How To Get Business Skills Without Business Schools

Before writing an article on alternative sources of knowledge let me emphasise this: enrolling in a business school brings the most added value to your life. However, since it’s not cheap, there are decent alternatives that will get you running.

Please, Business School, that's all I have.

Business schools are irreplaceable for one thing: networking.

Your network is your net worth (Porter Gale).

While many tools might get you sufficient knowledge to start a business, replacing networking opportunities is not that easy. You’ll need to invest extra time to LinkedIn, Quora, and even Reddit to establish yourself as a field expert and meet like minded individuals.

Hustle hard at local networking events hosted by accelerators/incubators – they are usually free of charge or have a low entrance fee. Search for meetups in your local area. However, the time and effort invested in meeting people is nowhere near the simplicity of just taking some classes.

Gain the theoretical background by listening to well known professors

Theory is boring and useless. At least that was my point of view until recently. But then I realized that it’s useful to know boring concepts for creating less boring ideas.

The best part of not going to business schools: you can decide how much theoretical background you need, what it’s going to be about and your sources.

Theoretical background will come in handy for 2 reasons:

  1. You’ll get an insight on how things are supposed work in a perfect world.
  2. You can find out what your next step is.

Here’s an example: lean methodology is a conceptualised process for creating enterprises. To put it simply: it’s a theoretical recipe for starting a business. There are steps that need to be followed for creating perfect product/experience.

While the process of entrepreneurship can be intuitive to some people, the majority needs some guidelines.

In the framework there is a step of pivoting your idea after testing. You take your idea, go out on the streets, people tell you that they don’t want to buy it. What now? You can follow through with production (because you believe the customers are wrong), you can abolish the idea of ever becoming an entrepreneur, or you can change some aspects of your product or service and test it out again.

You can do either – it’s your choice, but the theory suggests that you should listen to the feedback and change the idea according to the market wishes. It’s usually the cheapest, easiest thing you can do.

There are several webpages where you can find theoretical courses: Coursera, Udemy, edX, MIT OpenCourseWare, Stanford Online.

A good mentor can take you places

Getting a mentor is super fun, just don’t give him the official title and literally call him ‘mentor’ (that’s just weird). Try to find a person whose opinion matters to you. Then aspire to perceive the world from their perspective. Listen carefully, and ask good questions.

It’s going to be easier if you start searching for a mentor from your network. Do you know someone that’s a specialist in an area you want to work in, a savvy entrepreneur or a marketing-god? Replace your weekly weather/family/life chats with useful questions. At the end of the day, you’ll combine fun with fresh knowledge.

What to search for in a mentor?

Start with respect. Find someone who respects you and vice-versa. The communication will be much easier, argumentative and challenging. Finding a mentor who feels superior to you won’t spark a debate, and might end up as a lecture.

A good mentor is someone who is constantly challenging herself. It’s inspiring to see that even at the top of the chain individuals realise there is still knowledge that needs to be conquered. When someone is on a constant lookout for new opportunities, she sure will remind you to work harder if you start slacking.

Blogs and podcasts are the hidden gems of business advice

I always thought it’s best to learn from your mistakes. Until I started listening to podcasts and reading blogs. All the interviews with successful entrepreneurs give you one awesome advantage: you don’t need to repeat their mistakes to learn the same lesson.

Challenges and wrong turns everyone faced had a common result: debt. Some took it on to pay salaries, their rent, or just to survive. In most of the stories that ended up in debt, the entrepreneurs changed something about their business models to deal with their lack of funds and to avoid future crisis.

Thanks to them you can avoid the debt that’s otherwise unavoidable. You’ll surely make other mistakes but they will be cheaper.  

I won’t add a list of entrepreneurial podcasts because there’s so many of them. However, I do recommend Noah Kagan’s podcast. It’s funny and honest. Questions are on point and the added value is immense. Check it out!

The best part about this podcast is that you can listen to new interviews almost every week! Business schools do host guest lecturers and have established professors, but inviting someone of your interest each week is simply unattainable.

Marketing and finance skills are what gets you going

It all boils down to two factors: selling your product and financing its production.

No matter the type of industry or market, once you create something, your goal is to sell it. And in order to sell it, you need to finance its creation.

Having knowledge on management, legislation and accounting is important for long term stability and growth, though it’s not as important at the beginning. When you are creating and testing the idea, all that matter are your marketing and finance skills.

My advice on how to attain them is to focus on different resources and learn as much as possible. Find top business schools, their programmes and professors. You don’t have to enroll, just read the same literature they are using in their classes (especially for the financial part). If you can get access to their inside material (presentations, worksheets, lecture tapes, etc.), DO.

Learn marketing from professionals working in the field. Since content is totally hip, most of the influencers are either running a personal blog or creating content marketing for their biz.   

Some of my favourite sources of marketing insights are definitely Hubspot academy and Sumo blog.

A business school will definitely kick start your career, but it’s expensive and not everyone is cut out for it. It’s possible to cut corners and gain knowledge in non-formal ways.

The four points that I touched today are the bare minimum needed for starting an entrepreneurial lifestyle. Once you begin reading and exploring blogs, podcasts, online courses and books, you will find countless possibilities to expand your knowledge beyond any formal education.

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