The Best Place to Learn How to Run a Business is Inside a Small Business

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Adapted from One More Customer by Fran Tarkenton and Scott Miller

I believe the very best place to get an education in how to run a successful small business is inside a small business—working for one or running one. In a small business, if you’re in accounting, you can probably see the marketing person across the room. If you’re in sales, you probably run into the shop or factory manager at the coffee machine every morning. They’re not in another building, another division, or another country, like they might be in big business. In the accounting department of a huge corporation, on the other hand, you could tee up a ball and whack a 325-yard drive and never hit anyone but an accountant.

In a small business you have an enormous educational opportunity—if you use it. When most people start a new business, they’ll think, “I need an accountant, a distribution manager, a sales person, and someone to run manufacturing and development.”

But the best small businesses are run by people who think, “I need to learn accounting, distribution, sales, and manufacturing and development.”

In big businesses, we hear that the best training ground for successful managers might be McKinsey (the big management consultancy), GE, or PepsiCo. But I still believe that a small business provides the very best all-around training ground in every discipline of business. Getting one of those disciplines wrong in a small business is a fatal mistake, while managers in big companies seem to be able to survive huge snafus. Look at it this way: very few big businesses have been able to create successful small businesses. But every big business began at some point as a small business. Learning by doing is a wonderful—and essentialthing for becoming a successful small business person.

As you grow your business, it’s very likely you’ll decide to hire a professional accountant or book keeper, a distribution or sales professional, and experienced help in manufacturing and development. In the meantime, learn it.

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.