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Some of the most successful entrepreneurs — the ones running multi billion-dollar corporations — have their experience to thank for their success, at least in part. In fact, most “successful” entrepreneurs have failed at least once in previous business endeavors.
It’s not surprising. Spending time as the leader of a business will introduce you to a host of new ideas, skills and resources. Over time, you’ll learn how to manage people better, you’ll understand how to make important decisions, and you’ll be introduced to new people and sources of knowledge to tap into as you see fit. You’ll also experience mistakes firsthand, so you’ll never make them again.
With enough experience, you can take even a passable business idea and flesh it out to become a thriving company.
But what if you don’t have any experience? Is it possible to run a successful business?
The short answer
Let’s start with the short answer: yes.
There are two ways to think about this question. First, is it possible to nurture your very first business to success, even if you’ve never led a business before? Because we have countless anecdotes to draw on, we can prove this demonstrably. For example, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have any entrepreneurial or business managerial experience when he started Facebook, which is now a $788 billion company (though he did have programming experience in spades). It’s hypothetically possible for an inexperienced entrepreneur to follow a similar path.
Second, what do you consider success? The nature of this question will change, depending on your answer. If your goal is to build a trillion-dollar tech giant from scratch, your lack of experience will greatly diminish your chances of achieving “success,” due to your lack of familiarity with the field and with scaling a business from nothing. However, if your definition of “success” is just keeping a business afloat, with positive cash flow and plenty of learning opportunities, your lack of experience may be of little issue.
There are a few important caveats here, of course. First, experience comes in many forms, and a “true” lack of experience can be devastating for your chances of entrepreneurial success. For example, you may have never had experience building and managing a startup from scratch, but do you have experience managing a personal budget? Do you have experience leading a team of people? Do you have experience reading emotions and negotiating?
Some experience is a practical necessity to lead a business, even if it doesn’t come from previous entrepreneurial endeavors.
Second, whatever experience you lack must be accounted for in some way in your business strategy. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t assume that you’re going to make all the right decisions. You need to compensate for your lack of experience in a meaningful way to give your business the greatest chances of success.
Making up for a lack of experience
Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help you make up for a lack of natural entrepreneurial experience:
- Partner up. If you don’t have much business experience on your own, consider partnering up with someone who does. Obviously, there are pros and cons to starting a business with a partner, but if your partner has more entrepreneurial experience than you, it could work out in your favor.
- Hire consultants. Consider bringing in consultants in areas where you have limited experience, or to help you solve tough problems you can’t brute force on your own. For example, you could hire a general business consultant to help you plan the future of the business, or work with specialists in areas you’re unfamiliar with such as marketing, finance or sales.
- Outsource work. You can also trust outside firms or independent contractors with strategic planning and operational execution. This way, you can delegate some of your business’s high-level decision making to an organization with more insights.
- Hire experts. Build a team that’s full of experts. You don’t always have to be an experienced specialist to make a good decision; oftentimes, you just need information and advice from experienced specialists. You can make the final call from there, and learn from them along the way.
- Work with mentors and advisers. If possible, find mentors and advisers whom you trust and respect. Ask them a lot of questions, and listen to their advice. They’ll provide you with complimentary perspectives that can help make up for your lack of experience.
- Remain agile. Most importantly, understand that your experience is limited and that you’re going to make mistakes. As long as you remain agile and willing to adapt on the fly, you can make up for those mistakes and keep the business moving forward.
So can you run a successful business even if you have no business leadership experience? Yes, but you’ll need at least some experience to round out your soft skills and prepare you for a business environment. You’ll also need some strategies to make up for your lack of experience. If you do this, you can compensate for your natural weaknesses and set up your business for long-term success.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur