As a learning entrepreneur who helps other learning entrepreneurs, one of my goals is to understand what contributes to our success in business, as well as what gets in our way.
Learning entrepreneurs often have a background in education, like academics, K-12 teachers, publishing professionals, instructional designers, and coaches. We have professional experience in schools, universities, companies, and non-profits, and now we want to build a business based on what we love: sharing our knowledge and having a positive impact on other people’s lives. Whether it’s through our publications, live classes, or coaching programs, we want to help others by using the transformative power of education.
LEARNING PROFESSIONALS MAKE EXCELLENT ENTREPRENEURS
Learning professionals make excellent entrepreneurs for many reasons—I list just 10 of those essential qualities here.
These qualities are essential to being a learning entrepreneur, but they also have drawbacks that sometimes hold us back. Understanding the drawbacks of each quality is the first step to overcoming those challenges and establishing a sustainable business that allows you the independence and success that you deserve.
10 Essential Qualities of Learning Entrepreneurs
Benefits: We value inquiry and research, which means our work is thorough and accurate. We want to discover new ways of interpreting the world around us, which often gives us a creative edge. Our curiosity is what got us started in our field in the first place, and it’s what keeps us going—both necessary when you’re in business for yourself.
Pitfalls: We tend to think that we need to know ALL THE THINGS before we can produce (writing, courses, etc.). Sometimes that means we sign up for more courses, another degree program, or we tell ourselves that we’ll create X only after we learn/accomplish Y and Z. This can keep us from actually making progress towards the products we’re creating or it can keep us from seeking big contracts because we feel we don’t have the experience we need to deliver what we need.
Benefits: Learning professionals have an incredible ability to focus on long-term projects. We understand that to see results we need to be consistent in applying that focus—this is crucial for the long-term goals that go along with creating and owning a business. Entrepreneurs with a background in education fields are able to handle complex requirements and maintain focus in spite of external demands. This comes in handy when completing a large project with multiple stakeholders!
Pitfalls: Our ability to focus on long-term goals can keep us from getting a handle on the day-to-day minutiae that are critical to business operations. Time management can be a huge hurdle for those that are more comfortable with large chunks of time in which to focus their work.
Benefits: Expertise is the result of all that curiosity and focus, and it’s what has propelled us forward in our careers. It’s also what attracts clients and customers to us—they are seeking the knowledge and skills that we have spent years accumulating.
Pitfalls: The more we know about a narrow subject, the larger the distance between ourselves and novices. This can keep us from truly connecting with and making an impact on beginners or even intermediate learners in our field.
Benefits: Learning entrepreneurs have an innate desire to share our expertise with others. We believe that anyone and everyone should have access to transformational learning experiences, which drives us to create educational services and products.
Pitfalls: Our focus on accessibility and reach often keep us from pricing our services and products so that we can stay in and grow our businesses.
Benefits: We try to use our knowledge and expertise to solve problems that people have. These problems are what drive customers to our door.
Pitfalls: We don’t always focus on the problems that people really want or are willing to pay for. We can tend to focus on solutions for things that we think people need, but that users don’t actually need or are not aware that they need.
Benefits: Educators, researchers.. we’re all contributing to the common good. This benefits us as learning entrepreneurs because it drives our missions, inspires our passions, and connects us with clients and customers who share our values.
Pitfalls: Similar to the pitfalls that come with generosity, our commitment to service can mean that we don’t focus enough on marketing and sales. We think that our service speaks for itself, and we don’t like to bring up the persuasion that comes with marketing and the negotiating that comes with sales.
Benefits: Learning entrepreneurs are able to clearly communicate their ideas verbally and in writing. Whether it’s on Twitter, in a blog post, or in a deliverable, entrepreneurs that come from a learning background are able to break down complex ideas into manageable content. That means your ideas reach more people.
Pitfalls: In most cases outside of academia, simpler is better. Just because you can write pages upon pages of a subject, doesn’t mean you should. Our ability to communicate well and often sometimes means we go overboard.
Benefits: Because every education field requires professionals to be able to quickly adjust a course of action according to circumstances, learning entrepreneurs are already adept at pivoting when necessary. That means that when our business models need to shift to meet the demands of the market, or a project changes in scope, we’re able to do so.
Pitfalls: The ability to pivot sometimes comes too easily to learning entrepreneurs. When something doesn’t work, we can tend to immediately try something else, instead of repeating that iteration enough to prove exactly what works and doesn’t work.
Benefits: Whether it’s publishing your research, teaching in front of a group of people, collaborating with peers on a project, or creating educational materials, learning entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to attach our names to our work. That means that you’re already establishing your authority in your field and becoming a recognizable name, an important step in marketing your business.
Pitfalls: While learning professionals are proud to attach our names to our work, we’re not necessarily comfortable with calling attention to that work. Sharing our wins on social media or on other platforms can seem like bragging.
Benefits: Anyone who comes from a learning profession is familiar with failure in some way: and we know that failure is critical to growth. We need failure to learn from our mistakes. And failure is an experience we need in order to develop grit, which allows us to tackle large-scale problems.
Pitfalls: Even though we know that failure is necessary and not really as scary as it sounds, the fear of failure can be crippling. This fear can keep us from making those phone calls, creating that online course, or even just showing up to do the work.
For all these reasons, learning professionals make amazing entrepreneurs. But those same qualities that can propel us forward can also hold us back.
How can you keep these qualities from holding you back? Sign up to join the Learning Entrepreneur — you’ll get regular tips from me and other learning entrepreneurs on how to build and grow your learning business. Just enter your name and email below!