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4 Reasons to Become an Entrepreneur With Your Liberal Arts Degree

Dylan Layne Tanner

Dylan Layne Tanner

Dylan Layne Tanner is a writer and entrepreneur from the Detroit, Michigan area. He is currently an M.S.W. candidate at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Dylan is the lead content editor for Liberal Arts Survival and posts feature blog posts and site updates.

If you’re stuck in a dead-end job with few prospects for advancement, or if you’re a newly-minted grad looking for a way forward, you should try becoming an entrepreneur. Starting your own money-making venture is a great way to pay the bills in a sluggish economy. It allows you to build valuable skills and gain experience that you’d never have a chance to as an entry-level employee. If you’re really successful, it can allow you to write your own ticket in life. And, in a worst-case scenario, you will still have kept your resume current.

I have done clinical work with people exiting the correctional system. What I’ve always been struck by is their resilience. If you thought getting a job with a liberal arts degree was hard, try doing it with a felony on your record. In spite of the odds, I don’t meet too many who have given up. If they can’t get an interview, they hang up a shingle and start their own business. We’re not talking Fortune 500 companies here, obviously, but they’re able to start viable small businesses that generate income and provide fulfillment. If they can do it, anyone can.

If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, here are 4 reasons why you should take ownership over your work and go into business for yourself:

#1 — You already have what it takes

In order to get a liberal arts degree, you have to take classes in areas outside your major (and often outside your comfort zone). As a liberal arts graduate, you’ve proven that you can deal with ambiguity. In the entrepreneurial world, there’s often no “right” or “wrong” answer to a problem, just a choice  Adaptability to change and the ability to learn and master things quickly are exactly what’s needed when you are wearing many different hats as a small business owner.

Liberal arts majors make great entrepreneurs because they already have what it takes.

Not all college majors have this advantage. Technical programs at junior colleges and 4-year universities only require students to take a bare minimum of liberal arts classes. Students emerge quickly with great skills for a particular niche in the job market. Unfortunately, niche jobs are fad jobs, and many of these grads struggle with transitioning to different career areas. Liberal arts majors are designed with transferable skills (a.k.a. “soft skills”) in mind, so that you can work in a variety of fields by quickly learning whatever technical “hard skills” are necessary.

Liberal arts majors also possess another entrepreneurial trait—originality. Research and writing assignments in the humanities and social sciences are designed to help you learn to craft your own, original arguments. You know how to see if someone else has argued a similar point, and where your work fits in. These experiences are great preparation for market research, business planning, fesability studies, and other types of business writing and research that even business school grads suck at.

Finally, liberal arts majors have drive and ambition. They come to the business world with unique perspectives and the desire to innovate. While “passion” is impossible to quantify, I have met many more enthusiastic, creative, principled, hard-working humanities and social science majors than STEM grads over the years. The only thing they lack is the technical know-how to get things done. Once liberal arts majors stop thinking of their degrees as handicaps and start seeing the value they hold, they rise to the top.

#2 — Money doesn’t have to limit you

The number one thing that discourages people from becoming entrepreneurs is a lack of funds. They assume that going into business means spending lots of money out-of-pocket. For some types of businesses, that’s true. Brick-and-mortar retail stores and food service businesses require substantial capital investments. Unfortunately, they also have some of the lowest profit margins. Unless your heart is set on a high-overhead business, there are many ways to do things inexpensively, yet professionally.

Years ago, raising funds meant three things—loans, stock, and venture capital. Today, crowdfunding is king. With Kickstarter and similar sites, you can hit up your extended social network for the money necessary to start and finish a creative project. Remember that your first priority is to get an innovative, working product or service to people. As business writers like Eric Ries are careful to point out, your first foray into entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be perfect. The most important thing is that you’re offering something unique or original.

One of the best books on funding new businesses is Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Startup.” It profiles fifty people who have found ways to cash in on their skills, talents, abilities, and unique visions. In most cases, they were able to do it on a shoestring budget and realize substantial profits. It’s essential reading for anyone looking to become an entrepreneur.

In addition to new innovations in funding, there are tons of ways to save money on the operations side. Here are some examples:

  • ARTS & CRAFTS – Avoid the middleman! If you’re an artist, start your own website to profile your works, then sell them through a site like Etsy. You can accept all major forms of payment with PayPal, including in-person transactions via a credit card swipe that plugs into your smartphone or tablet. Promote your art through social media and book exhibitions or showings at area venues.
  • RETAIL BUSINESSES – If you’re selling products, you have tons of different options. After registering as an LLC or a sole proprietorship and getting an EIN (employer identification number) from the IRS, you can set up a website. Either set up your own site using an open-source shopping cart application (if you have some coding skills), or use a complete e-commerce solution like Shopify ($29 / month, free 14-day trial available). You can use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Pintrest to connect with customers worldwide. Also, consider selling through eBay—although their fees can be significant, you’ll reach a huge audience.
  • SERVICE BUSINESSES – You don’t need a physical location for most service businesses. Do your work on-the-go and save money. Use social media to let potential customers know you’re there. Then get a tablet or smartphone with a good mobile data plan so that you can stay connected. If you want to accept credit cards from your clients (there’s no reason not to), Square offers one of the simplest, cheapest solutions I’ve seen. They only charge 2.75% on transactions, and they directly deposit the money into your bank account the next day.
  • INVENTIONS & MANUFACTURING - If you have an idea for a new product, it’s never been easier to get it into production. Look for a maker space if you need access to expensive tools and software—these collaborative centers allow you to pool your resources with other “makers” in your area and save a lot of money. Use B2B sites to investigate manufacturers if you can’t produce your products in-house. If offshoring is your thing, check out overseas manufacturers at Alibaba. Sell directly to customers using Amazon Fulfillment—simply package your products up, send them to one of Amazon’s warehouses, and let them worry about shipping and returns (your customers get free Amazon Prime shipping, as well).
  • WRITERS – Self-publishing isn’t a dirty word anymore, thanks to Guy Kawasaki’s “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.” If major publishing houses turn your work down, you can still put out a very successful book. Start by outsourcing your editing, layout, and cover design if those aren’t your specialties. For a fairly small investment (a few thousand dollars), you can publish in printed and e-book formats. You’ll have to self-promote through blogs, social media, and traditional media in order to get really good sales.

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