I’ve been asked this question a lot. So I thought I’d address the question here on the blog. If you’re interested in or curious about possibly going into business – or starting your own business – but not exactly sure where to start or what to do, this post is for you.
How I got started
After my sophomore year at the Moody Bible Institute, I went to Haiti with the youth group from my church. At the time, I was the youth ministry intern at my church and one of the adult leaders on the trip.
After college, I was planning to become a youth pastor, but this trip to Haiti set me on a collision course that would send me down a completely new path.
When I got to Haiti, I was shocked. So much poverty, a horrible quality of life that the Haitian people were living in, and despair and depression filled the air so thick I felt like I could grab it with my hands.
Kids walking around naked with bloated stomachs; poverty everywhere; people starving and thirsty, drinking from the same dirty, unfiltered water that people did their laundry in and washed their cookware in.
When I came to Haiti and saw all of this, Jesus Christ began to speak to me, challenge me, and call me in a completely new, unfamiliar direction.
Jesus tells his followers that when we take care of our brothers and sisters physical needs, we’re actually taking care of Him (Matthew 25:31-46)
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Jesus Christ (v.44-46)
The more I prayed, sought the Lord, read books and blogs, and contemplated what I wanted my legacy to be, the more I felt pulled down a different path. And the more I did these things, the more my desires and conviction and vision shifted.
And so, my journey into business began.
My alternative B.A. degree in Business begins
When I came back from Haiti, I began getting serious about pursuing business and entrepreneurship.
I only had one problem: I didn’t know where to begin.
Do I read a book? Drop out of bible college and go to the University of DePaul to study business? Should I get a job? Should I do both? WHAT IN THE WORLD DO I DO!?!?
I began to do what I knew: pray and read (books and blogs). Eventually, I got a job working in the marketplace (a ‘non ministry’ job) and had a few people who spoke into my life and helped guide me further
Essentially, my business education and journey into business was paved this way:
- Reading books and blogs like crazy
- People: Friends and mentors
- Doing stuff (doing business/working)
Let me expound on each area a little more, so that you have a few ideas on how to get started:
When I made the decision and commitment that I was going to go into business no matter what it took – a commitment and decision I had to consistantly make each day in the face of doubts and rude remarks from people – I really had absolutely no clue what to do or where to begin.
Everyone around me at Bible college was pursuing traditional ministry vocations, and no one I talked to at Moody even felt somewhat similar to what I was feeling.
Thankfully, the Lord’s Spirit pulled me in the direction to go. The more I sought Him and His counsel through prayer and the Scriptures, the more things began to make sense and the more paths began to open up.
One of those paths was leading me towards the authors, friends, and mentors who would guide and teach me about business.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;”
– Proverbs 2:6 (ESV)
2. Reading books and blogs like crazy
I was mentored by authors whom books (and blogs) I read voraciously.
I would often walk down the street to the Barnes & Noble near my college, browse the business, marketing, and entrepreneurship book section, buy a coffee and read some books, and buy one book as soon as I finished another.
Books were my B.A. degree in business.
The most influential business books and blogs when I was beginning were these:
- Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? – by Seth Godin
- The Personal MBA: Master The Art of Business – by Josh Kaufman
- Creating Your Personal Life Plan – By Michael Hyatt (unfortunately, no longer a free eBook. Should be published in 2015)
- The Wart of Art – by Steven Pressfield
- Today We Are Rich – by Tim Sanders
- The Element: How finding your passion changes everything – Sir Ken Robinson
Since then, these business books and blogs that have been most influential in my life:
- The $100 Startup – By Chris Guillebeau
- Built To Sell: creating a business that can thrive without you – John Warrillow
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich (Ramit Sethi’s blog)
- EntreLeadership: 20 years of practical business wisdom from the trenches – by Dave Ramsey
- The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn In College About How To Be Successful – by Michael Ellsberg
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”
– Proverbs 18:15 (ESV)
3. People: Friends and mentors
While I didn’t have a designated mentor who met with me each week (this would have been invaluable), I did have various friends who mentored me on occasion. I would meet with them for coffee, lunch, or talk with them briefly in passing. Looking back, I can pinpoint meetings and interactions with specific people where just one thing they said impacted me greatly.
You never know when just one thing – one takeaway, one insight, one story, one quote, one statement, one encouraging word, one ______. – will cause you to understand things in ways you never did beforehand.
The great thing about talking to people, is that you get to ask them any question you want and hear their feedback and experience directly. There’s no time spent searching Google or reading a book to find an answer (although that is helpful too!).
Eventually, when I got hired for my first internship, I was mentored by my boss (whose now one of my good friends). This helped me enormously. So, if you can find a boss, friend, family member, or someone to mentor you weekly, definitely do it.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
– Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)
4. Doing stuff (doing business/working/observing)
Simply put: if you work for organizations and observe your business and other businesses, you can learn a lot about business.
Throughout college I worked part-time jobs, and eventually began freelancing as well. When I began approaching my part-time jobs with a “what can I learn about business today” mindset, I began making connections and understanding business in ways I had not before. (It’s amazing how much your mindset impacts your experiences in life.)
I would observe business concepts and principles while working, and I would observe other businesses when I wasn’t at work.
What does this business sell? Who are they selling to? How are they reaching those customers? Who else is in this market? What makes this business unique and different than the others? What is their pricing strategy? What need/problem is this business addressing and solving?
With freelancing, I got to do business with a skillset I was interested in: digital marketing and technology. Freelancing taught me that business didn’t have to be boring – you didn’t have to stay in a job you hated. You could improve your skills on the side (while working your other job), do free (and eventually, paid) work for people who needed it, and showcase that work to other clients/customers/employers to get new work – sometimes, without a college degree in the field.
Eventually, getting a few full-time jobs enhanced my business education further, by allowing me to be more immersed in marketing, management, and business in general.
Working part-time jobs, full-time jobs, and freelancing all grew my understanding and knowledge about business, and it also grew my desire to use business for good in the world.
In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”
– Proverbs 14:23 (ESV)
BONUS TIP: Starting and running your own business = best way to learn business
This is stupidly simple, but profoundly true.
Although I was freelancing part-time throughout college, I didn’t start my own business until years later. So technically, I didn’t start learning business by starting my own company.
However, I will say that starting and running my own business has been THEE single best way I have discovered to learn business fundamentals.
When you have your own business, you care about learning much more (because your business is yours – not someone else’s). When you encounter obstacles and problems, you’re more likely to push through and conquer them because you want your business to succeed and prosper.
So, do points #1-4, but also think about starting your own business if you want want to seriously accelerate your learning.
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”
– Ecclesiastes 11:6
The bottom line
So if you are just getting started and/or are curious about business, I say give it a shot and start your own business. All you need to technically have a business is ONE paying customer. If you have one, you can grow that into multiple paying customers.
In addition to starting your own business, do the four things mentioned above: pray, read, leverage relationships/mentors as learning opportunities, and get into business (get a job and/or freelance) and start working and observing what’s going on around you.
Keep learning, keep growing, and never give up. Business and work are a huge part of our lives, and ought to be enjoyed and used to do good in the world in big ways and small ways – whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee.
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man.
– Ecclesiastes 3:13-14
I hope this post helps guide you on your journey into business. No matter where you are, just get moving. Take action, ask for help, read and learn, pray, and never give up. Always keep growing and learning and doing.
I’d love to be of any help I can. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.