How to Become a Small Business Manager

Small business managers support local economies. Learn how to pursue and grow your career in small business management.

portrait of Tessa Cooper
by Tessa Cooper

Published August 29, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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How to Become a Small Business Manager
Image Credit: Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images


Small businesses add character and provide important services to communities. These businesses need qualified individuals to oversee day-to-day operations and manage employees and inventories. Small business managers must know how to balance multiple job responsibilities and possess strong communication and problem-solving skills.

Becoming a small business manager typically requires a combination of work experience and a bachelor's degree. Self-motivated people typically thrive in this career. Keep reading to learn how to pursue and grow your career in small business management.

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What Does a Small Business Manager Do?

Small Business Manager Responsibilities

Most small business owners give managers limited responsibilities initially. As managers gain more experience, they gain more responsibilities. These professionals learn the basics of nearly every business process. With the foundational knowledge they gain, they can pursue other careers.

Some small business managers go on to open a business of their own. Others may shift to a different business career. They may do so by earning an MBA or a master's degree in a specific business sector, like marketing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the need for management occupations to increase by 9% between 2020 and 2030.

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What Are the Steps to Become a Small Business Manager?

Becoming a small business manager requires time, money, and motivation. However, people who enjoy contributing to the local business economy may find this career rewarding. This section outlines the steps to take before you land your first management job. It also notes potential next steps for further career growth.

Step 1: Earn an Associate Degree in Small Business Management

Aspiring business managers can begin pursuing their career goals with an associate degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), learners spent approximately $11,390 on their two-year degrees for the 2019-20 school year.

This degree only takes full-time learners about two years to finish. Additionally, many community colleges offer affordable programs. An associate degree allows learners to explore a career path before committing to a longer or more expensive degree.

Common associate majors for this career include management, entrepreneurship, general business, or small business. Related majors that focus on one aspect of business, like accounting or marketing, can also benefit future small business managers. Small business owners may want to hire managers for one business niche, so a specialized undergraduate degree may help.

These degrees cover the basics. Learners discover how to apply their knowledge in practical applications. Some small business managers may earn their position through years of experience rather than through a formal degree.

Step 2: Get an Entry-Level Small Business Management Job

Some entry-level small business management jobs may only require an associate degree. For example, recent associate graduates can earn jobs as assistant managers. Some assistant managers even start a part-time bachelor's degree program.

After working as assistant managers for one to two years, learners can start applying for more advanced management jobs. Or, they may decide to quit and attend school full time to finish a bachelor's degree.

When looking for an entry-level position, learners should look for positions with competitive pay or perks like flexible time off policies. According to data accessed in July 2022 from Payscale, business managers with less than one year of experience earn an average of $52,000.

Alternatively, some people may choose to pursue an internship or complete a mentorship program to gain even more knowledge. A bridge program may also better equip aspiring small business managers with limited experience.

Step 3: Earn Your Bachelor's Degree in Business

A bachelor's degree in business may prepare learners for more advanced or higher paying small business management positions. However, it may also give professionals the credentials they need to start their own business or pursue a management job at a larger business.

Earning a bachelor's degree in business requires research, creative thinking, and strong communication skills. People in this field commonly pursue majors like business management, business leadership, international business, or finance. Employers typically value subjects that relate to general business or niche business areas.

According to the NCES, learners attending four-year institutions spent an average of about $28,780 for the 2019-20 school year.

Step 4: Get a Job as a Small Business Manager

After earning a bachelor's degree, learners can begin applying for management positions at small businesses. Professionals pick up many of the hard skills required for this career through on-the-job experience. When applying for jobs, applicants should look for jobs that match their qualifications and offer opportunities for growth.

Some mid-sized businesses may hire managers that focus on one area. Common specializations include:

According to August 2022 data from Payscale, these professionals earn an average of about $64,000 per year. People with 10-19 years of experience in this field earn the most, with an average yearly salary of $70,000.

Step 5: Earn Your Master's Degree in Business

A master's degree in small business management can prepare professionals for jobs with more autonomy and responsibilities. Common master's degree subjects for small business managers include entrepreneurship, business administration, business leadership, and project management. Many of these subjects are offered as concentrations of MBA programs.

Master's degrees blend a combination of theoretical and practical learning. Learners read through business case studies and use critical thinking to engage in classroom discussions.

