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Back-to-School Lessons for Entrepreneurs

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For students across the country, the lazy days of summer are almost over, and a new school year is right around the corner (believe it or not). As an entrepreneur, you can learn a lot more than you think from back-to-school season. Here are 10 school-inspired tips to apply to your business strategy. 

While no small business is guaranteed to be successful, one thing that will improve your odds is doing your "homework." For an entrepreneur, this means thoroughly researching your competition, financial options and target market, as well as having a solid business plan in place before you launch your startup. You'll have a much easier time passing the big tests of a startup – the elevator pitch, your marketing strategy, the first sale – if you're thoroughly prepared. 

Providing exceptional customer service and going the extra mile for your customers can make all the difference in getting repeat business. Respond to questions and concerns quickly, express your appreciation for their business, and take the time to talk to your customers to learn about them and what they want. Friendly, personal interactions will earn you a solid A in your clients' minds (and probably a nice profit in your bank account too). [Read related article: Understanding Your Customers' Experience]

Mentorship is extremely important for entrepreneurs, especially when they're first starting out. You can really learn a lot from someone who's been in your shoes. A mentor can put you in touch with industry connections, help you through your startup growing pains, and give valuable insights for your present and future business goals. Even if you don't agree with all the advice you're given, respect your mentor's willingness to share the time and energy to help you learn and grow as a business owner. [Read related article: How to Find a Good Mentor]

Remember when you moved into your first college dorm and thought you brought way too much with you, only to discover that the extra screwdriver you packed came in handy midyear? Similarly, you can never be too prepared when it comes to running a business. Even if it seems like you're overthinking, it's good to be ready for even the unlikeliest of situations. What will you do if you don't raise all the funds you need? What if one of your team members unexpectedly bails on you? What if you need to rethink your entire branding strategy? Knowing what to do in the event of a crisis will help you navigate any obstacles you might encounter. 

College students are constantly told to network with professionals in their future career fields. As many grads – and entrepreneurs – have learned, the right connections can open up opportunities that would have remained closed otherwise. Take every chance you get to reach out to other small business owners, whether it's to get a few tips, do a small favor or just have a friendly conversation. You never know who might be able to lend a helping hand to you at some point down the road. [Read related article: 5 Strategies for Expanding Your Professional Network]

Think of your business plan as the syllabus for your startup. Like the syllabus for a class, your plan includes a description of your company, what you'll need to run the business, and your long-term goals. And like a class, your business might end up taking a slightly different path from what you initially anticipated. Maybe you didn't meet your first-year projections, or you ended up having to change direction on a project halfway through. While a clear-cut strategy is crucial, part of running a startup is being able to adapt when things don't go according to plan. Students learn some of the most important and inspiring lessons when their professor veers from the syllabus; the same could be true of your business. 

Unfortunately, as an entrepreneur, you may find yourself even more cramped for time than you were as a student. It's important to remember to find the time to enjoy your personal life. There isn't a perfect division of your time, but studies have shown that burnout can be detrimental to your career if you don't take time for yourself.

It often takes students a few weeks to get back into the swing of things when the new school year begins. In the early stages of your business (and even later on if you make a drastic strategy change), you're likely to have a trial-and-error period before you figure out the best way to operate. This might be a frustrating time, but you just need to persevere and power through until you get onto steadier ground. 

In school, one failed test doesn't mean you should drop the entire class. Similarly, in business, one misstep doesn't necessarily mean you should give up on your entrepreneurial venture. Take the experience and learn from it. Retrace your steps and figure out exactly where you went wrong. If you have the resources to immediately try again, do so, while employing the knowledge you gained from your mistakes. If you can't keep going right away, hold on to that knowledge and wait for your next opportunity. 

You might have thought you knew everything when you were in high school, but you quickly discovered you were wrong. Having a successful startup doesn't mean you have nothing left to learn about entrepreneurship. Always be open to lessons from others in and out of your industry. The world is like a university, and your business is just one small course in it. 

Additional reporting by Carlyann Edwards.

 

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and now leads Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.