Do you dream of being your own boss or starting a small business in your hometown but don’t think traditional college is in your future? That’s OK. You don’t need a business degree — or any four-year degree, for that matter — to go for this goal. In fact, only 9% of small-business owners have a business degree, according to a QuickBooks survey.
Mastering the skills of a particular trade (like those featured in this magazine) is more than just your ticket to a stable and high-paying job in Arkansas. It can also be the first step toward owning your own business!
According to a recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, “independent business owners WITHOUT A FOUR-YEAR DEGREE now outnumber those with a bachelor’s degree.” Fifty-six percent of small-business owners surveyed said they had an associate degree or less.
The skills needed for construction careers, in particular, are exceptionally good for aspiring entrepreneurs. FreshBooks research found that the highest number of self-employed professionals work in the construction industry (accounting for nearly 20% of all self-employed pros).
So now that you know YOU CAN, here’s the how. With the advice of business professional Christy Valentine from Hytrol, we’ve created a step-by-step guide to owning your own skills-based business.
► Find Your Passion. From heavy equipment operators to agriculture foresters, you can choose from a long list of skilled trades to master and make your own. “Figure out what you are passionate about and how to turn that into something marketable,” Valentine said.
► Do Your Research. Make sure there is a lot of demand for this skill in the city where you envision starting your business. Consider whether the demand is short-term or long-term — after all, your goal will be to build a lasting business. “If you want information and experience, look into trade schools and apprenticeship programs," Valentine said.
Indeed, while apprenticeships are a great way to experience the career you're considering, they’re also a great way to get mentorship from a fellow small-business owner.
► Learn Your Trade. Once you’re sure of your passion, it’s time to get trained. Start by enrolling in one of Arkansas’ great training programs or two-year schools to earn a certificate or associate degree in your speciality (or whatever the educational requirements are for your trade). Some trades may only require on-the-job training or an apprenticeship.
► Take Notes. One of the best ways to prepare to own your own business is to work at a well-established company first. Learn from the inside out. See what it takes to be an awesome employee, as you will eventually hire your own. Watch and learn from managers and decisions-makers — these are roles you will have when you’re the boss.
► Figure Out Finances. Starting a business often requires a lot of money to get started, and unless you’re lucky enough to already have enough saved up — for a workspace, equipment, maybe even vehicles — you’ll need loans, grants or funds from investors. Startup funding is one of the hardest things a wannabe business owner will face. Fortunately, there are abundant resources in Arkansas to help small businesses do just that. Hint: No. 6 offers a great list to help you start!
One way to save money for your future business is to save on your training in the first place and work somewhere while you master your skill (to earn and save even more). Companies like Valentine’s are great for just that. “Hytrol offers tuition reimbursement, on-the-job mentors and one- to two-year educational programs that set young professionals up for the next phase,” she said.
► Get Support. Beyond mentors, build relationships within your community and network with professionals who will have your back, refer you business or give you great wholesale rates as you navigate owning a new business. Your local chamber of commerce is a great place to start; these community organizations exist to support and bolster small local businesses in a variety of ways. In the meantime, here are some awesome Arkansas resources to remember:
- DELTA CIRCLES: Helping to advance entrepreneurship in the Arkansas Delta.
- ROCK IT! LAB: A learning and startup hub that promotes entrepreneurship for under-resourced communities, including a business incubator for women and Black and Hispanic Arkansans.
- SCORE: With networks in Little Rock and NWA, this organization connects volunteer mentors with small businesses.
- STARTUP JUNKIE: No-cost, one-on-one consulting, workshops and more programs for budding entrepreneurs.
► Don't Give Up. Skilling up, planning and opening a small business is a big commitment. You may not see the success you are hoping for immediately.
“Starting a small business is for the long haul,” Valentine said. “Success is not immediate, so visualize your goals and stay the course.” And “make sure you are not overextending yourself in terms of what you are making financially.”
► Be Adaptable. Be open to tweaking your process, pricing and schedule, and pay attention to customer response. A successful business grows and adapts to changes. Stay open to taking a few business classes, courses and seminars a la carte to help your business flourish. “You may not have the business experience it takes to understand the paperwork and what it takes to own your business,” Valentine said. “A lot of entrepreneurs look into financial assistance and courses.”
Also, be honest about your limitations in abilities and in time. If accounting makes your head hurt, outsource to an accountant. If you’re staying so busy you can’t manage the day-to-day, hire a virtual assistant. Invest in key skills to help your business grow.
Mastering the skills of a particular trade (like those featured in this magazine) is more than just your ticket to a stable and high-paying job in Arkansas. It can also be the first step toward owning your own business.
MORE RESOURCES FOR STARTING A BUSINESS
- A local community college (or where you trained)
- U.S. Small Business Administration
- Arkansas Procurement Technical Assistance Centers
- Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center
- Main Street Arkansas: Small Business Consulting
- Women’s Foundation of Arkansas
- Central Arkansas Venture Center
- A-State Innovate