The 10 Best Degrees for Small-Business Owners
The number one pick just might surprise you
Although some disagree whether a modern entrepreneur needs a college degree at all, the fact of the matter is the right undergraduate student degree can set a small-business owner on a path to success. But which college degree? That question likely brings to mind options like business administration, and that degree is certainly useful for anyone interested in going into business for themselves. Business degrees, though, aren’t the only majors aspiring entrepreneurs should consider.
To answer the question which college degree is best for a future small-business leader, Business Pundit polled a select group of small-business owners about their own educational background, as well as which degree they’d recommend for the business leaders of tomorrow based on their experience working in the private sector.
Some of the degrees that make an appearance in our ranking are to be expected, but some surprising options also make the cut. Up next are the 10 best degrees for small-business owners according to actual small-business owners.
1. Liberal Arts
Did you hear that, mom? Degrees in liberal arts, writing, and English really are useful, at least according to several small-business owners we queried for our ranking — more, in fact, than any other major.
Phoenix Knor’malle, founder of MysticSense.com graduated in 2015 with a degree in liberal arts. The writing skills he learned in college have helped him in the business world, opening doors of opportunity in ways he’d never imagine. “My degree really helped me with my business, all the way from descriptions of my services to website design” he says.
Mysty Langford is the founder of Bleatfleet.com, a mobile app managing risks associated with company vehicles and creating new opportunities for customer engagement. She agrees that writing is a crucial skill for any small-business owner, putting an entrepreneur ahead of the competition.
“The skill of writing can also play a role in making your website SEO optimized,” she adds, “gaining more visitors and clients. Also, you can reach investors or potential customers by writing appealing emails,” she says.
2. PR and Marketing
Second in our ranking of the best college degrees for small-business owners are public relations or marketing degrees. Malte Scholz is CEO and co-founder of Airfocus, a prioritization platform that helps businesses make the right decisions when developing new products. He graduated with a BA in Marketing Management from Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany.
“This knowledge was essential for me to understand how a business works,” he tells Business Pundit. “For instance, I knew exactly the type of marketing experts I needed to hire in order to launch my business successfully. Also, I was able to calculate the costs of my business and create a pretty solid budget,” he says.
Ricardo Mello is co-founder and managing partner at Manhattan Miami, a luxury residential real estate agency with offices in NYC and Miami. He graduated in 1998 from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Campinas in Brazil with a degree in Public Relations and Image Management.
“Studying PR was a really helpful choice,” he says. “So much of my job requires outreach, to current and new clients or on behalf of the business, and having the knowledge of how to build a reputation with a focus on relationships has been hugely beneficial.”
Whether it’s computer or systems engineering, engineering degrees give a leg up to many small-business owners. So much so, they earned a third-place finish in our ranking.
Andy Kolodgie owns the real estate website The House Guys. He graduated in 2018 with a computer engineering degree from Virginia Tech. His degree provided valuable insight into SEO, which is a crucial part of this business.
“With a unique understanding of how algorithms work, it makes it easier to understand how SEO works on a technical level, thereby making SEO simpler,” he says.
“I have been applying my degree to so many different aspects of this business and will hopefully continue applying it to many more businesses in the future,” he continues.
Vinay Amin is CEO and founder at Eu Natural, an online retailer of all-natural health supplements. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering from University of California-San Diego, and a Master’s of Science in Systems Engineering from San Jose State University.
He says small-business owners must constantly analyze, assess, readjust, and refine their approach to business: managing people, accounts, inventory, brand perception, and marketing. “All of which is best done with a standardized operating procedure which constantly needs attention,” Amin says. His degree helps him do just that.
*In a systems engineering degree, participants learn to assess the effectiveness of a system, identify weaknesses, communicate these issues with stakeholders, and change those weaknesses to optimize the entire process. Learning such a skillset is fantastic for anyone looking to run their own business,” he adds.
