We live in a world of increasing career plasticity. People recognize that in the modern workplace, one’s career path is rarely going to be a straightforward journey to the top. There will probably be several twists, turns, detours, and occasional setbacks.
It’s entirely possible to end up following a different path than you originally envisioned. Many business founders can attest to this. A lot of businesses are founded, not by people who took an MBA, but by regular employees who chose entrepreneurship over their jobs. They came up with an idea, backed themselves to succeed, and ran with it.
If you make a similar leap of faith and launch your first startup, you know that you’re treading new ground. But that doesn’t mean you need to learn everything as you go. Here are some of how you can learn as you run a business.
Most of us have spent many years learning from books, so as adults, reading comes naturally as a means of supplementing our knowledge. But your sources in this front aren’t limited to self-help books or printed journals and magazines. In the digital age, there are many formats available for you to access relevant content from authoritative sources.
You can subscribe to a podcast that regularly features expert guests, and listen to those episodes on the road. Or you can sign up to an industry-specific publication or newsletter, and join business-related social media groups. These formats present an excellent opportunity to turn idle time or distractions into productive learning experiences.
While some people dive straight into entrepreneurship out of school, many others find employment before striking out on their own. Along the way, you’re bound to pick up a few hard-earned lessons.
Work at a big company, and you’ll get to see some well-honed processes at work on a large scale. From hiring (and firing), to training, to performance review and management, this experience will prove useful in your day-to-day management. Working for a smaller company, or even a startup, you’re more likely to be given a flexible role and empowered to tackle different responsibilities. One way or another, those skills will come in handy.
The main drawback here is that it’s a limited source of learning. After all, your previous work experience is something you’re not likely to revisit. You can supplement it instead by mining your team members for their reflections gained from diverse backgrounds.
Finding a mentor
Among entrepreneurial circles, good mentors may not be hard to find. You can reach out to online groups, alumni organizations, or small business owners within your city. However, time is of the essence. Unless they have retired, your prospective mentors probably have a busy schedule. They can meet you for lunch but aren’t likely to let you shadow them all day or vice versa.
Demonstrate that you understand and value a mentor’s time by doing the research, preparing your topics, and filtering them for relevance. Someone with crucial industry insights or familiarity with the same situations you’re facing would be ideal. Use your network to land a warm referral and maximize the opportunity.
Recognize the context
While you’re learning from all these other sources, it’s vital to avoid the pitfall of context. Any best practices or failures another business might have made will always take place in a specific situation. Before you apply those lessons to your own business, you might need to step back and evaluate your context.
For example, a business can cite going paperless as a cost-effective practice that also builds consumer trust in its sustainability. Yet they might fail to acknowledge the importance of other measures taken to enable this improvement. Archived websites and other forms of digital storage make it possible to retrieve data on demand. Failure to adopt these practices when you go paperless could result in costly mistakes and litigation down the road.
Trial and error
Learning from industry insiders, employment experiences, and the expertise of veteran entrepreneurs will help accelerate your progress. But the world changes at an incredible pace. Trends come and go, and sometimes they return. The economy fluctuates.
At some point in the past, companies might have thought that bigger was always better. Now that we live under the influence of a pandemic, business leaders are rethinking their approach. They now tend to advocate agility and a decentralized structure.
Whatever lessons you gain from others, take them with a grain of salt. The reality facing your business is what matters, and it might have evolved into one that’s very different from what these people dealt with in the past. Use trial and error in a smart way. Take small, calculated risks; experiment with the outcomes. In this way, the feedback you gain will help you to adjust and make better decisions even as you learn on the fly.