Degrees and Certificates Needed to Be a Business Owner

The success of your business may depend on one.

An older businesswoman smiles from her seat at a classroom desk.

Caiaimage/Tom Merton / Getty Images

Whether you dream of leading the next big tech start-up or you plan to take over the family-owned restaurant, becoming a business owner is a goal to which many would-be entrepreneurs aspire. Just as there are hundreds of types of businesses you can own, there are many paths to getting there. 

Required Education

Many business owners also provide the services sold in their business. A doctor, for example, may own their own clinic. If you visit an auto repair shop, you might see the owner under the cars as well. While it’s common for owners to be involved in such ways, this isn’t a mandatory requirement for entrepreneurs.

For this reason, there are no set educational requirements that an owner must meet. Being financially and legally responsible for a business doesn’t require you to have graduated from any university or be certified by a licensing agency—in most cases. You can have the business skills to own a medical clinic or auto repair shop and not provide the services personally. 

That said, states often require individuals to be licensed to perform work in specific professions, which may include everything from health professions to snow removal to barbers. Always check with your state licensing agencies to make sure you comply with those requirements.

While not required, it can be helpful to entrepreneurs to take classes, get a certificate, or pursue a general business degree. These programs give you a structured plan for learning more about the business world, and they can pair you with mentors and give you the practical experience you can later apply to your own company.

Degrees and Programs for Business Owners

It may be smart to get a certificate or degree in the industry you’ll be serving, especially if it is considered a skilled trade.  A food truck owner may benefit from getting a hospitality degree; an app creator could find guidance in a tech certificate program. Since there are no rules to what you must accomplish in post-secondary education, it may be helpful to ask others in the field what they have done.

Popular programs for accomplished entrepreneurs often include:

  • Business Law
  • Hospitality
  • Human Resources
  • Real Estate
  • Accounting

Other Ways to Learn

Learning a business takes time. It’s smart to look for opportunities outside the formal school or post-secondary education system for educational growth. Business owners may find the following to be just as useful in their learning:

  • Seminars and business webinars
  • Conferences and industry events
  • Mentoring programs
  • Clubs and business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce
  • Magazines, blogs, journals, books, and whitepapers
  • Interviews with seasoned professionals

Business owners who consider themselves “life-long learners” may be better suited to entrepreneurship than others.

Required Skills

Many professionals argue that experience is far more valuable than education. In business ownership, this holds much value. Growing up in your parent’s restaurant, watching them work, seeing recipes being created, and understanding the lingo of the business will likely prepare you far more for owning that restaurant than any course at a community college. You’re more likely to have developed the characteristics of a business owner when you’ve been thoroughly exposed to all that entails. 

Doing the work that your business provides gives you a feel for the nuances of the industry. You’ll understand the unique challenge of that niche. It’s something that can’t be taught in college. The skills most likely to help you succeed in business include:

  • Interpersonal skills, ability to work well with people of all backgrounds
  • Commitment and dedication to see your business succeed
  • An eye for detail and the ability to see when things need to be fixed or changed
  • Excellent writing, reading, and analytics skills
  • The ability to prioritize and manage time
  • Basic finance, bookkeeping, and business taxes 
  • Understanding of the markets, supply, and demand

Experience is not required to own a business, however. Many entrepreneurs learn on the job or hire outside consultants and talent to help them transition to ownership or even run the business for them. 

Career Outlook and Growth

How well your business does depends on many factors, including the market for your industry, your abilities as an owner, and the economy at large. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the future for an entrepreneur is bright, however. By one count, they project a 7.9%  growth rate by 2026, slightly more than the 7.4% rate projected for all workers. 

The average salary for a business owner was $32,020 in 2016. This number is for businesses of all sizes, and anyone who considers themselves to be self-employed fit into this number. (This includes those participating in the “gig economy.) A sole proprietor of a single service, such as a rideshare program, may not make as much as someone owning a large, nationally-recognized franchise. 

Like any job, your experience and earnings will vary. For skilled business owners, such as dentists, lawyers, and accountants, the annual average salary almost doubled to $60,000. This may show that, while not necessary for all business types, having at least some extra education may help business owners earn more than their peers.