why business is like high school

Recently I was speaking with an MML reader and soon-to-be small business owner. Leading up to her business’ launch, she was worried about doing the right things to make sure her business was successful. Even though she knew social media, blogger outreach, blog ads, and sweat-equity were the keys to success, she felt more confident hearing me confirm these facts.

While thinking about the topic, I realized there are some great parallels between high school and small business marketing. Below I’ll explain how, just like in high school, we do a lot of the same things to meet new friends (customers) and create a positive reputation.

Do Your Homework

Take a look at the people you are going to school with (established small businesses). These are the upperclassmen and you can learn a lot from them. What draws you to some people (businesses) and not others? What aspects of their businesses do they do well?

How can you execute similar endeavors yet still be 100% authentic? Just like in school, cheating (copying) doesn’t pay. So make sure whatever you glean from other businesses is adapted in a unique way.

No one likes a copy-cat, but a little research can go a long way.

Become Friends with Your Lab Partner

Did you get paired with the super-talented future scientist (web designer, graphic designer…)? Make sure to have a positive connection with the people that help you create your new project (business). These people know you well now and can introduce you to other cool people (business connections). They can even lead you to your first sales.

These freelance people can also be great resources in the future as you grow and develop – don’t act too cool for school.

Join After School Activities

Let’s face it, some of our best times in school are actually on the field, on the stage, or in the club (conferences, trade shows, networking). By joining something that is already established you expose yourself to a variety of special resources and people that want you to succeed.

So make sure to get out there and mingle.

Don’t Skip Class

You take the time to schedule your elective classes (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) because they interest you. Make sure that you show up regularly to get the full benefit. Don’t look like a no-show to these commitments.

People can search your company on Google to find out more… only to find an abandoned social media profile. This then becomes a lasting impression of your company. Be memorable for being present and engaged.

Drop outs have a hard time making (Twitter, Facebook) friends.

Comb Your Hair

Though we don’t have to have the absolute latest fashions (technology) on our sites, we do need to realize that people feel more comfortable doing business with people who have clean, well-kept, organized, and up-to-date sites. If your homepage hasn’t been updated in months… it smells a little stale.

Freshen things up with new marketing or products to keep people coming back for more… more frequently.

And Most importantly… Stay in School

More than any single activity above, the ability to start your business and keep building it will earn you a great reputation over time. What you see from Jess LC is the result of consistent effort online for the past two years (and twelve years of jewelry business experience).

Though there are always a few freshman that manage to steal the show right away (like Emersonmade’s incredibly quick and awesome rise to success), most people become known through years of consistently showing up. Heavy-hitters like Oh Joy started blogging in 2005 and Sea of Shoes began in 2007. They have been building their reputation and success over several years.


So there you have it. Just like in high school there are many aspects to having a positive business experience and gaining a worthwhile education.

Be a good student and get involved.

This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. Pooja

    I love your comment about exposing yourself not just to a variety of resources, but also to “people that want you to succeed.”

    That last bit is so important, and it applies to everything in life- not just a business.

  2. This rings SO true! I was thinking something along the same lines just recently. I always wish I could go back and tell my high school self this stuff, but I sometimes forget to apply the same principles to my business pursuits now!

  3. Gina

    Fantastic analogies! Sadly, sometimes the bad side of high school shows up in business too – people being petty or negative towards competitors. Small businesses need each other – embrace each other and we all move forward!

  4. I love it! There is so much to be said about those tiny consistent details. Thanks for the reminders and the great analogy.

  5. Jen

    Thanks so much for posting this! I love the analogy and I am constantly trying to soak up as much as possible as I build my business.

  6. Girl I am being educated everytime I read this blog. Well written and very informative. Thanks for the info..I saw another link of yours that I am off to click before I forget.

  7. bethany

    The title of this post caught me off guard. My visceral reaction – dread. High school was not my favorite time. I was introverted, insecure, and ignored for most of high school.
    However, I love your analogies – having read through them, it not only helps me understand designing a business with intention in a new light, but it also puts my high school self in perspective – if I had tried to be more outgoing instead of being intimidated, I might have been more successful at connecting with others. I’ve learned this in various degrees throughout college and now in the workforce and I’ve grown out of a lot of my shyness and insecurities, but they still linger. I still hear that voice in my head that I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough.
    Thanks for this!

  8. Jess

    @ Pooja: I totally agree, this whole list could really be applied to life!

    @ Marissa W: I’m happy to hear you’ll now be doing these things for your business, I think they will make a difference over time :).

    @ Gina: Definitely a good point.

    @ Heidi Lyn, Jen, and Jennifer: You are welcome!

    @ Tamara: I’m glad you like it!!

    @ Bethany: I sent you an email to respond properly to your comment :).

  9. claudia

    What a great post! This is so very very true. Staying in school, after school activities, and making friends is imperative. It will pay off!

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