The Steep Education Ramp of the Start Up

From accounting to hiring and firing, from purchasing to marketing, when you start a business, you have to know everything. And though you can pick those things up from a book, it might be some aspect of your personality that determines your survival.

When you launch a business you have to know everything, and you have to know it well. When I first launched, I had to immediately learn bookkeeping, time management, sales, direct marketing, brand marketing, personal control, purchasing, budgeting and market planning. I’m sure the list is longer, and I’m also certain there were things I should have learned but didn’t, and thus the time-to-profit was probably much longer than it needed to be.

Then, way too soon, I had to learn management, hiring skills, employee relations, staff building, leadership and mentoring. Like every new entrepreneur, I had to learn and perfect these critical skills while I was in over my head with the inevitable problems in the intensely complicated world of human relations. It’s learning to swim while drowning.

Then there’s the matter of learning your trade. You keep up with the subject matter of your business, be it veterinary medicine, publishing, or collectible comic book online auctions. Even if you launch after having spent years working for an employer in your trade, you still have to keep educating yourself in order to stay competitive. If you step off the continual-learning treadmill, your business could fail.

We plunge into things in life that are considerably over our heads regularly. Marriage, parenting. How well do those endeavors work at first as we enter with a blank slate and no experience? With business, there are more moving parts, even if the outcome is not quite as critical as that of marriage and parenting.

I’ve met many newbie entrepreneurs who have spent weeks, months, even years preparing to launch that first business. They’ve read all the books, studied the prospects of their chosen type of enterprise, learned about purchasing and bookkeeping, scouted retail locations, studied marketing and advertising.

I’m always impressed by this thorough preparation, especially since mine was very brief – I was unhappy with my employer, so I said, screw it, I’ll start my own business. My wife at the time said, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I replied “Yep.” I had $1,500 in the bank and a lot of gall. So I started that long stumbling act toward success.

If I had been more prepared, those first few years may have been easier. But maybe not. You can’t anticipate what it is you’ll need to know to succeed. Critical element for success is just as likely a personal quality rather than business know how. It may not be your knowledge of bookkeeping; it may be your ability to keep on keeping on when the path ahead gets really, really dark. You can’t learn that in a book. Chances are that quality is either innate or learned in early childhood.

Launching a business by impulse may be as good a start as thorough training. Learning bookkeeping before I launched would have saved me a few days, but it wasn’t the determining factor in my business survival. The element that decided my fate was the gall (which is really just brave ignorance) that allowed me the shimmering illusion that I really could get a business up and going.

Franchises were created for those who want to reduce most of the risk in starting a business. When you buy a franchise, you get schooled in the knowledge that you really need to succeed. You get support, and you get a marketing plan as well as the bookkeeping template. Purchasing is part of a well-oiled group effort. According to the Department of Commerce, a stunning 95 percent of franchise operations are still running five years after launch. Compare that to 54 percent of home launches and 47 percent of outside start-ups.

What you don’t get from the franchise, though, is the opportunity to test your own creative ideas. You also don’t get to discover those uncovered areas within yourself that you learn when you’re down to your last few dollars and you’re not sure where to turn for help. You reach inside and find that wherewithal that didn’t exist just one day before.

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