4. Economics and Finance
It makes some sense that the next two related majors of economics and finance would land in the top five in our ranking of the best college degrees for small-business owners.
Chris Panteli, founder of the small money-management site Life Upswing, knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur while pursuing his degree in economics from the University of Liverpool.
“I believe my degree has helped me endlessly with my business,” he tells Business Pundit, “from the decisions I make, to the insight I have into market trends, pricing, marketing, advertising, and training. And what’s more wonderful is how my degree has helped me expand my business horizons.”
Tim Milazzo, co-founder of CEOStackSource, bridging modern technology with the old-school market of commercial real estate financing, recommends a degree in finance.
“Finance is like the DNA of a business — it’s how you take out a microscope and really see what’s going on beneath the surface,” he says. “Understanding the trade-offs between different business decisions, like what products to promote, or how best to finance an expansion, really comes down to understanding whether those decisions will pay off financially.”
A major that is closely related to finance and economics with some important differences is accounting. Jesse Crow of Rest Right Mattress, which sells furniture, adjustable beds, and mattresses online, graduated in 2014 with a degree in accounting from the University of Texas, Arlington. He says his degree in accounting has helped him tremendously in his business.
“Understanding accounting is crucial when running a business,” Crow tells Business Pundit. “It is essential knowledge in terms of [the] cost of goods sold, inventory levels, and taxes.
“While I didn’t seek out the degree with being a business owner in mind,” he continues, “it has definitely been beneficial. It is a very important part of my day-to-day operations.”
In the modern world, business and computers are inextricably linked. It makes some sense then that IT or computer science degrees make excellent stepping stones for prospective entrepreneurs.
“The best degree for a modern small-business owner is a degree in internet technology, namely web development,” says Phil Strazzulla, CEO and founder of Select Software Reviews.
“If you have a degree in internet technologies, you won’t be beholden to someone else’s timetable,” he continues. “If you want to update your site or add functionality, all you need is a computer and an internet connection and you can be on the cutting edge, setting yourself apart from your competition.”
7. Real Estate
To be successful in real estate is to have the drive and ambition of a small-business person. It makes sense then, that real estate would be an advantageous degree for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Ian Sells is CEO and founder of RebateKey, a website that helps customers unlock cash back rebates and coupons from trusted retailers. He earned his bachelor’s degree in real estate from San Diego State University.
“While I ultimately didn’t stay in real estate,” Sells says, “My degree taught me a lot about how to work with people. Real estate is an industry that requires a lot of transferable skills. By studying real estate you learn how to sell, how to listen to people, how to negotiate, and how to compromise.”
“After all, real estate is all about finding the best solution for a seller and a buyer that makes everyone happy,” Sells continues.
Perhaps naturally, a business-related major is a common choice for many who choose to launch their own enterprise — whether that’s with an undergrad degree or through a graduate degree like a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA).
Luke Smith, founder of We Buy Property in Kentucky, studied marketing and management as an undergrad. He went on to earn his MBA in 2016 from the University of Kentucky.
“My education was very useful,” Smiths tells Business Pundit. Not only did it help Smith understand the general parameters of operating a business, he says it also taught him the value of a strong team.
“Although I’m knowledgeable about many of the disciplines — marketing, management, accounting, and finance — I am not the best at any of these areas,” he explains, “so it’s best for me to pay to outsource these activities to specialists that only do these activities. This allows me to leverage the talent of others for my own business and success.”
9. None At All
Among the many advantages of owning your own business, perhaps the biggest is there is no minimum education requirement. In other words, you can be successful in business with no college education.
Francesca Nicasio of PaymentDepot.com tells us more. “If you have an idea for a business, you’re better off taking the time and treasure you’d put into getting a degree and start the business,” she says.
“One of the main reasons that good ideas never move past just being good ideas is because they lack the resources to be realized,” she continues. “Any knowledge that you need to run a business can now be obtained with a connection to the internet.”