A master's degree in business may also lead to higher income potential. According to July 2022 data from Payscale, people with a bachelor's degree in business earn an average of about $72,000. At the same time, people with a master's degree in business earn an average of about $92,000.

However, earning a master's degree may not suit everyone. Some individuals must go into debt to pay for higher education. According to the NCES, graduate students spent an average of $19,792 on tuition and fees during the 2019-20 school year.

Fortunately, there are alternative ways to expand your expertise. The next section outlines other continuing education options.

Step 6: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Every day, the business field continues to evolve. Fortunately, business professionals can pursue continuing education in different forms. For example, business professionals can join a professional organization that hosts conferences and webinars. Or, they can learn more about a business specialization like accounting or public relations through a certificate or certification program.

Learners interested in business research or teaching business on a collegiate level may consider a doctorate in business administration. Or, they can earn a second master's degree in a specialization, like an MBA in entrepreneurship.

What to Know Before Becoming a Small Business Manager

Accreditation

Before enrolling in any business program, pay attention to the school's accreditation status. In-person and online schools and programs can earn accreditation through a third-party agency. These agencies conduct quality assessments of the school. Business programs can earn accreditation through the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Cost

Learners should also consider the cost of pursuing this career. While tuition marks a major college expense, there are other hidden costs in both traditional and online programs. . Learners should budget money for books, supplies, and living expenses as well.

Some colleges offer more affordable programs than others. For example, schools may offer discounts for in-state or online students. Many schools and independent organizations also offer scholarships for business students.

Salary

Certain business management positions pay more than others. For example, the BLS reports that food and service managers earned a median income of $59,440 in May 2021. At the same time, compensation and benefits managers earned a median income of $127,530. Learners may want to pursue a specialization that leads to a salary that matches their desired lifestyle.

Other factors that influence salary include education level, experience, and location. The BLS reports that administrative services managers in California and Texas made the most in 2021, with mean annual wages of $115,290 and $106,130, respectively.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Small Business Manager

What qualifications do you need to become a small business manager?

Small business managers need on-the-job experience and education. On-the-job experience may look like an internship or a part-time job working as an assistant manager. Education also looks different for every small business manager. Some small business managers hold master's degrees, while others succeed with just a certificate in business.

Learners can earn additional qualifications while working as small business managers. For example, they may join professional networking organizations or hold a position on a nonprofit board. After earning more credentials, learners may apply for advanced management jobs at large corporations. Or they may choose to open their own small business and work towards franchising it.

What is the fastest way to become a small business manager?

Earning an associate degree while working part-time as an assistant manager is one of the fastest paths to a management position. However, some people may choose to complete additional education through an accelerated or self-paced online program. An accelerated bachelor's program may take less than three years to finish.

Some companies hire business managers with just a certificate in business, which takes less than a year to finish. These professionals may choose to attend school part time while they work full time. Or, they may earn promotions and never experience a need to pursue a formal degree.

How do I become a small business manager without a degree?

Obtaining a management job without a degree requires work experience. First, aspiring professionals can apply for business internships. These positions sometimes do not provide a salary. After working as an intern for a few months to a year, they can apply for entry-level positions. Sales associate or customer service positions rarely require a degree.

After working for multiple years in an entry-level role, a person may earn a promotion to assistant manager. Many employers prefer to hire candidates who have in-depth knowledge of the business.

Can I become a small business manager with an online degree?

Accredited online programs hold the same value as in-person programs. Additionally, earning an online degree shows future employers that you are motivated and can work independently. Online programs that follow an asynchronous format also make it easy to study while gaining on-the-job experience.

Online business programs sometimes require an in-person internship component. However, schools typically allow students to complete this internship in their own community. Students can also pursue a hybrid program if they want to attend some classes on campus.

How much money can I make as a small business manager?

The earning potential varies greatly in the small business management field. According to the BLS, managers earned a median wage of $102,450 in May 2021. Factors like position, employer, location, and years of experience play a role in salary.

For example, marketing managers who worked in the wholesale trade industry earned a median income of $103,030 in May 2021. However, the same professionals who worked in the information industry earned a median income of $163,360 during the same time frame. The mean salary for marketing managers also fluctuates depending on the state.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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