|

I make six figures with no MBA and taught myself how to run a business

| payday

This story requires our BI Prime membership. To read the full article, simply click here to claim your deal and get access to all exclusive Business Insider PRIME content.

  • Shanna Goodman is the creator of Ampersand Business Solutions, a brand strategy agency that helps businesses identify the unique value they can provide to their unique set of customers.
  • She considered getting her MBA to help launch her career, but decided against it and pursued a free graduate assistantship in mass communications instead.
  • To make up for not attending business school, she pieced together her own "DIY" MBA, which included reading popular business books like "Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works" and taking online classes on edX and Udemy.
  • After having spent under $400 for her "education," Goodman went on to help hundreds of small business owners over the last 15 years and make a six-figure salary.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

An elite MBA is an expensive endeavor, and one that may or may not pay off in the long run. 

A recent Wall Street Journal article states that applications to MBA programs at top institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT have declined at a steep rate in 2019. According to the WSJ, all of these schools reported larger year-over-year drops in business school applications, with this trajectory expected to continue as a result of student loan debt and international students hesitant to apply for fear of not being able to obtain work visas in the US after graduation. 

I'm one of the people who, after careful consideration, chose to opt out of an MBA. After working in business development and marketing for years, I now own a successful brand strategy agency, making six figures and helping businesses identify the unique value they can provide to their unique set of customers. Here's why I decided against business school, and how I managed to replace a degree with my own kind of specialized learning.

I hadn't necessarily been considering an elite MBA, but when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life in my twenties, it seemed like an MBA would help me connect some dots in terms of my personal interests and skill set. 

I'd like to say that from the beginning I knew exactly what I wanted to do and charted a clear, efficient path for myself. But that's not what happened. I studied psychology in college at Kansas State University, took a job as a case manager for a teen pregnancy program, and then was accepted into a graduate program for mass communications at the University of Central Missouri — with a graduate assistantship that waived my tuition. 

Prior to accepting the assistantship for my graduate program, I'd looked into some MBA programs, both online and in the city where I was living (Kansas City). From what I could gather, it seemed that it would be a very costly venture — an investment in the $50,000 to $80,000 range for a two-year program completed locally at a state university. I was on the fence when I became aware of the graduate assistantship opportunity. (In my research for MBAs, I'd also broadened my search into media production and mass communications.) 

After being accepted into the mass communications graduate program, I couldn't justify paying for an MBA, even an online MBA, if I could get an MA for free. So, that's what I did, thinking I could fill in the blanks later. Books, library resources, and online classes helped me acquire the equivalent of an MBA, DIY-style.

I estimate my spending was under $400 on resources for my DIY MBA over several years. 

The first book I read in this process was "The 10-Day MBA: A Step-By-Step Guide To Mastering The Skills Taught In America's Top Business Schools" by Steven Silbiger, which had categories on marketing, ethics, accounting, organizational behavior, quantitative analysis, finance, operations, economics, and strategy. These categories helped me define resources to seek out, specifically books (which I estimate I spent $120 on in all) and online courses. My favorite books include "The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy Into Action" by Dr. Robert Kaplan of Harvard University and Dr. David Norton, "Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works" by A.G. Lafley, and "The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" by Michael Gerber.

Over the years, I audited (for free) online courses from Harvard, Yale, and Cornell on entrepreneurship, behavioral economics, business strategy, and game theory on edX. I listened to a couple of The Great Courses on economics and history, which cost $84, or $14 a month for six months. I also took classes on NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming, which is a psychological approach that involves analyzing strategies of thought, language, and pattern of behavior to get inside the mind of your customer), entrepreneurship, and business coaching from a variety of instructors on Udemy, spending at max $50. 

Two years of Toastmasters, which cost me $130 and included learning manuals, pushed me out of a nervous panic over public speaking, which I felt was necessary to communicate effectively. I forced myself to prepare and deliver at least one speech per month for two years, which was painful, but it got easier. 

And for hands-on accounting training I used Lynda for free with my library card.

The specific elements I studied on my own helped me fine tune business development and brand strategy for small businesses. I've helped hundreds of small business owners over the last 15 years, and my unique approach to my "MBA" education helped me identify unconventional ways to apply the various things I'd learned. And I'm always learning. Because it helps me do my job better. 

I heard a business coach years ago ask the question: "What does it take to be successful? Knowledge? Then why aren't all people with PhDs rich?" That made an impact on me. 

So, what's the key to knowledge, from my experience? Action and application. It's the application of knowledge that separates the PhDs from the successful entrepreneurs. 

More: BI Prime Strategy Prime Negotiable Deal inline

It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.