9 Tips for the Businesspeople of the Future
If your dream for the future is to run your own business, you might not know what path to take to work towards it. Your school might not teach business until later years. You might be able to get work experience, but it’s unlikely to put you in the boardroom. If you don’t have parental connections to business, you might think that there isn’t much you can do to learn more until you’re old enough to get a full-time job. But you’d be mistaken. You don’t have to have founded your first startup before you hit your teens in order to start laying the foundations for your future business career. Here are our top tips for getting started.
1. Get involved in school and student societies
One of the best ways to pick up transferable skills that will be invaluable in a business context is through involvement in school and student societies – and that includes theatre clubs, bands, sports teams and more besides. Anything that gives you the opportunity to get together with a group of people and work together towards a common goal will let you pick up business skills, usually while having fun at the same time.
Think about it in the context of a theatre club. Someone will need to manage everyone’s time for auditions, rehearsals and performances. There’s managing money, too: chances are your budget will be slim and you’ll need to work hard to sell tickets to recoup what you’ve spent. There’s recruitment in getting people to audition, marketing in getting people to attend your show. You might even have competition to deal with if there’s more than one theatre society at your school, college or university, or you might need to get investment from local businesses, families or other students to support the club. It’s lower-stakes than running a theatre company in the “real world”, in that no one is depending on the profits you make to pay their rent, but in many other respects the skills and knowledge you’ll build up are much the same. And this is equally true whether you’re the treasurer of the chess club or the chair of the knitting society
2. Seek out every opportunity you can find to hone your business skills
Your school, college or university might well also offer other opportunities to improve your business skills, outside of the world of extracurricular activities. For instance, if there’s organised work experience, think about how you can make the most of it – we’ve noted that you probably won’t make it into the boardroom of a top company, but you might be able to spend a week with a local startup, finding out how they’re going about getting their business established, which can be just as valuable.
Beyond this, does your school run something like an Enterprise Day? This can involve real business leaders coming into school and students getting into groups to create mock companies and compete to market their products. If your school offers something like this, then get stuck in – volunteer to lead your group, and see if you can beat the competition.
Often, schools will tie this in with charity fundraising, and that too can be a great opportunity to learn business skills. This recent blog discusses how one man used fundraising skills to maximise the amount he earned when busking: notably, carrying out research, honing his product to fit the market, and constantly trialling out changes to his performance, presentation and other fine details to make more money. Busking might seem like it’s a long way away from the heights of big business, but these are all the same techniques used by new companies to produce the perfect sellable product for their customers.
3. Observe the businesses around you
It might sound ridiculous, but you can improve your business skills simply by observing the world around you. Look at the shops, the transport, the restaurants, and see if you can figure out why the business owners have taken the decisions that they have. Sometimes it’ll be obvious – such as discount shops in the poorer end of town, or coffee and sandwich shops clustered around the university – but other times it won’t be as clear. Ask yourself, why did a business owner choose that location, that branding, those opening hours, that stock or that marketing?
You might also be able to notice trends in the businesses around you. In many towns there’ll be a location where restaurants repeatedly open, and then close down again just a few months later. Only a minority of restaurants survive more than two years, so to a certain extent this is to be expected, but it certainly affects some locations more than others. See if you can figure out what’s causing these businesses to fail – and then, if one succeeds, what it is that they’ve managed to do right. You can carry out your own research in terms of looking up the business online, but a lot of this is just about honing your own instincts and powers of observation.
4. Invest in the stock market
While you’re still at school, you probably won’t have enough money, or enough freedom to invest it, to make any real profit from investing in the stock market. But you can still use small investments in order to get to know how the stock market works, and to incentivise yourself to get better at picking out companies that are going to do well. There are apps out there that are specially designed for under-18s to invest small amounts of money in the stock market – at levels that you might get for your allowance – to experience what it’s like to choose an investment, work out when to buy and when to sell, and maybe even make a little bit of money while you’re at it.
What’s great about this approach is that reading about the ups and downs of the stock market is seldom that exciting – but if you have your own money behind it (even if it’s not that much) it all becomes a lot more interesting. You can even treat it like a game, starting with the same amount to invest as your friends and seeing who can make the most money, or at least avoid the greatest losses.
