5 Jobs You Should Have Before Starting a Business

Think of it as the required curriculum in the School of Hard Knocks.

Entrepreneurs often wear every hat. Problem is, few entrepreneurs have tried all those hats on before they start a company, so sometimes they fit very poorly—if at all.

Since the best way to learn is by doing, here are five jobs every budding entrepreneur should hold, even if just for a few months. The lessons learned last a lifetime.

1. Sales. A business without customers isn’t really a business. That’s why every business owner is in some way involved in sales. An entrepreneur who lacks basic sales skills faces major challenges. If you can’t clearly explain the logic and benefits of a decision or action—because that’s what “sales” really means—you’ll find it almost impossible to land financing, establish partnerships, motivate employees… and most importantly, land your first customers.

Sell something. Sell anything. If possible, work solely on commission. You’ll quickly overcome any shyness and hesitation when your income is a direct result of your effort and sales skills—which as an entrepreneur it definitely will be.

2. Fast food. Most franchises employ rigorous process control: operating procedures, best practices, efficiency standards, etc. Fast food is all about control—especially in terms of how employees perform their jobs. Even the most freewheeling businesses need some level of control and standardization to ensure customer needs are consistently met.

After you get over your resentment of having to do everything a certain way, you’ll start to understand the value of systems that produce consistent, proven results. And if you work at the counter, you’ll learn more in six months about how to work with customers than you’ll learn in five years at most other jobs.

3. Manual labor. One summer in college I worked for the building and grounds department. I was a laborer, which meant I dug footers, hauled bricks, carried blocks… my job helping construction crews definitely put the manual in labor. I still live in the area, and sometimes I walk on the steps I helped build. I still feel a sense of satisfaction from having built something that lasted, and I’m proud I had to work my ass off to get the job done.

Work in manual labor and you will soon realize you are capable of working a lot harder than you imagined. And you’ll learn that every employee, no matter how far down the ladder, deserves respect.

4. Customer service. The balance between the needs of a customer and the needs of a business is always tough to strike. Customer service jobs come in many forms, all the way from the stereotypical complaint department to working as a cashier or clerk. A customer service job lets you learn to take and fill orders, answer questions, deal with requests and complaints—all while assisting other employees and, oh yeah, trying to meet the goals of the business.

When you’re an entrepreneur you will eventually land your first customers; don’t wait until that day to learn how to serve them. A fast-paced service job is the best customer service learning laboratory you can find.

5. Babysitter. No, not because someday you’ll be babysitting dozens of employees and all of them will act like children. Babysitters have the ultimate responsibility: They take care of someone’s children. (Unless you’re a parent angling for a shot on reality TV, nothing means more to you than your kids.) Babysitting makes you responsible for the wellbeing—physical and emotional—of a family.

When you’re an entrepreneur with employees you will bear the same responsibility, because the welfare of your employees and their families depends on your decisions.

Parents place a great deal of trust in babysitters. Your employees will place that same level of trust in you. Make sure you’re ready.

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