There’s never been a time like this. In lots of industries, old rules no longer apply.
Today, thanks to the Internet and all the low-cost resources available to you instantly, it’s easier than ever to build a successful, independent business and be your own boss.
But what if you’re still in college? What can you do right now to prepare for entrepreneurial success after graduation?
Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Take the right classes.
Lucky you! You’re still in school and surrounded by so many incredible people and resources that can help prepare you to become a successful entrepreneur. Don’t take this opportunity for granted. Make sure you’re taking the types of courses today that will help you excel in the future as an independent business owner.
Money management is a huge part of running any business. For this reason, it’s important to take some classes that focus on accounting, economics, or finance. Understanding how to keep the books and manage your money smartly can go a long way toward keeping your business in the black.
Being able to present yourself and your business message effectively and creatively is a skill every entrepreneur should have. Take a writing-intensive class or two, then learn how to translate these abilities to the business world with a marketing course. While marketing classes may help you understand how to use social media in a more professional and businesslike fashion, you can also deepen your skills by paying close attention to the way the brands you admire take advantage of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Communicating ideas in writing is important, but you’ll have to speak to people face-to-face to launch your business, too. Think about taking a speech or acting class to become comfortable with public speaking. The practice that will be required in these courses will help you learn how to express your ideas clearly and confidently.
Information technology is a big part of any business, and it can be a big expense, too. Take advantage of classes offered in topics like web design, coding, and computer networking. These courses will save you time and money managing your business’s technology when it becomes necessary.
Learn outside the classroom.
Of course, learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom. One of the best things about college is all the opportunities it presents for hands-on, experiential learning.
You might want experience in journalism and media; give the school newspaper and radio station a try, or check out your college’s audio or video editing lab. Student government can teach you how to work as part of a committee toward a common goal (not to mention to communicate these goals and procedures in writing and speech). It’s important to take a leadership role in campus organizations if possible. These experiences will give you a taste of what things are like in the real world, but in a context that has lower stakes and a bit of a safety net.
You should also seek out volunteer opportunities available in and around your college community — and get involved!
Another important resource for students comes in the form of lectures and events. These will give you the chance to learn about things that might be relevant to your future business: technology, management, social media, international relations, or branding. At functions like these, experts speak on topics that they’re in the process of grappling with or writing about. This cutting-edge research will help keep you on top of knowledge in your chosen field.
Most importantly, try to land at least one internship in an area that will give you experience related to your business idea. You can also apply to work in a startup where you’ll have the opportunity to observe what it takes to run a business on a day-to-day basis.
Never again will you have so many choices for learning and personal growth, so be sure to take advantage of everything that’s available to you.
Read — a lot.
This one’s a no-brainer. If you think you can be successful without learning from those who came before you — well, good luck with that. Even the smartest people in the world understand the importance of learning from others who have been there, done that, and learned from their mistakes so that you don’t have to.
That said, here are just a few valuable books you can read to prepare for entrepreneurial success:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition by Robert B. Cialdini
Successful marketing requires a clear understanding of the science of persuasion. This book covers the psychological foundations of marketing and the ways in which companies get people to buy their products and services.
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau
In this practical guide for wannabe entrepreneurs (and on its accompanying website), you’ll learn practical advice about how to turn what you’re passionate about into a product or service that people are willing to pay for.
This book allows readers to learn from one of the successful startup leaders on the television program “Shark Tank.” You’ll get some solid advice on how to get a business off the ground and primed for growth in the long run.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter F. Drucker
First published in 1985 and still relevant today, this classic addresses the challenges of running your own business with practical advice on how to find success in a modern, global economy.
Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
The Internet can be a powerful tool for any businessperson, but especially for an entrepreneur. Both funny and high-energy, this 2009 book will show you how to take advantage of the Internet to market your business and increase sales while pursuing the interests that fuel your business.
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This classic treatise on networking and leadership is one of the most valuable books any entrepreneur can read. First published in 1937 as a transcription of a 14-week course, this book still provides time-tested information on communicating, persuading, and leading others.
Why work 40 hours a week when you can work four? This groundbreaking book teaches you how to work less and travel the world while making money. It’s noteworthy for its endorsement of telecommuting and its rules against frequent inbox-checking.
Check out free online classes.
If you’re in school right now, the last thing you may want to think about is taking even more classes. But successful business owners understand that learning is a lifelong process; they’re always working to stay up-to-date with the latest business trends and improvements in technology.
When you’re paying off student loans, it can be tough to afford additional schooling. But that’s what’s so great about the Internet — tons of free online courses are just a click away, and you can learn when it’s most convenient for you.
Noodle offers an class search tool that allows users to find and filter online courses by cost, subject, provider, and difficulty level.
Claiming to be “the world’s online learning marketplace,” Udemy offers more than 32,000 courses on just about anything you can think of — including dozens just on the subject of entrepreneurship.
Partnering with some of the leading colleges and other organizations around the globe, Coursera offers hundreds of online classes designed by top educational institutions. Peer-graded assessments also offer honest, valuable feedback.
Founded by Harvard University and MIT, edX is one of the Web’s leading providers of MOOCs (massive open online courses), offering dozens of classes from the best universities and institutions around the world.
Seek out other resources on the Web.
Other sites provide users with the ability to access thousands of videos, lectures, and texts. Check out Open Culture for access to free e-books, audiobooks, and lessons on everything from foreign languages to business. Another site to try out is Microsoft Virtual Academy, which lets tech-inclined visitors learn about Web and game development, data, coding, and hardware.
If digestible, 20-minute lectures are more your speed, take in a few TED talks to learn about the intersection of technology, entertainment, and design. Presentations are available from academics, musicians, researchers, politicians, and more. You’re guaranteed to find something compelling.
If you’re thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, don’t wait until you graduate. What you do right now — while you’re still in college — can go a long way toward determining your success as an independent business owner down the road. The resources are out there; it’s up to you to take advantage of them.
Ennico, C. (2015, October 1). Training college students for entrepreneurial success.
Kuzin, K. (2014, December 3). 25 best books on entrepreneurship for college students.
Rampton, J. (2015, January 16). 5 college degrees that prepare you for small-business success.