If you lack knowledge and skills in the industry or area you are considering, then it’s fair to ask how to start a business with no experience. Or you might just be feeling a fear of starting a business. Either way, you are not alone.
I have been very fortunate. I’ve had some solid achievements and reached important life milestones. And somehow this happened in spite of my near complete lack of previous experience or qualifications in most of the things I did.
There is no single answer or formula for how to start a business, with no experience or even if you have experience. But our chances for success are highest by being clear and honest about our strengths and weaknesses, and taking advantage of the former while managing the latter.
How to start a business with no experience
By understanding your disadvantages and weaknesses you can manage them. And once you know your strengths (personally or as a team) you will start to realize that having no experience in itself doesn’t have to hold you back. In fact, it is sometimes an advantage.
Managing Lack of Experience in Business
Let’s clarify what is meant here by a lack of expertise in business. ‘No business experience’ does not mean a lack of basic business knowledge. Covering the basics of business operations is essential, but such information is fairly standard and the basics can be easily learned or outsourced.
It is the specialized or industry-specific knowledge and skills acquired through experience and hands-on work that is often most critical to business success. But not having this knowledge at the start doesn’t have to be a limitation. Here are some actionable ways to manage a lack of experience in business.
Research To Expand Domain Knowledge
While having first-hand experience in a given field or business is not essential, being a good researcher and willing self-led learner is critical. You really do need to enjoy continuous learning and self-improvement (true for business and life).
It’s OK if you don’t have required knowledge yet, but you must be willing and able to get it (yourself or through team members and partners).
Outsource Your Weaknesses
Recognizing your strengths is important, but knowing your weaknesses, and knowledge or skills gaps is critical. And one of the easiest ways to address this as a new business owner is to find talented people that can cover your weak spots.
In many cases this might not require full time employees and can be outsourced to freelancers or contractors. This also gives you a chance to ‘test drive’ potential team members and, as the business and need grows, hire the best players full time.
For information or industry-specific insights, especially the sort that is needed early on as you assess market dynamics and validate opportunities, consider using expert consultants.
They bring expertise and hands-on experience, and help formulate your marketing strategy or product plans, etc. The best of these might be the kind of folks you would gladly hire, but might not be able to afford (or convince to join your startup).
Hire Expert Employees
Of course, if you can afford them and convince them, adding industry experts to the team is an excellent way to offset your own lack of experience. Even better, if these are mission-critical functions within the business but different from yours.
If there are things you definitely don’t want to do because, for instance, your clear strength is in another (also mission-critical) area then best to leverage an expert and trusted team member.
Get Business Related Qualifications
There are cases when delegating is not an option. When you can’t outsource or hire an alternative you may just have to do the work and gain the required knowledge and skills yourself.
An example of this in a job context are the Series 7 and Series 63 Registered Rep securities industry certifications, which I had to get back in the day. But a broker-dealer company in the same industry is required to have a so-called General Securities Principal, which requires a Series 24 certification.
There are many industries that require companies to have licensed individuals of various sorts, and sometimes you will be the one to do it.
Making Inexperience a Secret Advantage
We all have some experience and abilities, and sometimes these strengths emerge with powerful results in the absence of the more commonly accepted qualifications or skills. This is true when lacking experience in the workplace or when starting a business.
“…we knew little or nothing about any of those businesses. But we learned that this wasn’t necessarily a drawback. We were young and stubborn, and we liked to do things our own way…” –Richard Branson
A lack of experience can essentially leave room for new, creative approaches or solutions to problems or challenges. Here are some ways to make inexperience a secret advantage.
Apply Expertise From Other Industries
Most people have previous work and business experience from other areas. Of the many factors and aspects of launching and operating a new business, only a few involve industry-specific or specialized processes or information. So don’t discount your previous experiences. The insights gained really can be applied to new business scenarios.
Use Second Order Knowledge
You carry a lot of other knowledge and experience around with you, outside of your work history. School and travel are both important and formative experiences that most of us learn from. Even personal interests and hobbies can provide insights or reference points that inform how you lead and guide others.
