The 10 Things Entrepreneurs Aren't Taught In College

by Paul Hudson

I always liked going to college. For most of it I was working, but I did manage to take off from work for almost an entire year and do nothing but attend classes. A lot of people complain about their college experiences, but I rather enjoyed mine. You see, when I went to college I didn’t go in order to learn the ins and outs of the business world.

I had originally gone planning to be a business major, but after taking a few courses and opening a restaurant simultaneously, I came to realize that I will learn much more about business from the restaurant then I would from Business 101. I did, however, think that it was a good idea to have some sort of degree and I was very interested in literature and philosophy — so I did a double major in the subjects that I enjoyed.

That’s what college should be — a time that you enjoy, not a time that you suffer and do your best to memorize business and accounting terminology. If you are going to go to college then go and learn about something that inspires you to be creative, to think differently. Take art history classes, philosophy classes, science classes (physics is honestly fascinating once you get into it) literature classes, even cooking classes if they are available and fit into your curriculum as electives. College is good for showing you the way that the world used to work, not the way that it does work or will work.

For that, only the real world is a sufficient professor. You can learn many theories in college and get the mental exercise that is needed to make it in the business world, but the only way to learn to survive in the business world is to be well acquainted with it. Here are the 10 things that entrepreneurs won’t learn in college.

1. How to work with real money.

Learning how to make all the numbers add up is great…but in college it’s only monopoly money. It’s one thing to do business with paper and pen and another to do it with check and pen. Money is a huge stress factor for entrepreneurs. Putting large amounts of money on the line will take its toll on you — even more so if you have investors that are funding your endeavors. If you think spending your own money hurts, wait until you have to spend someone else’s.

Well, spending it may seem easier, at least until you come to realize that your business needs to turn a profit — and quick because your backers are already breathing down your neck. The real world teaches entrepreneurs that any business is a gamble and that it should be treated as such. Treating real money like monopoly money is the only way to do business right. This does not mean to spend it like it has no worth, but not to stress over spending it when spending it is the only or best option.

2. How to manage your social life.

We are human beings and require social interaction with others of our species. I am sure that you all learned or will learn the importance of having friends in college and interacting with new people, but keg parties are no longer an option. You will most likely find yourself in one of two situations, you’ll either: decide to take a break from all social activity for a while or you will continue to party and hang out like before and try to run your business simultaneously.

If you cut off social interaction you will come full circle at some point and accept that you need friendly faces in your life. If you continue to party like always then you will find yourself tired, overworked, stressed and unhappy. There is a balance that must be reached between fun social gathering and work. In college, you managed to party every day and go to class everyday — doing so as an entrepreneur just doesn’t cut it. But you will need to see your friends from time to time. I would suggest a couple of hours a week or every other week.

3. How to network.

Chatting over a beer pong table is not networking. Talking to a fellow college kid is not the same as conversing with people of importance or power. There is much reading of gestures and personality that goes into a successful conversation. When attending an event to network, you must come to understand that no one will introduce themselves to you and that you will have to do most of the legwork and will be the one that has to guide the conversation in the right direction.

People who believe themselves to be important get bored quickly when talking to people they do not feel they can benefit from mingling with. You must be skilled in the art of grabbing their attention and entertaining them. This is not something that you can learn sitting in a lecture hall.

4. How to deal with your employees.

Theories are great as mental exercises — putting them into practice is another story entirely. Managing people requires real world experience — period. The plethora of different characters, personalities and stupidity that you will deal with as an entrepreneur cannot be taught via crash course. Learning how to work with, deal with, guide and outsmart poor employees is a necessity.

Knowing how to deal with great employees, knowing how to treat them and how to keep them motivated and working for you is another skill that your professor won’t teach you. Management is an art. Art is learned but never taught.

5. When to spend money versus cutting corners.

You go to class and are given an assignment to create a business. You are given a certain budget and begin to type up your business plan. In the real world, business plans are useless. Nothing ever pans out exactly the way you expect it to and in order for your business to survive or, better yet, flourish it must be able to adapt to changes.

You will come up with unexpected expenses and fees. Things will take longer than promised to be delivered or constructed. Distant deadlines will creep up on you with a surprising speed. This is what makes entrepreneurship so exciting — it’s full of surprises. You should never cut your budget too close, you should never spend more than is completely necessary, you should give yourself a cushion for unexpected expenses and if you can cut a corner without having to pay for it with interest later then do so.

It will be more to keep track of and getting everything perfect right at the moment is great, but it’s smarter to leave expenses until later down the road. In college, everything is black and white; the real world is full of grey areas.

6. How to negotiate.

Sure, if you’ve ever had to talk to a school councilor then you may have some experience negotiating... so difficult to work with. Actual negotiating is a crucial skill to have. Whenever dealing with money, you have to understand that each person wants the best for himself. Some will be more reasonable, but many will not be.

You will need to tailor your skills to the idiots that think they can sell their cake to you and eat it themselves. There is almost always an agreement that can be reached — almost. Knowing how to reach it and knowing when it won’t be reached is an entrepreneur’s most valuable skill. It’s literally the most valuable.

7. Who not to do business with.

The biggest lesson that I have learned in my entrepreneurial endeavors is the importance of picking wisely whom you do business with and — more importantly — whom you should never do business with. Business involves dealing with people. Being a good judge of character will save you headaches and dollar bills down the line.

The worst people are those who pose the ideal partners because they are most often the crooks and criminals. The more money you begin to deal with, the more dangerous the situation may possibly become. Nothing is worth your life or health, so make sure that the people you are dealing with are people that can be trusted, that have reliable people that can vouch for them. The world is filled with many characters and unfortunately some of them are bad people. Take it from me… once weapons get involved you know you’ve found yourself at the wrong dinner table.

8. How to deal with failure.

College sets you up for success. Unfortunately, you will fail. It’s a necessary part of being an entrepreneur — you will have your victories, but it will be the losses that teach you the most and that hurt the most. Failing bruises the ego, there’s no way of getting around that. What must be learned is how to deal with failing and how to convince yourself to get back up and to keep running. Success requires persistence more than anything else. It sucks to fail, but without failure, there is no success. No pain, no gain, right?

9. How to deal with success.

I’m sure you believe this to be the easy part…but it’s not. It’s difficult to keep yourself focused after experiencing success. You’ve succeeded. You should celebrate! Right? Rewarding yourself appropriately for successes will keep you motivated to continue on pushing towards your larger goals. However, rewarding yourself too generously can lead to your downfall. I’ve heard too many stories of people making it too early and falling apart after a few months. People tend to blow money on alcohol, drugs, women, parties, cars, clothes, expensive restaurants and a bunch of other luxuries that are far from necessary.

You don’t want your success to be the undoing of your business. Reward yourself modestly. Take some time off to clear your head and to reset. If you feel the need to splurge, then set up a reasonable amount prior to the festivities and make it impossible for you to go over the limit. Focus on the fact that you aren’t looking one small success, but for a bunch of smaller ones that you can look at and be proud of. Life is all about keeping momentum and moving; don’t lose sight of your direction and purpose.

10. Knowing when to call it quits.

Not all battles can be won. Sometimes there is no choice but to retreat from battle in order to win the war. College won’t teach you when it is time to throw in the towel because it is not something that can be taught. It is something that only the entrepreneur in the exact situation can decide for him or herself. Yes, your project was your baby, but you will have others.

If it’s time to give in and call it quits, then you must have the courage to do so. Never forget that are the most valuable asset — you are the business. Live to fight another day.