Blog | Entrepreneurship

The Most Important Skill You Need to be a Successful Entrepreneur

Skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur aren’t taught in school. Master this one skill and learn how to apply it in three key areas

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There are lots of ideas out there on how to be a successful entrepreneur. In fact, entrepreneurship education has exploded across the nation’s universities. According to “NEU Magazine”:

  • Entrepreneurship education has come of age and has seen rapid growth since the 1970s where only 100 formal programs existed on college campuses. Today, entrepreneurship education is one of the fastest growing fields with over 3,000 college programs, 5,000 courses, and over 9,000 faculty members teaching entrepreneurship on college campuses across the U.S. This is due in part by higher education institutions, employers, and economic development organizations realizing the need for such education.

That’s some massive growth. The question is, what kind of entrepreneurial education are students receiving?

What are top universities teaching on how to be a successful entrepreneur?

The “U.S. News & World Report” is well-known as a publication that ranks education programs in America. Let’s take a look at the curriculum of some of the top-ranked programs for entrepreneurship according to them.

The top program is Babson College. Looking at their curriculum page, students can expect to learn about management, public policy, design and innovation, family entrepreneurship, and even buying a small business.

Second on the list is Stanford University…you may have heard of them. Their curriculum page promises to give students an education heavily rooted in product management, design, management, strategy, and growth.

Another school on the list you may have heard of is Harvard University. Its curriculum page show an offering of classes focused on management, product management, finance, and innovation. They have one course on marketing and sales, as well as one on Sales Force management. Maybe that tips my hand on what I want to talk about later in this article.

Can high-paid employees teach you how to be a successful entrepreneur?

Another school not on the list is Miami Dade College. A couple years ago they rolled out their own entrepreneurship program with heavy focus on their professional faculty.

According to the Miami Herald, “Instructors include Adriana Cisneros, CEO of Cisneros; Francesca de Quesada Covey, Head of Platform Partnerships for Facebook in Latin America; Melissa Medina, executive vice president of eMerge Americas; Sam Cohen, GM for Lyft in Florida; and Laura Gonzalez-Estefani, CEO and founder of TheVentureCity.”

Of that list of business leaders, only one seems to have actually founded a company (and it’s not very old), and another is CEO of company that’s been in her family for three generations.

I’m sure they are all very nice and accomplished people who can teach the students at Miami Dade College a lot about how to manage a business—but I’m not so sure they can teach them how to start one. For the most part, they are all high-paid employees. And high-paid employees have a very different mindset than an entrepreneur.

The one skill you need to be a successful entrepreneur

How do I know this? Take a look at the topics that the students will be covering at Miami Dade College. “Students will work with teams of their peers to bring ideas to life. Topics covered will include startup strategy and execution, product development, project management, digital and social media marketing, user experience design, human resources and team management and organizational development.”

Now go back up and look at what students are learning on how to be a successful entrepreneur at some of the top-rated programs in the world.

Can you tell me what’s missing? I hinted at it earlier if you were paying attention.

In a word: sales.

The actions of those who pay themselves first.

It’s wonderful that entrepreneurship programs are growing at the pace they are. I love that people are so interested in being entrepreneurs and teaching entrepreneurship, but most so-called entrepreneurship programs focus on the skills that employees need: management, innovation, product management, etc. and not on the one skill that a founder needs most: selling.

It’s my belief that the number one predictor of the success of an entrepreneur is his or her ability to sell. I’m not talking just about the ability to sell a product, which is very important. But I’m also talking about the ability to sell a vision, a team, yourself, and potential partners and deals.

Growing your team through sales

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to build a world class team. That takes sales.

Rich dad said, “Business and investing are a team sport.” Any company that wants to scale and become successful needs to have the best players on the team. As you grow, you can’t possibly direct all areas of the company from marketing to accounting to product development. You need to find the best people to run those areas of the company for you.

But how will you attract them? You must sell them. Sell them on the mission and vision of your company. Sell them on the product roadmap you have. Sell them on your prior success. These best employees have many options, so you have to stand out in a crowd.

Getting investors through sales

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to get the best investors you can find. That takes sales.

Rich dad said, “If you want to be a successful capitalist, you must know how to raise capital and how to use debt to make money." When it comes to building a successful business, you must have access to Other People’s Money, or OPM.

As you grow, key players on your team will be your investors. Whether you’re looking to go down the venture capital road or wanting to raise equity from friends and family, you have to know how to sell.

When it comes to raising capital for your business, potential investors are going to be looking at four key things: the project, the partners, the numbers, and the management. Your ability to speak forcefully about those—and to overcome any objections—will determine your future. This is primarily a sales job.

Getting partners and deals through sales

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need partners and deals. That takes sales.

The famous truism is that no person is an island unto himself or herself. Much like your team of employees and your investors, growing your partnerships in business is extremely important to your growth and success.

For instance, if you are building a software product, it is key that you find ways to partner with other people for marketing and selling your product, as well as building integrations so that your software can work well with other software offerings out there. In many cases, over half the sales of a product can come from partners.

Or if you’re in real estate development, you might need to build partnerships with owners of a construction company and with officers at a bank. The point is that you can do everything by yourself. You need good partners with whom you can make great deals that are mutually beneficial.

Once again, in order to accomplish this, you need to have the skill set of sales. Partners, just like your employees and investors, will be buying into your mission and vision, as much as your financials. If you can’t convince them to follow you, you’re doomed to fail.

How to learn sales

When I was a young man graduating from the Merchant Marine Academy, I had two choices before me. I could get a secure job in the shipping industry making $70,000 a year for only six months’ work, or I could get a job with Xerox as a salesman.

My poor dad begged me to take the secure job. My rich dad told me that if I wanted to really learn how to be a successful entrepreneur, I should work to learn—in this case learn how to sell. I took my rich dad’s advice, and it was some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

At first, I was a terrible salesman. I was dead last each month. I thought it would be easy because I had a business degree from a prestigious university. But I learned nothing about how sales really works in college. Xerox was the true graduate program I needed in how to sell and become a successful entrepreneur. By the end of my time at the company, I was the top salesman, but it took a lot of work and humility to get to that point.

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, today is the time to focus on building your sales skills. That might mean taking a job as a salesperson and working to learn. It might also mean learning how to speak publicly through a community like Toastmasters. Or you could read books by people like Rich Dad Advisor Blair Singer, who is a master at sales.

Where you won’t learn sales is at a university, even in programs called “entrepreneurship.”

So, get selling.

Original publish date: September 26, 2017

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