I started my company with no experience at running a business. I have always worked for someone else. It was easier that way (i.e. – health insurance, salary, 401k, etc.). I studied engineering in college, so I worked in engineering. However, I longed to go into business for myself – with no experience and no training.
To learn the skills necessary for starting and running a company, I needed more than formulas and theories. I needed skills I could apply every day. I needed to learn marketing, sales, business development, critical thinking, capital management and personnel management. Going back to school for an MBA would cost approximately $50,000 / year, and I would lose any momentum my company had gained. I chose a simpler and cheaper route: the $3,968.42 MBA.
Although not a formal degree or certificate, I worked to learn many of the same marketing and management skills taught in a degree granting program. Here is how I did it.
- Drink Coffee – Full Disclosure: I don’t actually like coffee (Monster Energy drinks are my source of caffeine), but coffee meetings are a great way to meet people and learn. I meet with professionals who own their own businesses to learn how they do it. I go in with a list of prepared questions: How did they start their business? How did they get funding? How did they market their products or services? If you are respectful of people’s time, they will share this kind of information with you. This is also a great way to meet with prospective clients and qualify them as potential leads. If they don’t buy from you, they may be able to recommend you to a counterpart in their company. I normally attend 2 – 3 meetings / week at $7 / meeting. Cost: $1000 / year
- Read Everything – If there is anything you want to learn, you can find it in a book. When you read, you can teach yourself anything: math, physics, venture capital, digital marketing, sales, etc. The more I read, the more I realized what I didn’t know, so I read some more. I started reading blog posts and articles in the Wall Street Journal. The benefit to reading online is the recency of the information. I learned what A/B testing and conversion rates are by reading articles. When I didn’t understand something, I looked it up for additional understanding. I read at least 1 book and 3 magazines every month to keep myself current and make myself an expert in certain fields. Cost: $420 / year (books and magazine subscriptions)
- Listen Carefully – One of the best ways to learn is to close your mouth and listen to what people say. Three times per month I go to networking and social events to meet new people and listen to panel discussions. As these experts speak, I take notes and write down what they say. I know that a networking event is successful if my “listen to speak” ratio is about 3:1 (e.g. – I listen 3 times as much as I speak). My goal is not to impress them with my knowledge and business prowess. A successful entrepreneur once told me how he decided it was time to hire his first employee. Had I been talking instead of listening, I would have missed his suggestion. Cost to Listen: $0
- Educate Yourself – I used to attend conferences to get out of doing real work. Now, I attend 2 – 3 conferences per year on social media and mobile technology. They give me a chance to listen to thought leaders describe their insights and predictions. However, the best reason to attend is networking. I meet people from across the country (or world) who have written their own books. After 4 years of running my own company, I have gained a knowledge base and experience worthy of being a presenter at national conferences. Networking at these events is not a numbers game to grab as many business cards as possible. I focus my efforts on the people, companies and organizations who interest me the most and might provide future work. Cost: $2,500 / year (depends on conference and cost).
Adjusting for gas, tax and miscellaneous expenses, my total annual spend is approximately $3,968.42 per year on my “real world MBA.” The best part: most of the charges are tax deductible. The only letters after my name are MS (Masters of Science in Engineering), but through my company’s growth and development I gain expertise equivalent to a business degree earned at a 4-year institution. Furthermore I will never graduate because like most professions with advanced certifications I am always reading, expanding my skills, innovating my product and improving my knowledge base. This continuous training makes me more valuable to my clients and directly impacts my bottom line.
Scientifically Speaking, of course.