Even drawing on your more personal experiences and challenges can help inspire those around you. How you handle and overcome difficulties will be an example to your team, whether you like it or not. More on this below.
Bring Fresh Eyes, Creativity and Flexibility
If you are successful in your new business you will inevitably cross paths with other, established business people in your space. Many will have taken a more predictable path, and employ more traditional strategies.
What you lack in formal training you can make up for in creativity. You have the ability to see problems and opportunities with fresh eyes, and when a solution isn’t working you have the flexibility to change and adapt fast, because you have to.
Share Your Vision, Lead By Example
It’s assumed that you have this ability to adapt, along with other strategic soft skills. Most adventurous entrepreneurs do. And if you are taking the leap to start a business without the requisite skills or qualifications then you also must have a clear vision.
Most of the tactics for addressing inexperience involve growing your team. And the example you set with your distinct approach and skills is a big part of how you will attract talented people. Your vision for the business is often why people join you, and your principles and the example you set are why they will follow you.
Can you start a business without a degree?
The short answer is: yes. In fact, if you are asking yourself how to start a business without a degree then you are probably asking the wrong question. A formal education can be helpful but is not a requirement to start a business. And it sometimes slows you down.
Attending university allows for growing and maturing and offers other benefits. But most schools and programs provide static and often stale information on their many and varied academic subjects. This may be important foundational learning but it is not the knowledge gained from real world experience.
I attended college (for music, then communications, then English) but I never finished or got a degree. This did not stop me from a successful career in the finance industry, working for nearly a decade at a top investment bank, or from starting multiple businesses.
Formal academic institutions are perpetually behind the curve and isolated from the real world. And most college programs only focus on the information itself. They do little to help us learn how to think through challenges and find creative solutions. And they don’t teach how to overcome the internal obstacles we all face either. These are usually skills that we gain by doing and through real world experience.
This is why most new graduates feel ill-equipped once they finally enter the workforce (and why internships are so important). But it is also why your own previous experiences (regardless of industry or business type) can be so valuable. It is these real world skills — not a college degree — that define you as a leader and empower you as an entrepreneur.
Yes, you can start a business without a degree. Hopefully this and the other points discussed leave you a little less nervous about starting a business. Of course, there are always things to worry about.
Dealing with fear of starting a business
It’s normal to hesitate when trying something for the first time. Fear is natural. You may get lots of new business ideas but then think, “I’m scared to start my own business.” You are not alone!
Finding the courage to start is something even seasoned professionals have trouble with. Often it’s harder for them than it is for the more adventurous folks (and those with less to lose).
Overcoming Fear in Business
Fortunately, many of the steps new entrepreneurs can take to manage or take advantage of a lack of experience, are how you can find the courage to start your own business.
First, recognize that fear is healthy, and is part of our natural defenses. Don’t ignore your instinct, but also don’t let it control you. Often, the key to working through concerns, challenges and issues is to get help from others.
Some of the options discussed above will apply here, but managing through your own fear and internal process is sometimes better done with someone outside your business and immediate circle. For this, look to your network of business or work associates. Over time, you might become trusted advisors and mentors to one another.
Getting a business coach is another option. I have not done this myself, but I know multiple, highly successful business leaders that rave about their business coaches. It underscores the idea that the most successful people recognize their weaknesses and actively seek to improve.
Fear of starting a business can come from thinking you don’t have the right degree, from a lack of knowledge and skills or just a general lack of expertise in business.
Inexperience never stopped me from pursuing new opportunities; not knowing what I couldn’t do probably pushed me forward. So, lack of experience in business does not have to be a blocker and can often be an advantage.
When considering how to start a business with no experience, take advantage of the many educational options available (whether formal or informal) and do the work to up-skill yourself. Leverage talented people around you, whether consultants, outsourced workers, full-time hires or partners (if you have them).
And remember that even solo business business owners are not really alone. Family members and close friends are part of your support network.
The most important hurdle to overcome is usually belief in your own abilities. So, be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and then take action!