Entrepreneurship as a Practical Education
A common relationship people have with their education is the following. Spend years of life in a classroom hoping to learn the skills necessary to land a decent job, then realize once they land that job that they never have to use (most of) the skills they learned. Whether it’s a job in which they perform highly repetitive tasks, or one in which they settle into a highly specialized niche, they’re invariably neglecting some aspect of their full repertoire.
Entrepreneurship turns this situation on its head. The creation and development of a business gives an entrepreneur the freedom to draw on their full diversity of experiences, and allows them to use the venture as a personal education in which every skill learned has a direct application to their livelihood. The result is that an entrepreneur learns what he needs as he needs to, and no longer hopes for a match between his education and an employer’s job description.
How to Get an Education From a Business Venture
It’s a misconception that business owners must know everything about their industry before starting their business. Rather, entrepreneurship is the perfect opportunity to learn the skills that are valuable to an industry. And it could be argued that entering without formal training increases flexibility and openness to emerging trends.
Starting your own business may be a challenge, but if you are unemployed, underemployed, or starting off on a new path, it can be your best chance to develop marketable skills. And if you’re successful, you may not need to market your skills to any one but your customers.
But even with skill development as your objective, it is best to let skills develop organically. Focus on offering a high quality good or service and start building an infrastructure that is capable of supplying it to those who need it. You may find that you are full of ideas about how to develop your product and how to distribute it, so let these ideas be your guide as to what skills you need to learn.
Lessons from Starting a Business
With my own business as a case study, I want to explore some of the educational benefits of starting a business. I’ll focus on web development, though I could just as well detail marketing, public relations, search engine optimization, or any number of other fields. I have been fortunate to have teachers for general guidance (my brother in the case of web development, who is the Creative Director at Vital Design in Portsmouth, NH), though the burden of learning has ultimately been on myself. I believe it is wise to seek guidance, and to even pay for it when necessary, but in the end you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and dig in your self.
If any business hopes to survive in today’s online world, they need a good website (or at least need to be on the many online business directories). Building your own website is not as daunting as some may expect. There is an entire industry of cost-effective, and rather sophisticated, website templates. This website is an example of one of those in action. These templates are often designed for open source Content Management Systems such as WordPress and Drupal, that offer advanced functionality and the ability to add plugins with even more functionality.
A template website is not only an easy way to provide engaging content to visitors, it is also an easy way to begin your web development education. The advanced out-of-the-box functionality means that you don’t have to worry about digging into HTML, PHP, or CSS code right away. You can let your website and your coding knowledge grow together.
In the initial launch of my own site, I built what some would call a “brochure” website: one in which all a visitor can do is flip through some static pages and read the content. I learned some HTML along the way, but reached the point where it became necessary to learn PHP and CSS in order to offer a more engaging experience to visitors (and to fix a number of bugs). As an example, I now have a custom tutor page template which uses PHP to pull all the information from a tutor’s profile and format it as seen here: my tutor profile; another tutor’s profile. I also integrated social media, user registrations, and more, using the tools built into the template and some of the plugins available for WordPress.
Success Stories: Building Websites to Land a Job
I do have anecdotal evidence of success stories related to people landing web development jobs as a direct result of building a website. Personally, and in fact while I was writing this post, my brother has informally offered me a web developer job at Vital Design (with the phone call coming at the exact moment I was copying the link to his twitter page). A colleague has also shared with me the story of his friend who, having built multiple sites (justhadadream.com and pancakehead.com), was offered a position with the Boston-based web firm ContentLead.
So whether you’re looking to build skills that will land you a new job, or whether you, like me, are looking to fully utilize all of your talents, while adding new ones to the repertoire, you may find that entrepreneurship is a worthy classroom.