As college students, there looms an ever-approaching reality that we must someday leave our dorms, classrooms and dining halls behind and enter the workforce. A select few lead the charge as entrepreneurs. Heads full of ideas and passion, they push forth prepared to start businesses of their own and change the world around them. However, school can only prepare you for so much. As such, we’ve interviewed an industry expert for helpful tips and perspective on what students should know about entering the entrepreneurial field today. He answers questions regarding what skills students should focus on, how to make connections, how to market themselves, and more.
Read on to learn from Mr. Nick Leighton, author, business coach and adjunct professor at Chapman University.
Q: How should a prospective student approach the business world? Is there anything they should know ahead of time, going into their prospective business?
NL: Okay, well let’s assume they understand the area of practice they are trying to get into. You’ve studied law if you want to be a lawyer, and you’ve studied engineering if you want to become an engineer. So assuming they have that knowledge, what else do they need to understand to enter the business world?
I think the first thing that would really help would be to understand people. There are different types of people in the world and everyone is not the same. Therefore, you’ll get along with certain people who are similar to your type. There’s actually four types of communication styles and you’ll always get along well with someone who communicates the same as you do. I think one of the best things you can learn, early on, going into the workforce is understanding what type of communication style you have, and being able to identify what style someone else has. This way you can train around adapting and communicating clearly because pretty much everything in business comes down to communication, so you need to be able to communicate clearly. The easiest way to do this is to be able to understand the communication style of someone else and adapt clearly to it.
Q: With that in mind, how should a student find out what their communication style is?
NL: There are plenty of tests online which you can do (some of which are free). I prefer one called DISC, and you can go online and probably find some for free or others for say $20. What I like about DISC, as a communication style, is that it breaks down people by Dominance, Influencing, Stability and Compliance. Most people are naturally in one of those areas, or a combination of two. As such, it’s not too complex to understand; it’s only four types and the variations between the spectrum.
So if you understand that you are an influencing person who relies on personality, but you’re dealing with someone who is say compliant, you’d change the way you communicate. An influencing person to an influencing person is all about being chatty and exciting and getting to know each other. It’s all about ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘How is your brother doing?’ Someone who is compliant doesn’t speak that way. It’s very much ‘What’s the agenda?’, ‘Let’s get down to business’, ‘There’s no need for niceties at the beginning of the conversation.’ They simply want to get their job done. So I think that DISC is a super easy model, simply find your model online. It also helps to identify them before you begin talking. For example, if you walk into an office and it’s very tidy, that’s a compliance person and as such you can begin with that in mind.
Q: What would you recommend for a college student who’s unsure about what type of business they want to grow? Let’s say a student doesn’t know what they want to build yet, but they know they want to start something. What should they do?
NL: I think they should look at their personal values. Look at what’s important for that individual. What are they good at, what are they passionate about, what gives them energy, and what is important to them (family, friends, hobbies, interests, faith, humanitarian work, health), all those elements which are personal. Try to write down in 100 words who you are and who you want to be as an individual. From there it becomes easier to understand what you would be successful in when it comes to entrepreneurship or how to start a business.
Q: What is the best way for a college student to make business connections that will help them as they enter the workforce and the corporate landscape? Is it best to focus on alumni connections? Or is there another route students should be pursuing?
NL: I think alumni connections are a great place to start. Everyone communicates differently, so different people will want to network in different ways. You could join a networking group— one of the largest is called BNI, they are very popular in the U.S. and you can just go to meetings for free and check it out. That might be a good place to network. There are also obviously industry networks, depending on what kind of work you want to find, so that works for some people as networking in person may be best for you, though that type is pretty much gone.
With services like LinkedIn you can go on and send out 20 requests a day and start a conversation online and then say, ‘Hey do you want to meet up on a Zoom call for 20 minutes?’ That’s equally as good when it comes to networking, in fact it’s probably a bit more targeted. You’ve just got to find the right thing that works for you in regards to networking. It could be family connections you have (this is often a good starting point), friends, the method by which you do it doesn’t matter too much. I think it’s important that people do it though, and more so that they consciously decide to do it [networking] (i.e. having a plan and going in with the intention to network).
Q: What would you say is the best way to market business ideas in the new digital age? Books, YouTube, X (Twitter), or a combination of multiple platforms?
NL: Marketing has radically changed in the last few years. It’s primarily changed because society has changed due to the pandemic. So when the pandemic hit, there was a huge growth in technology and the tools we use for marketing. There is not one way to market a product. I coach with companies that are almost the same, and yet they all have different marketing strategies. I can tell you that AI has been around for a couple of years, but since Open AI’s ChatGPT came out around November of 2022, that has radically updated our ability to do things.
There are two things you need for marketing: you need to have visibility and you need to have credibility. Someone needs to know you exist, that’s visibility, and they need to believe in whatever it is you sell as a service, that’s credibility. You need to think on your marketing what gives you visibility to the right people and what gives you that credibility?
Writing a book for example would give you the credibility that you are very well-known in that specific subject, but that may or may not give you visibility. Maybe networking is a better tool for visibility or marketing, but there are so many tools out there. Really everyone should take a minute and spend some time looking at all the marketing tactical tools that exist.
Q: Are there any tools which students should acquaint themselves with that will help them in the starting phases of the business world? Canva? Grammarly?
NL: So right now, in today’s society, the more you can learn about AI the more that is going to benefit you in the future. I would make the assumption that if you’re coming out of college you’ve already got Canva and Google tools under your belt, and you know how to do all that kind of stuff. Those tools are your base point. Today there are older members in business who either don’t or choose not to understand AI so if you can walk into the workforce and understand AI fully and how you can bring that into a business, that would give you huge worth in your career. People are writing, talking, speaking a lot on how AI might make jobs redundant, but it won’t make a student who comes out of college knowing how to use it in the work environment redundant. It is a very important skill to learn.
Q: Is it more important for a student aiming for entrepreneurship to pursue their degree further with a Master’s degree, or is it beneficial to get into the workforce as soon as they can with their Bachelor’s?
NL: It could be neither. This really all depends on what it is they want to do. Some people aren’t quite ready to be entrepreneurs after their first degree, so having a little more time to learn and hone some of those skills might be great. Some people getting into the work force and understanding things from the inside might be more beneficial for starting their own company down the line. There isn’t really a right or wrong decision here. I would say ideally the people who are most likely to be successful are those who do both at the same time, so a student getting their master’s whilst at the same time getting real world experience.
Q: Do you have any other general advice you can give students about what they should know and expect?
NL: I would suggest thinking about what entering the workforce means to you. You’re not just entering the workforce to work for other people, or to simply advance your career. It’s bi-directional in today’s society. So go into a job and don’t just say, ‘What can I learn here?’ but also say, ‘What can I bring? What can I teach to others?’ because there will be skills that you can I pass onto others as it is a bi-directional training when it comes to new jobs.
For more information regarding this topic and insights from Mr. Leighton please see: Mr. Nick Leighton