How to get a great ‘startup’ education fast and cheap

It doesn’t matter what kind of education you’ve had when you start a new job, some 90 percent of the information and skills you’ll need to be successful will come from hands-on experience.

This is one of the biggest reasons I encourage people to start their own business. They will acquire skills more quickly through the process of launching and growing a business than through virtually any other means. And the beautiful thing today is that you can get all of this practical knowledge and insights with very little risk.

Just open an online store.

Not long ago I gave you a quick rundown on the best and least expensive DIY ecommerce website building services. If you use one of these you can get an online store up and running in a lazy afternoon. Literally.

However, today’s advice isn’t specifically on that topic. I want to discuss some of the ways you’ll grow in knowledge and skills when you take the plunge and bring your brand new small business online. And, I’m going to start with the process of “building” your store.

Interface skills. All kinds of web-based interfaces today are built around some form of “drag-and-drop.” That phrase makes them sound easy, and they are…but only after you’ve had some experience with them. You’ll climb a long way up the drag-and-drop learning curve by putting your website together.

Design skills. Related to the previous point is the use of templates. Every app from the venerable Microsoft Word to email providers like Constant Contact offer templates. When you commit to a DIY website building service, you’ll want to opt for a pre-built template. You’ll then have some options to customize it. Ask others how it looks and encourage them to be brutally honest. You want to use this experience to improve your graphic design “eye” and skills.

Merchandising. Build your store around something for which you have passion and knowledge. Start with just a few products – maybe only one. See what sells and what. You might be surprised to discover that some things you absolutely love, aren’t such a big hit with the general population.

Pricing. Here’s the flip side of merchandising. People will buy virtually anything if the price is right. What merchandise can you feature that delivers the margins you need?

Marketing and advertising. When success or failure depends on your ability to sell your products, marketing rises to a whole new level of urgency. Here’s something very cool: When you establish accounts with new web hosts, they often will give you $100 or $200 in ad credits with Google, for example. You can experiment and learn on another guy’s nickel!

Customer service. Make a few sales and the importance of customer service will soon become very real for you. Because you’ve started a small, online e-commerce business, customer service will not be overwhelming initially, but it will teach you the importance of having systems and people in place should you decide to launch a bigger project someday.

Networking. This is a tricky one. As an e-commerce startup you are sort of an isolated island in the middle of a huge online ocean. However, to be successful you’ll find that partnerships and cooperation with others is required. Developing those symbiotic relationships with other web properties will elevate your business.

Delegation. If you begin to enjoy some real success, you’ll find that you can’t do everything yourself. You’ll also discover that there are some things you can’t do very well…even when you have the time! The NFL quarterbacks who have long, well-compensated careers are those who hand the ball off to talented running backs – not the ones who insist on running the ball themselves.

Project management. It takes project management skills to take your e-commerce idea and make it come alive in an actual, functioning website. Further, every time you decide to “up your game” it will involve more projects, both big and small. Take the opportunity to learn how to use a good project management app.

These are just some highlights of what you’ll learn as you conceive and launch a modest e-commerce website. Almost every one of these topics could be broken down further. For example, I didn’t even mention copywriting under the topic of marketing and advertising. But, I just wanted you to get an appreciation of what you can gain by starting a small business this way.

Getting an understanding of how startups operate this way can be extremely valuable. It typically takes entrepreneurs three to five attempts before they hit it big. This low-cost strategy for your first attempt, reduces your risk while maximizing your experience.

I was tempted to title this piece something like, Enroll in the school of hard knocks. However, with the low cost and ease of entry associated with small e-commerce websites today, the knocks just aren’t that hard anymore.

Try it. You won’t get badly bruised. I promise.