It took 14 years of school for Dr. René Caissie to earn his medical degree, but he admits now that he wishes he had stayed a little longer to learn the business side of things.

“If I could go back in time, I would say ‘let’s go back for another year or two to get an MBA,'” he says.

A business degree certainly could have better prepared him to navigate the medical device industry he was launched into when he began creating his own reusable masks at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back then, he wasn’t thinking about starting a business — he just wanted to help his frontline colleagues who were dealing with a frightening shortage of personal protective equipment.

Months later, Dr. Caissie is now the CEO of Dorma Filtration, the company he founded to manufacture his own line of injection-molded, Canadian-made, reusable masks for healthcare providers.

If you are just starting a business, like Dr. Caissie, you may not have the time or resources for an MBA to gain your business know-how. Annie Boivin, a Tax and Estate Planner at TD Wealth, and Eric Partee, Account Manager, Small Business at TD, offer these helpful ideas for entrepreneurs who want to improve their business acumen:

1) Assemble a solid team

“To support your project, to help grow your business, and to help you realize success, it can help to have a panel of qualified financial and business professionals,” says Boivin. Most businesses need financing, accounting help and good tax advice, and having a good team may help you become profitable faster and keep more of your money at tax time. “Find your trusted advisors and make sure they have an extensive overview of your entire situation,” says Boivin. And, she says, don’t forget to ask lots of questions and seek out information as much as possible.

2) Research your industry

Understanding the industry you’re operating in is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner, and there are many free resources online that detail economic outlooks and trends across different businesses. “Knowing where your industry is headed when it comes to new developments or technology enhancements will help prevent your business from becoming outdated and left behind,” says Partee. He also recommends paying close attention to your competition, their strengths and, just as importantly, where they may be falling behind. This can help a business owner to identify the niche that their business fits into, and potentially uncover an under-served client base.

3) Continue your education

You don’t need a MBA but many community or local organizations offer affordable introductory business classes outside of regular business hours. Gaining a working knowledge of basic business principles (e.g. accounting, human resources, leadership) may pay dividends over the long term. “Having a basic knowledge of accounting, for example, will enable you to better converse with your accountant,” says Partee. “It would enable you to ask relevant questions and better strategize your business growth.”

4) Grow your network

Formal and informal networking can be a boon to any new business owner and many business associations exist across the country where you can meet fellow business owners and entrepreneurs. “These associations can be a source of knowledge where a new business owner may glean advice from those who have already been there,” says Partee. He adds that you may also work your networks for referrals to trustworthy professionals, such as accountants and lawyers, which your business may require.

5) Plan and Protect

Starting a business comes with a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It can be important to plan for the possibility of downturns, as well as a time when you may be unable to run the business. “Putting partnership agreements in place, making business contingency plans, revising your personal estate plan and having powers of attorney can be done early on in a business,” says Boivin. “If you don’t have these in place when the time comes, your hard work could go down the drain.” Again, good advisors can help you to determine what you need. Keep in mind that this planning is fluid and can change, so ensuring you update these plans on a regular basis is also important.

You don’t need a business degree to start a business. You need to ask questions, be surrounded by professionals in different areas and hopefully you can learn from them in the process.

– Denise O’Connell, MoneyTalk Life