Person Holding Diploma Illustrates Entrepreneur Lessons

10 entrepreneurial lessons you didn’t learn in college

11 min read
Amanda Larson

Some entrepreneurial lessons simply can’t be learned in a classroom. Traditional college business courses do teach important and necessary principles like economics, statistics, communication, marketing or strategy — which are all vital components to running a business.

But while getting a formal education can certainly help any wannabe entrepreneur, there’s more to succeeding as an entrepreneur than you can learn from any textbook.

Some entrepreneurial lessons need to be experienced to be understood.

Thankfully, we can learn from these brilliant entrepreneurs and others who have it all figured out. Rather than making these mistakes ourselves, let’s use their advice to make better, smarter business decisions.

10 entrepreneurial lessons you didn't learn in college

Here are 10 lessons inspired by leading entrepreneurs:

  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Create a fixed routine.
  3. Follow the 5/25 rule.
  4. Practice the Pareto Principle.
  5. Master time management.
  6. Kiss your social life goodbye.
  7. Hug your haters.
  8. Done is better than perfect.
  9. Never stop learning.
  10. Don’t be afraid to take chances.

Let’s dig in.

1. Get enough sleep

Getting plenty of rest might not be the mind-blowing entrepreneurial lesson you were expecting, and it’s certainly not something you practiced in college. It’s first on this list for a good reason: sleep is the foundation of a good entrepreneur.

Arianna Huffington is the co-founder of the Huffington Post, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and author of 15 books and counting. She attributes her success to sleep because it leads to more rational decisions, quicker thinking, and a less stressful life overall.

“Our culture, the mainstream culture, continues to believe that in order to succeed, you have to burn out,” Huffington said in an interview.

Spending more time awake does not lead to more productivity, but rather the opposite because you lose efficiency. There’s a reason her TED Talk explaining her life-changing sleep revelation has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Your days in college may have taught you the opposite of this lesson as you pulled all-nighters to study for an exam. But now you are an entrepreneur and it is time to prioritize sleep.

Get enough Z’s every night so you can wake up recharged and ready to follow the next nine lessons.

Related: 20 characteristics of successful entrepreneurs

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2. Create a fixed routine

Alarm Clock On A Dresser

Stumbling out of your dorm room to rush to class may have worked in college, but it’s not fit for any entrepreneur. Rather than letting your days become a sloppy melange of food delivery, spilled coffee and sporadic email responses, try establishing a fixed routine like billionaire Jeff Bezos.

The richest man in the world and founder of Amazon knows a thing or two about productivity and his advice isn’t something you learned in school. Bezos claims that routine is the key to all he does from waking up sans alarm to purposely scheduling “high-IQ” meetings before noon.

He knows how his brain operates and plans his day around his productivity levels. Bezos knocks out intense conversations while his brain is most alert then reserves his afternoons for brainstorming and accomplishing top-priority tasks.

Discover what times you are most productive and schedule your day around your internal clock.

To help, try “time-blocking.” This productivity method is when you reserve specific blocks of time for one task.

For example, you only check, send and respond to emails from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. so you’re not constantly dipping in and out of your inbox.

You can also dedicate full days to tackle certain categories. Like, one day you schedule social media and the next day you write for your blog.

By parsing out non-negotiable, routine times for certain tasks you dive deep into projects. You’ll find you complete tasks rather than skimming them each daily.

Related: Time block your calendar to get more stuff done

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3. Follow the 5/25 rule

Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and fourth richest man in the world, is noted for giving some interesting entrepreneurial advice. He swears by a 5/25 rule he created based on the Pareto Principle (more on that later). This rule helps you determine what to focus on through elimination.

Buffet recommends writing down 25 goals or tasks you want to accomplish. Then, you circle your top five choices.

Rather than focusing on your top five whilst chipping away at the other 20, Buffet advises staying away from them at all costs.

The 20 items outside your top contenders no longer exist. They become distractions and will cause you to stray from your prioritized objectives.

How does this 5/25 rule work? Read on.

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4. Practice the Pareto Principle

Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule is derived from a principle coined by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He observed that the wealthiest 20% of Italy’s population owned 80% of the country’s land. Since the Pareto Principle was created in 1896, it has been used by business and economic leaders to describe the idea that “successful results have far more impact than unsuccessful ones.”

Why should entrepreneurs care about Pareto and his principle? Because you need to focus on the parts of your business that are driving your most successful results.

If you are wasting time and energy on efforts that don’t yield your majority or your top results, then your brand will never see its full potential.

Be aware and keep track of how much each component of your business brings in. There is a good chance that one product or service drives the majority of your profits.

According to the Pareto Principle, this one product is now your main focus. Discover what you, or your business, do best and stick to it.

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5. Master time management

Now that you know what to spend your time on, it’s time to master time management. It’s easy to lose focus, get distracted, and simply stray from your goals.

