Q: How important is self-education to an entrepreneur?
A: Successful entrepreneurs are made, not born. One attribute that most of them share is their long-term perspective, particularly with respect to education. These people have a desire to know more, to find out how other people operate and to seek new ideas to try in their companies. This desire gives them huge long-term advantages over their competitors. It doesn't necessarily help today or tomorrow, but over time it turns them into unstoppable entrepreneurial forces. While formal education such as university study is important, this column will focus on informal self-education.
Long-term business success relies on continuous personal growth. Achieving that means being better today than you were yesterday, and being better tomorrow than you are today. A common mistake for most people is that they "just don't have time" to work on the things that will make them better at what they do. They get caught up in the daily operations of the business and can't see past them. You may have heard the old saw that some things are urgent and some are important, but few things are both. Many people spend their time on the urgent things because their lack of planning and long-term perspective continually creates additional urgent things. Self-education is a good example of something that is extremely important but not at all urgent.
What you must do is immerse yourself in data and make it your goal to absorb and understand that data, turn it into knowledge and then use that knowledge to gain experience. This is a long-term task, and the main reason most people fail to stay with it is because the feedback loop is so long. It often takes months of hard work before you start to see positive changes. You won't see the changes as they happen, but will look back one day and be amazed at how much your judgment and business skills have grown. You'll feel yourself start to think more clearly, you'll understand more of what you see and hear, and your entrepreneurial vision will become clearer.
What must you do to enjoy the long-term benefits of this strategy? Subscribe to business magazines and e-mail newsletters (Entrepreneur.com has several for free-click here) and read them consistently. If you have a Palm or Pocket PC, use e-book software to read business articles and e-books. Listen to audio tapes in your car. Commit yourself to reading (or listening to) at least one or two business books each month. Register for seminars and short classes that teach hands-on skills such as marketing, sales, accounting, legal issues, etc.-the more you know about each such subject, the better you'll be at supervising people who do those tasks for you. In general, you must make your education a priority and schedule significant amounts of time for it. While some of this can be squeezed into your day (such as reading while waiting in line), much of it will require you to give up something else (such as TV).
Most people aren't born with the discipline to do this. It takes effort and practice to get in the habit of continuous learning. But if you realize that your efforts today will pay you large dividends next year, your business will continue to accelerate while your competitors cruise along at a constant speed.
Keith Lowe is an experienced entrepreneur who is a founder and investor in companies in several industries. Lowe also mentors new entrepreneurs; serves as past chairman of the board for Biztech, a nonprofit high-tech business incubator; and is a co-founder and officer for the Alabama Information Technology Association.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.