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Do You Need an MBA to Succeed in Business?

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many people in the business world can rattle off a list of well-known, highly successful dropouts: Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs among them. But many people also believe those entrepreneurs are the few exceptions to a rule that requires an extensive business background to maximize chances of success.

Certain studies back up that assumption too. According to one, 84% of businesses started by MBA graduates are still operating after three years, which may make many aspiring entrepreneurs think they need an MBA to succeed. But is that really true? 

MBAs may be inaccessible or undesirable to many aspiring entrepreneurs. Luckily, there are many examples that show you can still succeed in the business world without one. 

Alternative pathways to success

After graduating from a biomedical science academy, I earned my bachelor’s in English and started my business the week after graduation while applying to graduate school. In lieu of an MBA, I opted for a corporate and public communication masters program that allowed me to take business classes and mingle with the MBA students, but also focus on writing and even take some tech classes (including a class that included VR education). I was also able to learn about business while in business and school. Sometimes, I would even use school assignments for my business. For example, in a media class, I made ads that I then used in my business online.

I then earned my doctorate in literature to cement my writing skills. Post graduation, I constantly improve my skills through certification programs like WBENC’s WeThrive certification program and HarvardX classes. I chose this path because it allowed me to learn about more than just business and to get a well-rounded understanding of the industries I wanted to be in. 

Related: Does an MBA Make You a Better Entrepreneur?

You don’t need a doctorate or even master’s to be successful. Prior work experience and certifications are other alternative options to an MBA. A good example of this is Erin Woodward, who earned her bachelor’s in finance and then used real-world experience working in the financial services and medical industries to gain valuable skills before entering the skincare and body-contouring industries. Routinely educating yourself on new trends and consumer needs can be the difference between struggling to stay afloat or remaining successful in the long run.

Higher-education programs and experiential-learning opportunities can teach many of the skills you would learn during an MBA program, such as leadership, communication, critical thinking and analytical skills. You do not necessarily need an MBA or a university degree to be a successful business owner, but you can always return to school at any point in your career to earn a degree if you choose to. If you decide to work for another company before starting your own, some companies will help with the overall cost of earning an MBA.

How do you manage all that needs to be done in a business while learning?

Entrepreneurs can always learn new skills as they continue their entrepreneurial journey, but having seasoned veterans in marketing or finances can help set you up for success while you are still learning. It is easier to have a support network than taking on the overwhelming stress of doing everything yourself. Asking for help or outsourcing specific tasks is not shameful but rather a helpful way to give your business the best chance of success

Related: Why a Blog Gets You Further Than an MBA

How do you manage uncertainty?

Planning ahead can help manage some of the anxiety and uncertainty around starting a business. Brainstorming the best-case and worst-case scenarios and what to do during them prepares you and lets you know what to expect. Have others in your team or support network help brainstorm possible scenarios and solutions. An extra set of eyes can help ensure you do not overlook small details in your business. 

You can be your own worst problem or solution. You can choose to be the solution and believe in your skills to successfully manage anything.

Related: Get an MBA Alternative From an Award-Winning Business Professor

There are many organizations that regularly allow you to improve your craft online for free from the SBA to WBENC to HarvardX or sites like Udemy that have courses for the price of a few cups of coffee. These in conjunction with real-world experience can be just as fruitful as an MBA. It is what you make of your experiences and knowledge. There is no one-size-fits-all in business.

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