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4 Things Your Business Degree Won’t Teach You

If you want to become a business owner, you might be considering starting a course or going back to university to learn how to do it. With establishments all over the world offering various forms of business studies and business management degrees, how do you ensure you get the most out of your course? How do you make sure it’s worth the huge investment? How do you make sure that you leave with the skills required to become a successful business owner?

Most courses will teach you the basics of marketing, supply and demand, financial and management accountancy as well as statistics, HR and organisational psychology. Most establishments will ensure you leave with a sound theoretical knowledge of business concepts, in order to pass your degree.

There are, however, key components of business that most degrees won’t teach you. Know what they are so you can get the most out of your investment:

1. What constitutes a viable business right now

I graduated in 2010 and started a social media agency in 2011, but social media marketing wasn’t mentioned once in my business degree. Course material has to be thought-up, written, compiled and turned into lectures and tutorials. It then has to be adapted into assignments and mark schemes. This all takes time. You might find that your lectures and assignments are based on concepts and trends from a few years ago and aren’t reflective of what is going on right now.

With most business education there is a time lag. The best universities work with businesses to ensure their material is up to date, but nothing moves as fast as it moves in the real world. How can it? Forward-thinking, progressive companies are working on innovation to benefit their products and customers, not to inform higher education. Be prepared that your theoretical understanding might be out of date by the time you graduate.

2. How to think on your feet

As the Mike Tyson quote goes, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” You might be able to compile Gantt charts, spreadsheets and power point presentations about activities and goals for Q1 and Q2 of your hypothetical organization, but do you have plan B, C and D outlined too? What if your customers don’t like what you’ve made, what if a competitor opens up next door, what if your shipment gets stuck at customs?

Business degrees might teach you the best-case scenario plan A, but business owners are constantly dealing with fresh information and edits to plans. There’s an “if this then that” strategy for everything. Incorporate these into your theory to be far better prepared for the reality.

3. How business works in practice

I recently spoke to Sara Davies MBE, founder of Crafter’s Companion and now the youngest ever dragon on BBC2’s Dragon’s Den. Davies was involved in the businesses of her parents from a young age; always helping out, running errands and lending a hand. She had already gleaned invaluable context from this experience. When Davies decided to go to university after finishing college, it was her intention to take what she had learned on her course to help the family business further. She thought that a solid understanding of the theory behind the operations would help her run and grow the companies that she would one day take over.

Davies said she loved talking though her course material with her dad and coming up with ways she could apply it. Her intention to learn was far higher than others in her class, because she had a real sense of purpose for her learning. It was this powerful combination of theory and practice that led to Davies graduating the University of York having already founded a company with £500k turnover.

4. Who will buy from you

It’s easy to guess what people want. It’s easy to make wild predictions and assume you know the wants and needs of every demographic. You could write coursework for entire modules based on misplaced speculations and flawed understanding. It’s easy to conduct surveys to ask people if they would buy a specific item. It’s even easier for those people to say that yes, of course they would. Do not be fooled into thinking that this represents reliable data about the viability of your product.

I recently interviewed someone who had studied social media marketing on her business degree. She had plenty of ideas of how she could add value to a role at my social media agency. When I talked to her about LinkedIn training however, she starred blankly. She told me all the research she had conducted about LinkedIn said that people didn’t want it. I showed her the bookings calendar for our LinkedIn training, full for the next three months.

Be prepared that your predicted demand figures could be wildly different in reality. Now, it’s straightforward to set up a landing page or a Google Ads campaign so that you can test genuine intentions, even before creating a product. Incorporate these into your education before you get too deep into the next stages. Being able to predict demand is a powerful tool to have in any business owner’s skills base.

Get the most out of your business degree by being hungry for real-world examples. Scrutinize the practices of businesses you hear about. Obtain as much work experience as you possibly can. Use every interaction with a business as a chance to learn. Ask questions and seek to understand every concept you see. This isn’t about being a know-it-all student, this is about working hard to bridge the gap between theory and practice and accelerate your learning curve.

To get the absolute most of a business degree, start a business at the same time. Take what you learn about economics, marketing and accounting and apply it alongside your course. See it as part of the investment. If all goes wrong, you’ll have learned so much. If all goes well, you’ll graduate in an incredibly strong position.

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