A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
Even Stephen Curry Needs To Practice
Entrepreneurship is a contact sport. It cannot be learned from a book or in a classroom. The skills which underlie entrepreneurship are largely learned first-hand, through trial and error.
However, you do not need to start a business to begin exercising your entrepreneurial muscles. There are a number of tasks you can perform that will allow you to train in the art of entrepreneurship while you are in school or working at a large organization.
The key to effective rehearsing is to first establish the goals you want to achieve. If you don’t know which specific skills you want to improve, you will only get better them by accident.
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Practice With A Purpose
“There is no glory in practice, but without practice, there is no glory”
The following seven activities allow you to hone your entrepreneurial skillset, without going all in on a particular venture. Focus on the exercises that make you the most uncomfortable, rather than expending energy enhancing your strengths.
- Advise A Startup
“By learning you will teach, by teaching, you will learn”
You may be thinking, “I am not qualified to advise a startup. That’s why I am reading this article. I want to learn, not teach.” Great. There is no better way to learn than when you are forced to teach.
No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial maturation, there are many bright, eager folks who are a bit behind you. If you are in college, advise a High School entrepreneur club. If you are a recent college graduate, mentor college students. If you are a seasoned executive, work with a team of aspiring entrepreneurs.
- Refine Your Personal Pitch
“The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle”
Richard Marcinko, Author
Networking is one of an entrepreneur’s most valuable skills. Practice your interpersonal talents by repeatedly entering a room of strangers with the goal of making at least five meaningful connections with people who can assist the startup you are advising (see point #1 above).
You can easily avoid awkward pauses by weaving your Personal Pitch into your networking conversations. Your pitch should comprise the following three elements.
Who you are – your interests, experiences, education, why you are so bloody interesting.
Where you are going – your bombastic, fascinating entrepreneurial dreams.
How you plan to get there – your short-term tactics and long-term strategies for turning your dreams into reality.
If networking makes you uncomfortable, as it does for many people, that is all the more reason to practice it. As with all skills, the better you get at networking, the less anxiety you will feel when you are on the practice field and ultimately once you get into the game.
If you are networking to assist a startup you are advising, you can substitute the company’s pitch for your personal pitch.
- Entrepreneur It
“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong”
Look for areas in your workplace in which you can create something from nothing. Surprise your boss by launching a project that requires little to no resources, but has an outsized impact on your business.
Ask yourself, “If we hired an entrepreneur, what would they change about the way we do business?” then carryout whatever recommendations you devise. Don’t worry, you can apologize after the fact, when you point to the positive impact your initiative had on your company.
If you are a student, do something bodacious within the confines of a club or student organization. Create a community service project, raise a small venture fund to capitalize student companies – whatever you do, it should be bold and force you to call upon all of your startup talents.
- Keep An Idea Journal
“Practice puts brains in your muscles”
Sam Snead, Professional Golfer
As Stephen Johnson demonstrates in Where Good Ideas Come From, epiphanies are rare. Most breakthroughs result from the collision of small ideas which combine to form big ideas. Thus, it pays to document your daily thoughts so you can later recall and combine them with subsequent hunches.
Such journals, formerly called Commonplace Books, were used during the 17th & 18th centuries by curious, deep thinkers, including: Milton, Bacon, Locke, Franklin and Darwin. Modern day entrepreneurs use Evernote, Google Keep, etc. to capture and organize their hunches.
- Launch A Side Business
“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice” Vladimir Horowitz, Pianist
As noted in Mini-ventures Build Entrepreneurial Muscle, a number of substantial companies have arisen from ventures started by people in school and who had fulltime jobs.
Even if your mini-venture does not morph into a substantial business, it will act as an effective practice court upon which you can enhance your entrepreneurial chops.
- Don’t Throw Up, Speak Up
“You earn your trophies at practice, you just pick them up when you perform.”
Entrepreneurs must be able to influence and persuade others, often in a public setting. You can practice this talent by volunteering to give presentations at work, school or in non-profit organizations. You can also join groups such as Toastmasters, whose explicit purpose is to help its members become more confident and able public speakers.
Much like networking, if speaking in public make you queasy, proactively practice your way to proficiency.
- Get A Coach
“You play the way you practice.”
It is difficult to practice alone. Not only is it a challenge to remain motivated, it is difficult to objectively identify which skills you are improving and where you should focus your practice time.
Like athletes, entrepreneurs benefit greatly from a coach, in the form of a caring mentor. As described in You’re Never Too Old (or Successful) For A Mentor, the time you invest in cultivating a mentor relationship is time well spent.
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Image: AP Photo / Rick Bowmer