I was going to start this series about starting a learning business with a post about how to generate your business idea, but as I was writing it, I realized that I was missing a key step in any learning entrepreneur’s journey. I was missing the piece that drives me to continue my work every single day: the why behind even starting a business in the first place. The true beginning of any learning entrepreneur’s journey is identifying why start a learning business at all.
For me, this journey started when I realized I didn’t want to be a professor for the rest of my life. I loved many parts of working in higher education: having an immediate impact on students, the flexibility, the opportunity to also spend time on my own research interests. However, I had also had a taste of working for an edtech startup, and I loved many aspects of that, too. I loved working remotely, I loved working on a long-term project with a close cohort of colleagues, and I loved learning about how a business worked.
I was not prepared to be so interested in the inner workings of a learning business, but I was. And I was lucky, because my boss at my first edtech job helped guide me in starting my own business. He shared his own experiences as a consultant, and told me that it was 1) relatively easy to start my own business (the logistics behind it); and 2) a good way to diversify my income. And he was right on both accounts.
Start With Why
I’ll get into the logistics of how to start a learning business in upcoming posts in this series, but let’s go ahead and start with the most important step of all: finding your why.
Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action is relevant here, since in this talk (and in his writing) he argues that the ability to inspire starts with why.
Diversifying my income was one of the reasons I decided to start my own business, but it was a little more than that. I had realized in my professional career that rather than choose one path, what I really enjoyed was the experience of working on very different projects in different roles. I hadn’t realized I was craving creativity, but it turns out I was—and having my own business allowed me to explore many different roles and be creative in my approaches. Working on different client projects also kept me learning about topics that already interested me plus introduced me to subjects that I hadn’t explored from a professional perspective.
In short, having a learning business nourishes my need to learn and grow in a way that any single professional track in education would not. Even though entrepreneurship has its own unique challenges, right now it’s still the right path for me.
Find Your Why
There are SO MANY reasons to start a learning business. Conversely, there are just as many reasons to NOT start a learning business (more on that below). If starting your own business has been on your mind, let’s take time to explore why this is something that you want to explore. If you make sure you have a strong why, it will help you:
- Plan and execute
- Stay focused
- Stay motivated, even when things aren’t going as planned
Here are some questions that can guide your thoughts:
- What fulfills you about your current role?
- In what areas are you not fulfilled?
- What problem do you want to solve?
- What parts of your job are you incredible at?
- What parts of your job do you complete only out of necessity?
- What excites you about starting your own business?
- Do you have support from family and friends?
- What are the realities of your current financial situation?
- What income goals do you have?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
Reasons to NOT Start a Learning Business
Above I mentioned that there are reasons to not start a learning business… I’m not going to leave you wondering here. Here are some reasons to NOT move forward:
- You think it will be easy to make money. Don’t believe all those blogs and posts from people who claim that they became super rich with minimal work.
- You don’t want to sell. Oh, I get it. I struggled (and still struggle) with this aspect of business. In order to make money, you have to sell yourself. If it doesn’t feel natural to you, there are many resources to help. But, you have to believe that what you are offering is valuable, and you have to be willing to receive money for your products or services.
- You don’t like to talk about what you do. Related to sales, marketing is so, so important. You have to be comfortable talking about what you do.
- You’re terrible with money and don’t want to learn good habits. I’m not saying you have to be a model of personal finance here. You don’t have to be perfect—but if you struggle with money having a business will make this much, much worse, not better. Let’s say you’re successful in sales right out of the gate—income does not mean your money problems will go away. You need to know how to manage that income. If managing finances is not your forte, be willing to learn best practices and hire help. But if you don’t want to do any of that… then starting a business is probably not a good step right now.
For those of you who have started a learning business, I’d love to hear your why! Please share!