Here’s why you should wait until you’ve started your business to learn the right skills

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“But I’m not an expert. I don’t have a degree or diploma. How can I start a business? No one will take me seriously, let alone pay me.”

I hear that everything my students’ time. I patiently remind them that I’m a high school dropout, and on paper my only qualification to handle Facebook and Google Ads is the fact that I run a seven-figure agency that handles Facebook and Google Ads.

It usually doesn’t soak in, so I refer them to a recent the wall street journal article that tells the all-too-familiar story of a group of college graduates who can’t get a good-paying job. This particular story, however, shares the struggles of students enrolled in the MFA film program at Columbia University, the prestigious Ivy League school in New York. These students took on six-figure debt to earn an MFA degree, only to find that not every student could be Scorsese from the start. An Ivy League education couldn’t save them from the same low-paying, entry-level movie jobs as someone who didn’t take out a condo-sized loan.

We are facing an epidemic of overeducated and underpaid salary hunters in this country because we have the success equation completely upside down..

What I’m about to share with you applies not only to starting a business, but also to people who simply want a lucrative and fulfilling job. I’ll describe how most people approach skill acquisition, and then I’ll tell you how people talk about skill acquisition.

If I do my job well, you will be convinced that you don’t need to be an expert to start a business. In fact, if you’re not an expert right now, you better be.

Related: 8 keys to becoming the expert on everything you sell

how most people learn skills

“Go to college! Get an advanced degree! That’s how you succeed.”

It’s amazing how people refuse to believe what’s right in front of their eyes. Columbia filmmakers are not unique. According to a PayScale survey, 46% of American workers said they were “underemployed”. Meanwhile, 76% of those respondents said it was because they weren’t using their degrees in their careers.

But people still blindly follow the same old routine, which looks like this:

  1. Spend time and money on education to acquire skills.
  2. Go to market with newly learned skills.
  3. ???
  4. Profit?

Let’s discuss two things about this approach. First of all, it takes away all the risk. You sink tons time and money to learn skills you hope the market will reward you. In reality, so many graduates enter the market only to find that the market does not need their skills. Worse still, many find that their advanced education makes them overqualified. They walked away from the market.

Related: 5 Steps to Establishing Yourself as an Industry Expert

How entrepreneurs to acquire skills

Entrepreneurs and other savvy people take a backwards approach to what I’ve described above. Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Go to the market and ask them what problems they have.
  2. Find out how much they would be willing to pay to fix this problem.
  3. When you find a problem that the market will pay handsomely to solve, get out there and learn the skills you need to solve that problem.
  4. Acquire your first customers.
  5. Refine your offering by using your first customers as hands-on training.
  6. Present your offer to the market.

An entrepreneur starts with the market – listen to what they want, and only then acquire the necessary skills.

There are also far fewer risks at the outset. Yes, it can take time and money to learn the skills you need to solve the market problem. Maybe a degree is needed? Maybe not ? But that probably won’t be the case. You can do wonders with books and online courses.

But whatever time and money you invest, you invest it knowing that there is a payday waiting for you on the other side. Why? Because you respond to the market.

You are the solution to a problem. And, ultimately, that’s what people pay money for. The Columbia filmmakers learned the hard way that there was no bigger problem to solve — and that didn’t change just because they had an expensive degree.

Related: 7 ways to position yourself so people see you as an expert

Next steps

Here are the reasons why you should start your business before you have the skills to deliver. Once you start doing your market research, you’re in business.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Choose a niche, any niche. Don’t be tempted to follow the money — everyone offers consulting services, doctors, lawyers, etc. Often, the more obscure and esoteric the niche, the better.
  2. Talk to people in the niche. Find out what their biggest daily problems are.
  3. Ask them how much they would pay to fix the problem. If they say less than $2,000, you may not have a viable business. It must be worth your time.
  4. Want extra bonus points? If you’re feeling ambitious, have them pull out their credit card and pay you for the solution before they even know how to deliver it! It’s a bold move, but that’s how you know that people are willing to pay for the solution. It is the ultimate validation of product-market fit.
  5. Now — and only now – go out and learn the skills you need to solve the problem.

You don’t need to become a 10,000 hour master. You just need to know a) more than the customer and b) enough to solve the problem.

Solving the problem is everything. Thread that needle, and you’re as good as paid.

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