People of all ages worry that they don’t have the experience required to successfully start their own business.
Experience is important, because it can help you to make the right decisions (although experienced people still make mistakes). But many successful business people have started young with little or no business experience. You certainly don't have to put your entrepreneurial plans on hold to gain more experience, there are many things you can do now to build your knowledge.
And the advantage of being young is you usually don’t have other commitments such a family to look after or lots of bills to pay, leaving you reasonably free to increase your business knowledge and experience. You should aim to gain as much knowledge as you can and learn every step of the way.
The Branson way
Sir Richard Branson, one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, had no experience of the music business before starting his record label and opening his first Virgin record shop.
"Though we were music fans, we knew little or nothing about any of those businesses,” he later admitted. “But we learned that this wasn’t necessarily a drawback. We were young and stubborn and we liked to do things our own way; paradoxically, our enterprises thrived as a result". It goes to show that passion can be more important than experience.
Learning from experience
It is important to take advantage of any opportunities to learn from others and gain real-life experience.
You’ve probably already spent time in a business environment, whether through part-time jobs, work experience or even as a customer. This can teach you a lot.
Working for a business in your chosen sector (eg retail, media, food) or market in which you want to sell before setting up your own business can be highly valuable by:
Giving you insight into how the sector/market works and perhaps how you could do things better or launch new products.
Enabling you to make contact with potential customers and suppliers.
Giving you more confidence about doing things your way.
There are lots of other ways to gain experience that can help you to start and run your own business, including:
Part-time or seasonal jobs. Working in a café or bar can teach you about customer service, for example, while working in a supermarket or high street shop can help you learn about selling, stock, marketing, cost control, managing staff and a range of other key tasks.
Getting inside knowledge through an apprenticeship. Once you are fully trained, you can use the knowledge and experience you have gained to start your own business.
- Volunteering to work for a charity can help to build experience in a number of ways, while contributing to a worthwhile cause, of course. Alternatively, ask a business whether you could help out for free or expenses (worth a try) in return for gaining experience.
- Volunteering at a start up company - this will give you the chance to surround yourself with like minded people and can also provide you with a unique insight into what it is like to start a business.
- Starting a small business in your spare time. Selling things on eBay or Amazon Marketplace can be a great way to learn before starting your own business.
Finding ways to improve your skills, perhaps by signing up to a short course or by exploring reliable sources of free advice online, such as The Prince’s Trust.
Being a joiner. If you're at university, join the entrepreneurs’ society. If you’re working, ask for new responsibilities, Make the most of online networking opportunities and swap knowledge and experience with others.
Finding a mentor. You'll be surprised how many people are willing to share their expertise and experience.