This is why an MBA is not necessary to run a successful small business

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Contrary to popular belief, you do not need an MBA to be a successful entrepreneur, nor do you need a college degree – provided you have some necessary skills.

There are many highly successful entrepreneurs without a college degree. While an education might be useful in helping, you build a successful business, it’s not a guarantee of success.

In fact, some of the most successful business owners in the world did it without a degree—let alone an MBA.

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  • Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Virgin Records and Virgin Mobile didn’t even graduate from high school (he dropped out at age 16).
  • Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, did graduate from high school, but dropped out of Reed College.
  • The Wendy’s restaurant chain founder, Dave Thomas, was another high school dropout.
  • Oracle’s former CEO Larry Ellison also dropped out before completing his college education.

Although a formal education might not be required to build a successful business, there are some things most successful business owners share in common.

Let’s take a look.

1. What they offer fills a customer need

A focus on the customer is critical to success, regardless of the product(s) you sell or the service(s) you offer.

Evaluating this can be easier said than done, but those small businesses that focus on their customer needs are more likely to find success than those that don’t.

2. Their product is at a price point their customers are willing to pay

There are lots of great products and services that are priced wrong—meaning potential customers don’t buy.

That doesn’t mean they are necessarily priced too high; they could be priced too low.

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Finding the right price for your product or service will depend upon the customer need you’re trying to fill, the demographic you’re trying to reach, and the perceived value of what you offer.

If your product or service fills a customer need at a price they’re willing to pay, you’re well on your way to creating a successful business.

3. They create a competitive advantage

Some call this a unique selling proposition or USP.

Basically, a competitive advantage is something either your competitors can’t claim or a claim that you’ve made first. The claim must be measurable and demonstrable.

For example, “We provide the best customer service in the business,” is not a real competitive advantage, while “We answer 97 percent of our customer service calls by the third ring,” or “95 percent of our customer service requests are resolved within 24 hours,” would both be good examples of a competitive advantage.

It’s not enough to make the claim—it needs to be measured and you need to be able to report the measurement to demonstrate it’s not just an empty promise.

4. They become known as the expert

Regardless of the industry you’re in, if you can establish yourself as the expert, you’ll build a thriving business.

Basically, before people buy, they have an information need to fill—and, if you can fill that information need and become their trusted source, they’ll do business with you.

In the same way, you call a plumber when you have a leak or a mechanic you trust when you have a problem with your car, the more people who perceive you as the expert, the more people will seek your expertise when they need the products or services that you offer.

5. They appreciate the expertise of others

Most successful business owners realize they don’t always need to be the smartest person in the room and are willing to listen to the suggestions of others.

They intentionally look for potential employees who have expertise that might strengthen what their business has to offer.

Recruiting employees with expertise can create a collaborative environment where everyone can contribute and learn at a high level.

6. They are always learning

They aren’t content with the way they do things now; they’re always looking for ways to improve how they run their business and to encourage it to grow.

Sometimes this means they’ll acknowledge those areas where they don’t have a lot of expertise and will seek advice from individuals with more experience and knowledge.

As such, taking an active approach to learning is an excellent way to improve your business.

7. They focus on execution

They appreciate a good plan, but they recognize that execution is where the rubber meets the road.

They focus on achievement and getting things done.

8. They are tenacious

When they see challenges, they look for a way over, around, under or through.

Challenges should not be viewed as roadblocks to success. Instead, challenges should be taken as an opportunity to exemplify successful problem solving skills.

A tenacious approach to overcoming obstacles is a hallmark of successful entrepreneurs.

9. They embrace the cloud of war

The famous military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, described a lack of battlefield transparency as “fog of war.”

Most successful business owners strive for as much data as is available when making decisions, but understand that sometimes there are things they might not be able to know until they are in the heat of battle.

Making decisions in the midst of what von Clausewitz calls “fog of war” doesn’t paralyze, but rather drives an individual to make the best decisions they have with all the information that is currently available to them.

10. They have a clear mission and vision

Successful entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes have a clear and well-articulated mission and a vision for how they want to get there.

They are able to make day-to-day decisions based upon their long-term goals and objectives and are better able to avoid getting bogged down in the many distractions that keep them from achieving them.

Although an MBA could be a valuable tool in a small business owner’s tool belt, it’s not a requirement for building a strong and healthy small business; provided you have these 10 things in common with other successful entrepreneurs.

Your thoughts? I would love to hear what you think!

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About Ty Kiisel

Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small business’s biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible. OnDeck can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. Spot on and well needed information! Thank you for sharing.


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