“Unless you’re going to be a doctor, lawyer, or something else that requires professional training, pursuing a college degree may be more hindrance than help,” she adds.
10. Whatever You’re Passionate About
To be successful in business takes passion, so whatever you study in college, make sure it’s something that lights your fire.
Translating that passion into your work will make many small-business challenges easier to overcome. “If you’re passionate about what you sell, you’d be surprised how easy sales will be,” Heather Clouse of Brightlightguide.com tells Business Pundit. Clouse started her company while still in college.
“Business knowledge can be figured out on the go,” she says; so find your passion, put in the work, and success will follow.
The Best College Degree for a Small-Business Owner: The Future is Yours
As you can see, the options are wide open for an aspiring entrepreneur that’s just beginning their college education.
Some recommended degrees are to be expected, such as business administration, accounting, and finance. Others make sense in the world of computers and IT and e-commerce. The truth is, though, there are many skills applicable to small-business success that can be gained through all sorts of college degrees. We’ve covered just a few of them here.
What is for certain, success in business — just like success in college — takes passion and dedication. In addition to the best college degree, what else does a fledgling business owner need to know? We’ll answer a few commonly asked questions next.
What Skills Do Entrepreneurs Need?
A college education will get you a long way toward success in business. But some business skills can’t be taught. In addition to a college degree, make sure you have the following skills in your entrepreneurial tool kit.
It takes a sense of curiosity to remain innovative, while continuing to seek out new, niche opportunities. A small-business owner must constantly stay on top of trends and developments in their market — meaning that even after college, a small-business owner never stops learning.
Efficient Time Management
Small-business owners get to work half days: noon to midnight, or midnight to noon. In other words, small-business owners work a lot. To remain productive while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance means entrepreneurs need strong time management skills. But not only do small-business owners need to manage their time, they need to be able to work quickly and efficiently, sometimes prioritizing a long list of problems to keep their business running smoothly.
Creativity and Resilience
All businesses face challenges. It takes thinking out of the box to overcome obstacles and adapt to adversity. This puts creativity and strategic thinking at a premium for any small-business owner. But more than that, small entrepreneurs need to remain resilient in the face of setbacks. Inevitably, your business will face failure and rejection. A small-business owner needs to have the resources necessary to pick themselves up and begin again.
Communication is crucial for a successful business: both between your business and the consumer, but also within your business, including partners, investors, prospects, and peers. A small-business leader needs to be able to develop a clear brand identity, remain consistent in their message, and communicate effectively within a team. All of this combined makes communication vitally important for any small-business owner.
How Do I Become an Entrepreneur?
Interested in becoming an entrepreneur, but not sure where to start? In addition to a college degree and developing the skills and aptitudes already mentioned, here are a few tips to get yourself launched in business with the greatest chance for success.
Discover What Interests You Most About Business
It’s common for aspiring entrepreneurs to have some sense of why they want to go into business, but perhaps no clear vision for what that business might entail. When you consider your options, be sure to evaluate not only if it can be successful, but whether it’s something you’re passionate about and can maintain a certain level of interest in over the long haul.
Plan Your Education
Once you settle on a direction, it’s time to consider your education. Will you need to be educated in the specific business you’re interested in, or can your education be more broad-based in business itself? Or perhaps you have all the education you need to get started, and no college degree is required.
Begin Planning Your Business
Your business concept is only the first step in planning your business. Once your idea is clear in your mind, additional planning steps include targeting your ideal customer, including their age, gender, and socio-economic status. You’ll also need to begin networking to gain a foothold in your market as well as find team members with the skills required to accomplish your goals.
You will also need to develop a marketing strategy and draw up plans to reach investors and find funding.
In conclusion, becoming a successful entrepreneur requires a lot more hard work and dedication than what we can mention here. But build on these fundamentals, and you’ll be well on your way to a long and fruitful career owning a small business of your very own — one of the most rewarding and fruitful careers available.