It’s that time of year when supermarket aisles are stocked with No. 2 pencils, protractors and loose-leaf paper, and kids everywhere are squeezing in the last hours of summer freedom. However, they aren’t the only ones who should be thinking about going back to school. Chances are the business landscape has changed drastically since you last set foot in a classroom, and your skill set may not be serving your company as well as it once did. When should you dust off that backpack and spend some time in school? We have a quiz to help you decide if you need to hit the books to boost your business skills. (No need for test anxiety; there are only three questions).
Q: Are you missing something (or someone)?
Examine your strengths: is there a hole in your entrepreneurial toolbox? Perhaps you’re a rock star at sales, but when you think about a marketing plan, you draw a blank. Maybe you can work up advertising contracts in your sleep, yet knowing how to motivate your team is a challenge. A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree can provide that essential layer that’s missing in order to build your business and move it to the next level—as well as increase your personal credibility as an industry leader.
However, keep in mind that an MBA can be a serious financial commitment. Financing what can amount to a six-figure tuition tab is perhaps the prime consideration when evaluating how to refresh your skills. Also to consider: the return on investment (ROI). Articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Economist detail why an advanced degree may not carry the same weight in the workplace as it used to. So, before taking on student loan debt or using business revenue to pay hefty tuition costs, compare other, less expensive methods to hone your specific skill set with the benefits of an MBA.
David Filipi, CEO of the custom breakfast granola mix company MixMyOwn.com, suggests that small business owners look not only at their own skills, but also at the skill set of those they work with. “If I don’t have enough knowledge about my business in a certain specialized area, do I have somebody to help me with that in my company?,” says Filipi. “If yes, then I ask myself: ‘Will he or she always be here?’”
If your answer is “no”, it might be a smart idea for you to become more well-rounded by going back to school or seeking out resources that can help you add certain skills. “I knew I wanted to start my own company, but I decided not to go back to school because I like to learn ‘on the go’,” says Filipi. “You can gain knowledge in different ways. Buy some good books and tap into networking opportunities.”
It’s what you always dreamed: your business is taking off, your customer base is expanding daily, partnerships and orders from around the world are pouring in. In this exciting time, you and your team are encountering new companies, systems, and even cultures. Why would you need to head back to school? An additional degree or even certificate may be vital to maintain that growth, whether it’s learning a new language or gaining insight into larger corporate structures.
K.G. Scheessele, executive vice president of the entrepreneurial professional services firm Mastering Business Development, Inc., went back to get her MBA 14 years after starting a company with her husband, at the point when it was thriving. “Since I didn't have an undergrad business background, the MBA education helped me greatly,” she explains. “I gained a better understanding of the problems facing large corporations we had as clients. Many of my classmates worked for big companies as well, so interaction with them also gave me insights into their world from their perspective.”
Q: How will you fit school into your already too-busy schedule?
For almost every entrepreneur, time is a precious commodity. From getting up early to tackle emails at 4:30 a.m. to rescheduling three virtual meetings to make it to your kid’s baseball game, there is zero room on your calendar for one more thing. So how might you handle the work-school balance?
Before you consider jumping into a full-time MBA program, figure out how going back to school will impact your business and personal life. Unless you envision that degree from an Ivy League school making a huge change in your company’s future, you may want to rethink what kind of formal refresher you actually need. Many higher education institutions offer flexible schedules, weekend or evening courses, and truncated “Executive MBA” programs that allow you to better balance running your company and being a student. (Organizations such as the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and the U.S. Small Business Administration have information on many courses and educational programs aimed specifically at small business owners.)
Teana McDonald, president of the social media, PR and marketing firm Get It Done Divas, suggests developing a custom continuing education program that works within your business and personal life. “Most entrepreneurs have a certain mindset that places them ahead of the curve,” she says. “It's the drive to excel, succeed, and create the life that we want for ourselves.” For McDonald, that mindset drives her to attend several conferences a year, network with professionals in the field, read industry articles, and stay current on what's evolving in the industry. “If you commit to continuous learning and self-improvement,” she notes, “there’s no need to go back to school. It's good for some, not for all.”
So, how’d you do on the quiz? Just like the educational path to success, there is no right answer. But asking these questions can help you grade how well your skills are helping your company. If you didn’t make an A, heading back to school can move you—and your business—to the top of the class.