Don't feel that you’re at a disadvantage just because, like me, you don’t have a business degree. Drive your own success by using these four strategies, which I have seen work throughout my own career as a successful entrepreneur.
1. Explore available resources at a nearby university.
A few years ago, one of my associates contacted Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois to get information about the university’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship. We learned that the not-for-profit Turner Center provides expertise and advice to assist small and startup businesses.
That initial contact led to an unexpected PR opportunity. When the staff there learned that my small business exports vehicles all over the world, they found the topic intriguing and said they wanted to write an article about me. I agreed, and the article helped me by attracting leads to grow my customer base.
Later, the Turner Center helped my business again by connecting me with a class of IT students on campus. The students were in their senior year and had to complete a real-world web development project for a small business in order to earn their final grade. I signed on for them to develop a custom operating system for me, and they did a great job with the whole project. In fact, I hired two of those students to continue to work on my website, and one of them still maintains the site now to keep it updated and functioning well.
The point of my story is this: If you need information, advice or an extra team to help you, reach out to a nearby university, and see what types of resources and options are available. If you can, sign up to have IT students work on a web project, have business students conduct a research study or have marketing students create a social media plan for you.
Student-managed projects like these are helpful to you because there is no cost involved, and the students appreciate the opportunity to gain practical experience in providing business expertise.
2. Take advantage of SBA and SCORE resources.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) website is chock-full of information for business entrepreneurs. Check out its guide titled “10 Steps to Start Your Business” and its Learning Center, which is filled with free courses about planning, launching, managing and growing a business. Each course is available on demand and comes with downloadable materials (e.g., a transcript and worksheets).
Also, be sure to check out your local chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which is funded by the SBA and focuses on counseling and training small business owners. Each chapter’s volunteers are experienced professionals who donate their time to help small businesses succeed.
In fact, based on my own experience, SCORE is really good at helping startup companies. When I wanted to start a new business, I used their experts as a sounding board for my questions, such as, “Here's what I'm thinking about doing, and here's how I plan to execute it. Where do you see flaws in my plan? How can I make it better?” Their response was great.
Our local SCORE chapter also hosts free workshops, and the national SCORE organization offers free online training webinars.
3. Find a personal mentor.
I have been lucky to have an older neighbor who was a successful business owner. Over the years, he has graciously allowed me to pick his brain whenever I felt I needed someone else’s opinion. His insight has always been helpful, and our chats always leave me feeling a bit more empowered.
Do you know a local business owner who has more entrepreneurial experience than you? Ask if you can seek that person’s advice, and then set a time to meet. In fact, I would encourage you to do that once every quarter to discuss any business questions you may have.
4. Rely on executive-level outsourcing.
Sometimes you can benefit from gaining top-notch business expertise in a nontraditional manner. For example, did you know you can hire a C-level executive on a part-time basis? This might be a good fit if you don’t need or cannot afford a full-time business expert, but you could benefit from the knowledge that type of person can provide.
The individual you select can serve as a freelance member of your executive leadership team to help you crystallize and carry out your business strategy. In fact, I have used this uncommon approach myself. In the past, I have hired a part-time CFO on a contractual basis through ACS Executives, one of the companies that specializes in outsourcing accomplished individuals for business leadership roles.
In summary, implementing any or all of these four strategies should help you gain valuable expertise to grow your business – without the high cost and long process of pursuing a business degree.