. But they also cover soft skills: networking, decision-making, emotional intelligence, negotiation, communication, and leadership.

You could start by using this list as a reference and do a critical self-assessment. How would you rate yourself in these areas? Talk to friends or colleagues who can give you an honest appraisal.

This will give you an idea of the relative size of different skill gaps. It helps you decide which ones to prioritize. You might even find that you’re already at an adequate level in certain aspects, especially when it comes to soft skills that many of us unknowingly practice throughout our lives.

Entrepreneurship can be learned

The average person might still object, however. An MBA program, or any other formal education in entrepreneurship, provides in-depth instruction over an extended period. Students often receive insights from industry experts and get hands-on experience in aspects of running a business.

Can self-initiated efforts really be effective at addressing these skill gaps? Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey are frequently cited as examples of dropouts who founded hugely successful companies. But perhaps they are famous precisely because they are exceptions to the rule.

Indeed, the numbers over the past decade or so make a strong case for business education. MBA holders from 12 programs founded over 5,000 companies from 2006 to 2018, including 72 valued at over $1 billion.

Getting an MBA will no doubt give you an advantage. But just because you’re one of the many people who can’t afford this sort of education, in terms of either time or money, shouldn’t rule out the path of entrepreneurship.

The real takeaway is that business success doesn’t come down to a binary combination of factors. You don’t succeed or fail based on possessing natural talent or an educational advantage. If entrepreneurship can be taught at school, then a determined person can go far by learning independently.

Learning to learn

To realize that potential, however, you need to become a master of learning itself. The famous dropout founders, for instance, never stopped learning just because they quit school. Bill Gates is well-known for being a voracious reader.

In fact, educational programs often differ on how to teach entrepreneurship. They may vary greatly in terms of course content and teaching methods. Outcomes can be highly variable, often subject to the student’s motivation and receptiveness.

Be a better learner, and you can quickly narrow the gap. Research suggests that natural learners possess key qualities such as aspiration, self-awareness, curiosity, and vulnerability. These attributes can be boosted further through techniques such as visualizing positive outcomes, practicing objective self-reflection, using ‘curious language,’ and embracing discomfort.

Equip yourself with these learning tools, and you’ll be able to address any deficiencies in skill effectively. You don’t have to master wearing the different hats of an entrepreneur to start a business. Just cover what’s necessary at first, and continue learning on the fly.

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