Every minute counts in the life of an entrepreneur — or any working professional — who is juggling multiple projects at once. There are many tips out there for time management, but two notable strategies are:

Pomodoro timer: This is the simple but brilliant method of using a timer to work. Set a time to work distraction-free for 25 minutes, then reward yourself with a five-minute break.

These productivity sprints allow you to hyper-focus on your task and since you know there’s a break coming, it’s hard to cheat.

Stack these timed slots throughout your workday and you’ll likely see results instantly.

Bullet journaling: If you like lists, bullet journaling is a popular productivity tool. Based on a simple analog system, you can track goals and tasks. Bullet journaling for entrepreneurs is a healthy activity to incorporate into your morning routine.

A bullet journal can help get your day in order and prioritize your to-do list.

Related: 21 time management tips for entrepreneurs

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6. Kiss your social life goodbye

Yes, this subheading might be brash, but there’s an undeniable truth to its brutality. If you are a budding entrepreneur, you will have to give up certain luxuries in life including checking out from work.

Launching your own business makes you interim CEO, CFO, CMO, HR director and every other role until you have the opportunity to expand your team or outsource.

But that’s OK! Why? Because you signed up for this.

“Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week,” said Lori Greiner, self-made inventor, entrepreneur and celebrity investor on Shark Tank.

Entrepreneurs are happy to make big sacrifices to build their dream. You may have been warned about long work weeks, but you only learn this lesson living through it.

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7. Hug your haters

You probably didn’t read this book in college, but Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer is worth a look for any entrepreneur.

To sum it up: use those who doubt your business as a way to improve it.

It’s important to listen, especially to your haters, so you can act upon their criticism.

In the early days of any company, exceptional customer service is necessary to impress first-time buyers and clients. Word-of-mouth marketing is still the strongest method for any brand, and referrals don’t come from those who have a bad experience.

If someone does leave you a poor review, be sure to smooth it over with a humble response or inquiry to correct the situation.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, is a firm believer in this. He says the two most important words he ever wrote on the first Walmart sign were “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” If you give customers what they want plus a little more, they’ll come back to you over and over.

Satisfying your audience and hugging your haters will make all the difference.

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8. Done is better than perfect

The early days of Facebook had this mantra splashed across the walls of its office and it has become a slogan for entrepreneurs to live by. “Done is better than perfect,” helps solidify the concept that an executed task is stronger than any unfinished idea.

It’s an inspirational message to force all of us who endlessly tweak projects rather than finish them.

No matter how brilliant the idea is; until something is built, created, and brought to fruition, it’s not advancing your business. Until your idea becomes a tangible product or a purchasable item, it’s not feeding your business but instead drawing valuable attention away from what is producing sales today.

This mantra is a favorite of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Ben Barry, a lead designer there. Nothing will ever be truly perfect in the beginning.

Stop delaying that website launch or pushing off that investor meeting. Keep moving forward and make time to perfect it later.

Related: How to create and test a minimum viable product

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9. Never stop learning

Man Reading A Book To Illustrate Continued Learning

What’s an article about entrepreneurship without the mention of Elon Musk? His advice: read every day. There are no exceptions for a growing entrepreneur. Elon Musk is one of the most famous entrepreneurs in the world (does PayPal, Tesla or SpaceX ring a bell?) and swears by the importance of reading daily. When asked who raised him he says, “books. Then my parents.”

Books help expand your perspective and ability to think outside the box.

Besides exploring classic literature, keep tabs on competitors, stay in the loop with industry news, and monitor your own communication channels every day. Entrepreneurs should read blogs, forums, case studies and anything else they can get their hands on.

Reading can be educational, inspirational and simply entertaining if it’s helping you. Reading lets you mentally check out and is a great excuse to unplug each day.

Don’t believe Elon? You can follow in the footsteps of Warren Buffet (from lesson No. 3 above) who reads six hours per day.

Related: Ready to conduct business across borders? Read these 10 books on globalization.

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10. Don’t be afraid to take chances

Here is one cliche inspirational lesson: Don’t be afraid to take chances. You need to step outside the norm and take a risk because it sets your business apart.

How is your business different? How are you different?

Take it from Steven Spielberg, a famous film director whose opinionated work with gore in movies put him on the map. Or Madonna who says, “being controversial is better than forgettable.”

Maybe you did learn this lesson in college, but let’s apply it to entrepreneurs. Building a business takes more than chance. You need to take calculated risks that set you apart from your competition.

Discover how your brand, products, offering, company culture, or customer is unique and shout it from the rooftops. Take chances but use them to put yourself ahead.

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Summing it up

There are many life lessons one learns outside of college, especially those for entrepreneurs. Some principles simply can’t be taught in a classroom and must be experienced in real life to be understood.

Take these 10 lessons and apply them to your business strategy and life.

No matter where you are in your journey or what stage your business is in, stick to a routine, manage your time well, and focus on the things that matter.

Related: Dream It — 33 tips to move you from idea to action