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Entrepreneurs without a business degree share 3 tips for more success

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Entrepreneurs without a business degree share 3 tips for more success

La Tejana co-founders Gus May and Ana Maria Jaramillo dropped off homemade tortillas during the pandemic. Courtesy of La Tejana

To be successful as an entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily need a business degree.

Small business owners attribute their success to some non-business strategies and mindsets.

They use their small size to their advantage and present themselves as “people first” on social media.

This is a machine translation of an article from our US colleagues at Business Insider. It was automatically translated and checked by a real editor.

As entrepreneurs and small business owners have shown, a traditional business or financial background is not a prerequisite for success.

Jon Neeter has a Los Angeles-based pickleball center that generated sales of more than $2 million (around 1.8 million euros) in 2023. Pickleball is a sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. Neeter spent the early years of his career as a college tennis coach. Independent bookstore owner Adah Fitzgerald began her career in education, teaching middle school science.

Martha Ellen Mabry is a beautician. She skipped college to move to New York City and cut hair, admitting she was “unprepared” when she opened her first salon in a basement at 21. The owner of two busy Brooklyn locations told Business Insider, “I didn’t go to business school. But I knew about hair.”

A couple who perfected a flour tortilla recipe in their kitchen has turned a pop-up breakfast taco side project into a thriving retail business that almost always has a line out the door. “I think we both have strong entrepreneurial instincts, but we don’t come from finance or business backgrounds,” says La Tejana co-founder Gus May. He worked in the food and beverage industry for years and was laid off at the start of the pandemic, while his wife Ana-Maria Jaramillo works full-time as a pediatric speech therapist.

Each of these entrepreneurs has evolved along with their business, gaining more and more business acumen through trial and error. Still, they attribute their success to some non-business strategies and mindsets. Here are three of them.

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Business Insider verified all revenue by looking at profit and loss statements.

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1. Use your (small) size to your advantage

Fitzgerald, which considers Amazon its No. 1 competitor and also competes with well-known chains like Barnes & Noble, is working with much less space. Your 130 square meter store can only hold a certain amount of goods.

But she doesn’t necessarily see that as a disadvantage. As a customer, it’s sometimes easier to walk into a room where there are 10,000 books to choose from instead of ten million. In her opinion, there is less sensory overload. It also has the advantage of having a small, hand-picked team.

Adah Fitzgerald, owner of Main Street Books. Courtesy of Main Street Books

“What we really bring is a staff that reads a large number of books and has expert, intuitive opinions about books and is very good at talking about books and connecting people with books well beyond the algorithm,” she says, adding that some of her employees read more than 100 books a year.

Another benefit of a small, independent bookstore is that it can create a unique, memorable atmosphere. “We kept the old sign and it’s definitely ’90s style,” Fitzgerald says. “I think people come into the store with a little lower expectations than what they actually find, and so there’s an ‘oh-wow’ moment for a lot of people, and I think they really like that.”

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2. Focus on people, not business, on social media

Like many other entrepreneurs, Jaramillo and May have used social media to achieve greater success and grow La Tejana. But they note that “a lot of the business is based on Instagram,” but their approach to posting on platforms like Instagram looks a little different.

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They describe their social media presence as “human-first, rather than business-first” and choose to take and present pictures of their employees and customers. May writes most of the captions, “and he really writes from the heart.” Jaramillo explains, “People read the captions, feel connected to the story, share it, post it, and comment on it.”

By humanizing the content, they get more engagement than other business accounts with a similar number of followers, says May. “We don’t post as frequently, but the posts we do post get an insane amount of comments, shares, and reposts.”

It has helped them connect with the Mount Pleasant and larger DC community on a deeper level, which makes a difference in their success. “We were able to use the store as a vehicle to build a community, which in turn pays off by attracting more people who then buy our tacos and are part of that community,” May emphasizes.

Martha Ellen Mabry, here in her hair salon “Headchop”. Samuel Robert Bullen

Mabry has found success with a similar approach on social media. When she organizes photo shoots, “I don’t hire models. I leverage our people, our customers,” she says, and in the end everyone wins. “They give up their time and we give them a voucher and they get posted on our website. These are the photos that people pull up on their phones and say, ‘I saw that on your website. I really like this cut. I really like this color.’”

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3. Creates a friendly atmosphere among employees that is passed on to customers

Good customer service is what keeps customers coming back, Jaramillo says. “You can have an incredible product, but if you have the worst customer service ever, people won’t come back.” They want every customer to not only enjoy the tacos, but also share a joke or a laugh with one of their employees.

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“There’s a certain value in the human element when you come into the store,” says May. “It’s not that everyone has this unique experience, but there are enough people who like the atmosphere they find here and That’s one reason they come back.”

Jaramillo and May have established a culture of respect among their employees, which is “reflected primarily in how our employees treat each other, but also in the way they interact with customers so that they feel respected.”

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To retain good employees, Neeter has a strategy: He offers flexible part-time work, which is particularly tempting in a city like Los Angeles, where “everyone has three different part-time jobs,” he says. “Professional tennis is a great position for an aspiring actor or an aspiring writer where they can have a flexible schedule and make good money in small windows of time and then do their other things.”

Neeter also placed great emphasis on creating a work environment with a “special atmosphere.” This is how you can ensure long-term success. He says: “It’s a cool place and the customers are great, so the staff often stay longer than they probably should.”

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