As a business owner, you’ve probably found that you face a unique double whammy: running a successful company day in and day out while simultaneously keeping up with the times. The thought of managing your business while also constantly feeding your knowledge base can be overwhelming.
To stay competitive and ensure your business can not only survive, but also thrive, you need to have the right tools and knowledge. To that end, it’s possible that going back to school and getting an MBA or other advanced degree will enable you to achieve your ultimate business goals. And similarly, it’s possible that not doing so will limit your opportunities, depending on what you want for your business.
The good news is that it is possible to manage the dual challenge of owning a business while pursuing an advanced degree with the right commitment, dedication and time management. Working by day, and then getting an MBA or other graduate degree by night, can be an effective way to build your business while building your future.
Understand the “Why”
The first and most important step is to ask yourself, “Why earn a graduate degree when you already own a business?” Pursuing a graduate degree requires serious dedication, and unless you understand what’s truly motivating you to make that commitment, you may find yourself questioning your decision at the first sign of difficulty.
- Is it a requirement for you to advance your business to where you want to take it? For example, the additional credibility in your industry from having an MBA may be the difference between getting good clients and great ones. Other entrepreneurs may be in the same boat, facing identical pressures and decisions. Talk with them and form a “support group” through the dual lifestyle process. Learn how others balance the application process, work, and their personal lives.
- Is it for a business pivot? You may be a superstar in your current role, but would rather that the company evolve to focus in different areas. In that case, look at the end objective: a change in direction. Decide to pivot your business. Perhaps you offer services now, but you are aiming to transform your firm into a software company. This type of foresight can fuel you through a dual lifestyle in which you still own your own business, but one that looks very different in the future.
- Regardless of your specific, intended direction, are there other benefits? Networks, friends and colleagues are valuable resources that can come out of an MBA program. New people can lead to new business ideas, and well connected people can make life-changing introductions for you down the road (and hopefully you will do the same for others). But while you’re forming these crucial relationships, keep an eye on how you’re spending your time. Will you be too busy with work and school to add more people to your life? Will you have any time to nurture your relationships? Can you balance new organizations and networking opportunities with your current obligations?
Weigh the Costs vs. Benefits
One approach to getting a graduate degree while still managing your business is to look purely at the numbers. What are your expected earnings for the next 10 to 20 years if you don’t return for a master’s? Estimate this number, and then compare it to the cost of an advanced degree, including tuition, any lost income, and expected post-grad earnings. You can account for higher potential company revenue after you acquire the degree, assuming the new knowledge and connections you made are leveraged in full.
Quite a few classmates of mine from the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley received significant income bumps after graduation. Though many are still paying off loans, they’ll ultimately be in much better financial situations than if they had not received their MBAs.
Another approach is to be more holistic, which is how I personally analyzed getting my MBA. Ask yourself, “What type of work will make me happy over the next 10 to 20 years? Am I currently in an ideal position for that?”
If not, what’s the likelihood that graduate school will put you closer to your pursuit? If it will move you closer, then do it! If you are already fully satisfied with your business, are not looking to change it significantly nor feel the need to reboot your knowledge base, then perhaps the degree will only distract you from building your business to the fullest. Income is important, but satisfaction, quality of life and adherence to your goals is much more so.
Learn to Study Efficiently
With the pervasiveness of the Internet, the best preparation offerings for the GMAT and GRE are now online. They’re ideal for studying while also holding down a full-time job, as online offerings are accessible anywhere and are much more affordable than classes or tutors. I recommend services that stand by their content, provide an interactive way to practice, and offer video, so you actually learn from an expert. Some of the better services will even provide tutor-like support, essentially giving you access to high-quality tutors without an hourly fee.
Find out what students in the past year used, and try it yourself. Also, think about following a study plan for three to six months. With organization, good resources, and a plan of action, the idea of studying for graduate school exams can be much less intimidating when it comes to your schedule (and sanity).
If nothing else, head to Amazon.com and select three books on time management. Read them cover to cover, and then decice on a time management system that’s realistic and personalized to your dual lifestyle.
If, after considering the “Why?” and the costs vs. benefits, you decide a master’s is for you, you’ll find that it can also make for a great ride. In grad school, I met amazing people to whom I’ll stay connected for years to come, building a network that I didn’t think possible prior to business school. My journey – and the support of my classmates and school – gave me the confidence to leave my consulting job and start a company. The value of that has been immeasurable.