5. Manage your own budget and finances
Another way to get better at handling money is to take charge of your own budget. While you’re living at home, you might be inclined to worry about budgeting your allowance but leave your parents to manage, for instance, any money that they might have saved up for you. Relieve them of a chore and learn more about managing money by taking over handling your own finances, from choosing the best bank account to filling in the paperwork. If you’re worried about making a bad decision, you can always make a proposal to your parents while they retain the final say.
Even better can be to help out with the family finances more generally. Can you find a better car insurance deal or energy provider for your family? Managing family finances can be like managing a business, in that you should be earning more than you’re spending, whether by increasing your earnings (which you probably can’t affect for your family) or cutting down on your expenditure (where you could make a difference). Family finances can be a hassle but they can teach you about finding competitive quotes and how to balance the books – and your parents are sure to appreciate the helping hand.
6. Make a five-year plan
The five-year strategic plan is a mainstay of business, setting out a business’s objectives and the direction it intends to take to achieve them. It might include techniques such as a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – the former two are internal, the latter two external) and key performance indicators to be monitored along the way. Writing a five-year plan is a great way to get yourself thinking strategically about all the aspects of running a business.
There are different ways you might approach this. You could write a plan for something you’re involved in, such as a student society; your successors in the role will undoubtedly be grateful. Or you could try writing such a plan either for an invented company, or for what you might do if you were in charge of a real company. One final option is to write such a plan about yourself; “where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” is a classic interview question for a good reason. You might feel like five years is a very long time to be making plans, but rest assured that many business leaders feel the same when they come to tackle their five-year plans. And then you can review it at regular intervals to see how realistic your objectives and tactics were.
7. Think about marketing
One key aspect of running a business that most people have the opportunity to explore even while at school is marketing. In fact, chances are you’re involved in marketing all the time, even if you don’t realise that’s what it is, whether you’re trying to grow the number of instagram followers you have or design the posters to get people to join your choir. These are great opportunities to think like a businessperson, in considering who your audience is and what’s most likely to appeal to them. You could even try running split-tests where, for instance, you test out which kinds of content gets the most positive engagement.
In general, we wouldn’t recommend doing this sort of thing with your own social media, as that can affect your self-esteem, but if there’s something else that you might like to market – such as a blog you run, for instance – then try learning some marketing techniques and watch your engagement go up while you learn valuable skills.
8. Learn how to network
“Networking” sounds terrifying, but it’s really just about getting to know people and spotting opportunities where you can work together to serve a common interest. It’s important because many of the kind of opportunities you’ll find out about through networking aren’t ones you would know about any other way. It might mean finding the supplier who can get you exactly what you need, being put in touch with the perfect hire for a new role, or meeting an investor who’s interested in start-ups just like yours.
Getting better at networking is mostly a matter of being confident and approachable, along with having a good sense for what is or isn’t appropriate for the occasion. You can definitely hone these skills while you’re still at school by looking for situations where these kinds of skills are relevant, such as activities that involve other schools where you’ll get to meet and mingle with other students.
9. Join an ORA summer school
Speaking of meeting and mingling with other students, one place where you can do that with students from all over the world is on an Oxford Royale Academy summer school – while learning entrepreneurial and business skills at the same time. Our business summer school courses include Introduction to Enterprise for students aged 13 to 15, Business and Enterprise Programme for students aged 16 to 18, and Global Business, Management and Finance for students aged 19 to 25.
Each of these courses are tailor-made for Oxford Royale Academy to help you hone your business skills in preparation for a future business career. You’ll live and learn in amazing cities like Oxford, Cambridge and London, surrounded by students of over 135 different nationalities. Our courses combine theoretical study of the underpinnings of business, enterprise and management with hands-on projects, activities and excursions to enrich your learning and understanding. What’s more, you can speak to our expert teaching staff about your aspirations, whether that’s the university you’d like to attend or the company you’d like to found, and they can give you practical advice that’s specific to your goals – so you’ll know the next steps to take to succeed.