Sometimes entrepreneurs consider education in the hope it can prepare them for running a business.

While it can be important for business owners and entrepreneurs to attain qualifications related to the running of their businesses, it’s not imperative. Some of the business world’s biggest names have only a few qualifications, but have gone on to start up hugely successful companies.

Hospitality entrepreneur, Shane O’ Driscoll, outlines what you need to know.

Education for entrepreneurs

The educational needs of an entrepreneur differ to those of a business owner, but not greatly. A business owner will often be in control of a fleet of staff, whereas an entrepreneur could be working autonomously or outsourcing parts of their business maintenance to others with the appropriate education/qualifications.

It’s well highlighted that some of the world’s top entrepreneurs started their business after dropping out of higher education. One of the most recent examples of this was Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook from his dormitory and promptly quit college, when the social media platform began to grow. Richard Branson, arguably one of the most well-known entrepreneurs of our generation, was dyslexic and never pursued a pathway through higher education.

Of course, like many business owners, entrepreneurs may wish to self-educate to not only reduce overheads, but also maintain control of their organisation. Qualifications in accounting, marketing and business administration will remain useful throughout not only the life cycle of an entrepreneur’s business, but their career as well.

One of the more useful qualifications that can be attained while running a business is a Master of Science in Accounting online. There are many places to study these types of qualifications but learning online can offer you the freedom necessary to both study and work.

Education for business owners

There are a variety of courses and degrees which business owners can complete; they range from GCSEs in Business Studies, through to masters and doctorates. One example of a qualification business owners often look to complete several years after they graduate is an MBA (Master of Business Administration). These courses can often be studied part-time over two years, so that you can still organise your business on top of studying!

Many business owners choose not to pursue the education route, and there’s no requirement for them to do so. However, it’s a useful way to progress the understanding of the inner workings of a business, and can make life easier in the long run.

Business owners may want to look into qualifications in disciplines such as marketing, accounting and business administration. These types of qualification could play a crucial part in driving your business forward, and could make all the difference over time.

Self-education in business is a great way to reduce overheads as a business owner, allowing owners to take on more responsibility within the business, rather than outsourcing to expensive consultants.

It’s important to bear in mind that business owners may be legally required to complete certain courses or certifications related to their industry.

There’s always the risk that taking the time to obtain qualifications can be detrimental to your business. That’s why you should consider all of the options and weigh up whether it’s more cost effective and easier to outsource certain responsibilities.

“It’s important to bear in mind that business owners may be legally required to complete certain courses or certifications related to their industry”

The obvious advantage to gaining qualifications is that you’ll hold them for life. You’ll be able to use them to leverage better career opportunities, no matter what happens with your business in the long run.

Stefano Maifreni, founder of Eggcelerate

Former engineer Stefano found value in doing an Executive MBA which equipped him to launch business growth consultancy, Eggcelerate, in 2014.

Stefano did an MBA

An engineer by education, and a product manager by role, I had built up a variety of skills and experience by the time I moved to London. I knew that it was time to find a way to piece all that I had learned into a single value proposition that I could use throughout my career.

I’ve never been someone to stay stagnant and decided to complete the Executive MBA with the London Business School, after quite a few years in the corporate world.

I have a good understanding of the corporate world, expertise of commercial strategy, a technical and engineering background and a strategic commercial outlook. Combining these means that clients who are looking for someone who is truly able to understand their environment get what they need through my ability to perform cross-functionally.

I wouldn’t have achieved this without an MBA.

A firm grip on professionalism

Business owners, as well as employees, should always keep a firm grip on their professionalism. While employees shouldn’t delegate their professional growth to their employer, business owners should be careful about their business creating a glass ceiling for them. Busy with running their own company, they might lose sight of their development and become the barrier to grow for their own business.

However, business-related higher education shouldn’t be looked at in isolation as a panacea. In my case, for example, the MBA was, though essential, complements my professional experience and technical skills. And I’m probably not finished yet!

Matt Haycox, entrepreneur and investor,

Entrepreneur and investor Matt Haycox made his first fortune in his early 20s after dropping out of Leeds University, before being hit hard in the credit crunch and global recession. He now spends his time advising businesses around the world, providing access to finance, and investing in a wide portfolio of business interests.

Matt Haycox decided university wasn't for him

I’ve got to be honest: I never really wanted to go to uni. I was far too keen to be getting on with my career and working straight away. I had the entrepreneurial bug from when I was very little, and I guess that as a precocious 18-year-old I thought I knew everything and didn’t need to go.

For me, it was very much a case of going because I thought I needed to in order to be able to do what I wanted to down the road. I was never hugely passionate about it, and when I started I was also working full-time.

Looking back, it was probably never going to work out. I had chosen a full-on, full-time course of Business and Accountancy. It quickly became clear that there was no way I’d be able to commit to both the degree and the job at the same time and something had to give.

I think it’s all about understanding the opportunities that are available to you at any one point and weighing up what the best course of action for you is at that time.

The job I was doing provided a very good opportunity, and I made the call to drop out of uni and pursue that with all of my energy. I had a back-up plan: if it ever didn’t work out for whatever reason, I could treat the year like a gap year and re-enrol the following September, but I hoped that I’d never need to go back to uni.

No short answer

It really is a case of what works for you, so it’s not a case of ever being able to say ‘yes you definitely should go’ or ‘no, what a waste of time’ when young people and aspiring entrepreneurs come to me for advice on their next steps and if they should continue into higher education.

In order to be successful in business, you need to understand the basics and have a solid knowledge of the ground rules. In life there are always multiple ways of achieving a result, so if the quickest and best route to learning the basics is on the job, and the opportunities arise for you to go and do this working for yourself or someone else then I would always say go for it.

“It’s not a case of ever being able to say ‘yes you definitely should go’ or ‘no, what a waste of time’”

However, if you aren’t quite sure what you want to do with your career and the job prospects aren’t lighting you up at the time, then there is definitely a case for learning the basics at university and implementing them in three years’ time once you’ve graduated. Whatever the best way of getting a firm grip of the basics is, you should go for that route as avoiding these learnings is setting yourself up to fail.

In my opinion, the main area you need to get a handle of to be successful in business is accountancy. If you don’t know the way the numbers work, the difference between turnover and profit or what a balance sheet looks like, then you’re not going to be able to run your business effectively and people will be able to pull the wool over your eyes.

It’s a similar story with sales and marketing. If your basic understanding of accountancy allows you to know how to be profitable, then it’s all about getting out there and selling your product or service. I’m not saying you need to be an absolute expert in any area, but you certainly do need to understand the rules of the game and fundamental principles.

I personally don’t think I’m an expert in anything, but have that strong grounding in all areas. This is why I back myself to be successful in most things I go into in business, as I know what I do know and also what I don’t. My golden rule for myself is to avoid highly specialist areas so anything IT-related or things like biotech where you need a very specific knowledge of a specialist area.

On the whole, most businesses don’t require this though and a solid grounding of the fundamental principles allow you to go on and grow your dream – whatever that may be.

Do you need to go to uni to get that grounding? No you don’t. Can you get a solid understanding of it from university? Absolutely. There really is no short answer.

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