How to Get Experience as an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is as challenging as it is exhilarating, as frustrating as it is rewarding. Part of the reason is the independence you have to do what you want. It’s nice to have that freedom, but also terrifying when you don’t know what to do next — or worse, where to even begin.

There’s no secret sauce to success, but there are steps you can take to prepare you to open your own business. Getting experience as an entrepreneur is one of those steps, because it gives you the knowledge and confidence to make important decisions.

Whether you already have a business idea in mind or not, getting experience should be one of your top priorities as your pursue your life as an entrepreneur. While on the lookout for experience, keep these tips in mind.

Skills Experts Say Successful Entrepreneurs “Need”

If you search for necessary skills for entrepreneurs, you will see a never-ending list describing the most perfect human to ever exist. They always have novel ideas, are always excited to work, and so personable that people can’t help but give them money. Articles will say that you “need” these abilities if you are going to make it as an entrepreneur, but that’s not the case.

Sure, there are certain personality traits that fit better with an entrepreneur lifestyle, but there is not only one type of person who can make it as an entrepreneur. With that being said, there are some skills that will make entrepreneurship life a little easier. They include the ability to…

  • Manage time
  • Assess risk
  • Communicate with partners, stakeholders, and employees
  • Stay motivated
  • Hire the right people
  • Network
  • Identify weaknesses

Mastering these skills might look different for each person, but getting a good grip on these skills will help every entrepreneur on their path. The question is, how do you learn these skills?

How to Obtain Entrepreneurship Skills

Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn important skills through many avenues. Below are just a few options they can pursue.

Internships: Interning at a startup is a great way to gain experience as an entrepreneur because you will most likely be doing more than what was originally listed in your job description. Everyone at a startup wears multiple hats, including interns.

Everyone is also encouraged to come up with ideas to boost the business, and you are, too. You will be in an environment that supports creative thinking and self-motivation. You can also learn a lot from the company leaders themselves, asking them questions about the business and observing how they manage everything. You’ll be privy to the inner workings of the startup, seeing what challenges they face and gaining an understanding of what it takes to get a startup off the ground.

The downside of internships is that you might not receive adequate compensation for the work you put in, or you might not receive any compensation at all. This can be frustrating, but also a good realization that for the first few weeks, months, or even years of launching your own startup, you might not be writing yourself a check.

Jobs: Getting a job with an early-stage startup is similar to an internship, but a little more secure. You are likely getting paid and receiving benefits, and you have a tad bit more job security than interns do. Like internships, you are able to learn about what it takes to grow a startup without the risk of putting in your own money and putting your own idea into the world.

You will be able to see the startup in action and take notes on what you like and don’t like about how it’s being managed. As with an internship, you will likely wear many hats and be encouraged to bring new, innovative ideas to the table. You can search for jobs at startups on sites like Angel List and Tyba.

Join another startup: As you meet other student entrepreneurs who have aspirations of making it big, you might join their ventures to gain experience. This is one of the best ways to learn and grow in the entrepreneurship world. You will basically be an entrepreneur, but you will be leaning on another’s idea.

It works like this: Someone else comes up with the idea and is the main founder of the startup, but they know they can’t do it alone. They bring you on to add your expertise and help the startup get off the ground. You will be able to learn about entrepreneurship by doing it, and you will probably get some percentage of the business, but the success of the business won’t be entirely on your shoulders. Once you work with the startup for a few years, or at least enough to leave the company in a good spot, you can pursue your own dreams.

School projects: The phrase “I am a student” can empower you or hold you back, depending on your perspective. You can think of it as an obstacle to you starting your life as an entrepreneur, or you can view it as a way to simultaneously learn about entrepreneurship and put your knowledge to the test.

Let’s say you’re in a marketing class and you are tasked with coming up with a business idea and doing market research for it. You could view it as just another school project you have to do in order to pass the class, or you could see it as a rare opportunity to get experience as an entrepreneur. Pretend that the fake company you are doing research for is real, and go about market research as you would if it were your own company. Don’t just stop when you have results that are sufficient for a good grade. Push yourself to gather as much information as you can.

School projects might not be the most satisfying, and you’re not getting paid for any of it, but it’s a shame to let those learning opportunities pass by. Once you finish the project, get as much feedback as possible from your professor. Don’t waste the time to learn.

Online training: There is plenty of information online about how to succeed as an entrepreneur, you just need to find it. There are online trainings on sites like Lynda.com, Zampi, Udemy, and Coursera that will teach you important entrepreneurship skills. You can also learn a lot from entrepreneur-focused YouTube videos.

These courses can be extremely helpful, but unless you put what you learn into practice, you might lose what you gain. Pairing online training with one of the above strategies is the best way to hone your skills as an entrepreneur. Granted, if you are only able to do the online training, you can apply what you learn to any part of your life, including your work, classes, relationships, or daily habits.

Surround Yourself with People Who You Want to Be Like

You want to be a VC? Hang around VCs. You want to be a CEO? Hang around CEOs. Get experience as an entrepreneur by hanging around entrepreneurs. It seems simple, but it’s also a step that many people forget.

There is no better way to learn about entrepreneurship than by spending time with those who are pursuing that life. You can observe how they use their time, both inside and outside of work, and learn about the ups and downs of their startup. Plus, you can use them as a resource to ask questions or get advice.

If you already know what type of business you want to start, make connections with people who are well established in the industry. You can find them at industry-wide events or conferences, or connect with them virtually through online communities.

Surround Yourself with Good Ideas

A large part of the battle of joining the entrepreneurship world is coming up with an idea. Some ideas will come from a problem you or close friends and family face that you want to solve. When you don’t have any ideas, one of the best things to do is to surround yourself with other ideas.

Attend entrepreneurship events hosted by business incubators or coworking spaces. 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneurship program with local chapters around the country, is a great place to start. You’re not going to steal ideas, but you will be around other people who are presenting innovative ideas. When you listen to other people who are thinking of outside-of-the-box solutions, it will trigger your brain to think the same way.

Other people’s ideas will spark the creativity in your mind and prepare you for coming up with your own novel ideas. You will also be able to build a community of entrepreneurs around you who can help you tweak your idea.

Remember — Every Step Matters

It’s common for aspiring entrepreneurs to be really good at surrounding themselves with the right people and the right ideas. Attending events and hanging around the entrepreneurship community can be inspiring and fun. But, what many aspiring entrepreneurs forget is the importance of learning the necessary skills.

Take the time to develop your skill set, whether that means learning how to manage people or becoming an expert at coding. All three steps — obtaining entrepreneur skills, surrounding yourself with people you want to be like, and surrounding yourself with good ideas — are valuable. Keep them in mind as you pursue a future as an entrepreneur.


About the Author:

Carolyn Alder Carolyn Alder is the content manager for Zampi, a Utah-based startup that offers an integrative digital marketing campaign management software for small businesses. She graduated in journalism and anthropology from the University of Utah.

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