What Degree Do You Need to be a Business Owner?
Becoming a business owner is an exciting prospect. To turn your dream idea into reality, you need a passion for the goods or services you're going to sell and the drive to get your new business off the ground.
While taking an idea and building it from scratch can be rewarding, it can also be challenging. Furthering your education can position you for success. The skills and knowledge you'll learn pursuing a business degree, for example, can directly impact your ability to start and grow a company. The network you can build from professors and fellow classmates can help provide you with insight as well as clients.
In addition to growing your network, earning a business degree will help you hone your writing skills and learn new social media marketing skills, both tools that lead to success in any industry. While you’ll take on all of the risk if the business doesn’t succeed, you also get to reap the benefits when it does.
What Degree Do I Need to Start My Own Business?
Having a business degree under your belt when starting your own business can be beneficial in two key ways:
- Tailoring your degree to your interests can help position you to get your business off the ground.
- You'll learn new skills or hone existing ones through completing coursework. Choosing the right degree for your interests and goals can make a strong and positive impact on the success of your business.
While earning any degree in a field that interests you is important, earning a degree in business, in particular, can help you capitalize on your existing business skills and develop new ones. For example, studying business administration at the bachelor’s or master’s level can allow you to learn core skills that will help you start and run any type of business while also providing the opportunity to specialize your training if you wish. Some applicable business degree concentrations currently in demand are:
- Entrepreneurship. This might be the most suitable business degree if you know that starting your own business is your goal. Coursework for this degree concentration may include such foundational skills as critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership, as well as more functional skills such as accounting, finance and communication.
- Finance. If the financial landscape of the business world appeals to you, this degree could be a good fit. Coursework for this degree concentration may include topics in corporate finance, financial markets and financial regulations and ethics.
- Organizational Leadership. This degree concentration focuses on principles of change management and group dynamics, as well as how to lead groups toward a unifying vision. Coursework in an organizational leadership degree concentration may include topics in accounting, business law, marketing and strategic management.
- Operations Management. If your business idea is in the realm of manufacturing or warehousing, this degree focus could be very helpful. Coursework for this degree concentration may include a focus on ethics and globalization as well as supply chain management, continuous improvements tools and techniques and trends in operations management.
- Project Management. Strong project managers need skills in communication, negotiation, leadership and critical thinking. A business administration degree in project management combines all of these areas. Coursework for a project management degree concentration may include logistics, inventory control, production planning and forecasting.
What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Business Owner?
While anyone can own a business if they put their mind to it, there are some useful skills and attributes coupled with a willingness to learn that can be beneficial to successful business ownership, especially when getting started. These include:
- Passion and knowledge in the area in which you want to start a business. Since you’ll be working full speed ahead on building your business, you want to make sure you choose a product or service that means a lot to you.
- Willingness to learn new things, like business accounting, business law and marketing. These may not be areas in which you excel but the right business degree can teach you skills in each of these key areas.
- Ability to problem solve. Business owners solve problems every day, both big and small. The ability to think critically and creatively – both skills taught in business school – can help tremendously.
- Ability to pivot. The economy changes constantly, and your ability and willingness to change with it can be the difference between success and failure.
- Energy and determination. Owning your own business takes a lot of work and tenacity. Having the drive to push forward every day is key to creating a thriving business.
Ultimately, there are no true qualifications necessary to start a business other than the wherewithal to do so. “You have to know your product, understand finances and be willing to work hard,” said Ann Sanok, faculty lead of business programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
Ultimately, anyone can be a business owner “if they choose to and if they enter into the right industry” for them, said Nick Stellitano '12, co-founder of Dillinger Research and Applied Data and graduate of SNHU.
What Skills Do You Need to be a Business Owner?
There are core business skills, such as a knowledge of finance and accounting, project management and marketing, that can be helpful when running a business. But there are also transferable skills that apply to any type of business and that can help you manage your business successfully. Those skills include:
- A solid work ethic. As the business owner, you will be responsible for the ultimate success or failure of your business, and with it, the livelihood of those who work for you. Because so much goes into starting a business beyond the ability to provide goods or services, it is crucial that you are willing to work as hard as is necessary to keep the business moving forward.
- The ability to deal with adversity. As a CEO, you can be faced with “the highest highs and the lowest lows,” Stellitano said. “You need to be able to try and keep perspective through the ups and downs.” Being able to weather the bad along with the good is not only important for business but also critical for the morale of your team.
- The ability to lead and manage people. People skills, communication skills and the willingness to humbly accept the gaps in your own knowledge and expertise will allow you to be a good leader. “You will wear a lot of hats as the business owner, especially in the early days,” said Meleena Eaton, associate dean of business programs at SNHU. “Being skilled at hiring and managing the right people to support you in areas where you are not as strong will be crucial for your success.”
Is a Master’s Education Necessary to Own a Business?
No, a master’s degree is not necessary to own a business. In fact, no degree is necessary to own a business. Many successful businesses have been started by people without any higher education at all.
But the work that you will complete in a master’s program in business, marketing or entrepreneurship “will help you build a wide range of skills that will benefit you as you build your business,” Eaton said. These skills include marketing, written and oral communication and human resources skills, among many others. The reality is that a master’s degree in business – such as a Master of Business Administration – is still highly valuable “because it can provide you with important skills that other entrepreneurs may lack,” Sanok said.
While some fields, such as nursing or counseling, do require a master’s degree in order to be professionally licensed, furthering your education can give you a head start on owning your own business by providing you with knowledge of finance as well as skills in organizational leadership and knowledge of laws and regulations. Ultimately, “a graduate business degree can help you avoid pitfalls, reduce risk and provide you with experienced industry contacts,” Sanok said. Those contacts can help you build your network and find clients down the road.
Which Degree is Best for Business?
One of the best things about studying business is the opportunity to tailor your degree to your personal and career goals. While any business degree would be helpful to prepare you for owning your own business, it's important to choose one with a focus that best fits your business needs. “Education is a powerful signal to others that you have done the work on yourself and are worth betting on,” said Stellitano.
When choosing a business degree, be sure to focus on an area of business that really interests you, and pay attention to the coursework that doesn’t. “The hardest courses for me to take were the accounting courses,” Eaton said. “But in some ways, those were also the most beneficial courses as they gave me insight into an area where I knew I would need support in my own business.” Taking courses outside of her comfort zone also helped provide Eaton with a baseline of understanding in different areas of business so she knew what questions to ask of her professors to help develop expertise in areas she lacked.
It’s a good idea to think outside of the box, too. Say your business idea is to open a clothing boutique. “A degree in fashion merchandising can be valuable for that,” Sanok said. That degree will teach you the ins and outs of the retail world, and how to optimize the sale of clothing and accessories.
Or, maybe you want to open a non-profit to help the homeless. Majoring in the social sciences or earning a business degree with a social science focus – such as an industrial-organizational psychology concentration – could be the way to go. “Remember, no one major or degree will cover all of the challenges you will encounter in starting and running a business, so study what you are interested in and then go from there,” Sanok said.
Passion and Grit Are Required
Starting your own business can be one of the most exciting and most stressful things you can do. “You will need passion and grit and a willingness to fail, figure out what went wrong and then be willing to try again,” Eaton said. But your education can provide a strong foundation of skills and tools that will help you meet with success and weather those inevitable failures.
Being a business owner ultimately relies on how well you are able to bring all of your skills together and use them strategically in the building of your business. If you are interested in honing your existing skills, learning new ones and charting your own path, a business degree in the area of your choice can definitely help get you there.
Discover more about SNHU’s online entrepreneurship degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.
Marie Morganelli, Ph.D. is a freelance content writer and editor.
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