A business consists of nearly innumerable moving parts: the product/service being offered; sales and marketing strategies; payroll and budget concerns; personnel management; etc., etc.
No one person can be a natural master of all these things. That fact makes entrepreneurship more than a little daunting: you may want to start a business, but once you realize just how much goes into creating and maintaining that business, you may find yourself backing away from the idea for any number of reasons: maybe you’re worried that your lack of financial knowledge will sink you; maybe you don’t know much about managing people; maybe you’ve never spent a day in your life on marketing initiatives.
If this sounds like you — a would-be or wary entrepreneur feeling crippled (or slightly damaged) by your knowledge gaps — you should know you’re not alone. Everyone has knowledge gaps, and entrepreneurs are no different.
“There’s really no one size fits all for entrepreneurs,” says Dr. Lena Rodriguez, dean of the School of Business at University of Phoenix. “Entrepreneurs come from all different walks of life, so I think that when we talk about what plagues entrepreneurs in general, theres no general one.”
That being said, Dr. Rodriguez does notice that many entrepreneurs’ knowledge gaps tend to fall into one (or more) of four “large buckets”:
- marketing (both in terms of understanding who their market is and how to market their products/services);
- accessing capital;
- succession planning;
- and budgeting.
Business Plans: a Great Tool For Identifying Your Particular Knowledge Gaps
But these are only four very general categories, and as Dr. Rodriguez mentioned already, each and every entrepreneur brings their own unique skills, experiences, and knowledge gaps to the table. So, how can an entrepreneur identify their particular knowledge gaps before starting their business?
“Entrepreneurs are fast-paced individuals, but they need to be calculated risk-takers,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “Those entrepreneurs that are thinking about launching a business are going to take the time to … critically think through what that business will be.”
And part of thinking through what the business will be is creating a business plan. It turns out that a business plan — which Dr. Rodriguez also calls a “critical thinking plan” — is not just a great way to create a business: it’s also a great way to identify knowledge gaps.
Along each step of the way, a business plan gives entrepreneurs insight into where their knowledge may be lacking:
- The business plan begins with a look at identifying the business’s distinguishing features, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to solidify their understandings of their products/services.
- Next, the business plan considers the market: what is the market? What does the market need? Are the market’s needs congruent with what the business will offer? How will the business market its products/services? If an entrepreneur has trouble answering any of these questions, they’ll realize a knowledge gap exists, and they’ll need to address it.
- Next, the business plan looks at finances and capital: what kind of money will the business require at start up, and what will it require to continue running? Where will initial capital come from? Again: failure to answer these questions means the entrepreneur has a knowledge gap in need of closing.
- Finally, the business plan looks at the organizational structure: who will be in leadership positions? Who will run the business? How will the business run? What will the hierarchy look like? (By now, you know the drill: if an entrepreneur has a shaky grasp of their organizational structure, it’s time to close a knowledge gap.)
“The business plan process allows the entrepreneur to critically think through all these areas and really plan ahead as to where it is they might need more help,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
I Know My Gaps — Now What?
Given that each and every entrepreneur’s knowledge gaps will be particular to their specific situation, the way an entrepreneur goes about closing those gaps will be a highly personalized journey.
“Once again, there is no one size that fits all,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “Taking coursework is good for some individuals, but there are lots of [other ways to do it], so it really is a matter of the person identifying what works best for them.”
Some options that entrepreneurs may want to look into include:
- educational opportunities and classes focused on entrepreneurship;
- reaching out to mentors and network contacts who can act as consultants;
- and reading books that address the specific areas in which the entrepreneur lacks knowledge.
But these are just suggestions. As Dr. Rodriguez says: every entrepreneur’s knowledge gaps are different, and every entrepreneur’s solution for addressing their knowledge gaps will depend on their specific situation