Many, if not most, students balance their work commitments during their master’s education by simply quitting or reducing their work responsibilities, but what if that’s not an option? For many entrepreneurs and small business owners, returning to school to pursue an advanced degree is a necessary step to growing their business, but putting that business on hold for one to two years simply isn’t feasible. Whether it’s to maintain momentum or simply a matter of needing the income, many entrepreneurs are returning to school while also juggling significant work responsibilities. This is a considerable challenge given the high-intensity environment of top-tier MBA programs. So, how do these intrepid student business owners do it? The key is balance, which means having a clear-eyed view of the challenges facing individuals seeking to both return to school and continuing to run their business and understanding the resources available to those who are taking on this intensive, but rewarding journey.
With this in mind, in this article, we’ll examine a few areas where this balance requires particular attention: money, time, and energy. Finally, we’ll look at the resources available for small business owners seeking business education. Please note that this guide was written with small business owners who’ve had operations in place for 2+ years in mind – although startup entrepreneurs may also find helpful tips within.
Money: Making Your Degree Work for You
With the cost of a college education rising every year, and business expenses unlikely to shrink during your time back in school, student entrepreneurs are rightly concerned with how to foot the bill for an advanced degree. Thankfully, there are several specialized scholarships available only to entrepreneurs. Not all scholarships are made equal, so you’ll want to focus solely on the ones that apply to you. The first major distinction in these entrepreneurship-focused scholarships is that some are targeted exclusively at students who plan on starting a business after university, rather than those who already have, and vice versa.
It should be noted, however, that previous business experience is always a competitive asset when applying for these grants. The second significant distinction in this category of scholarships is between undergraduate and graduate-level scholarships. Here are descriptions of three notable awards, but there are dozens more with differing restrictions on who can apply and varying amounts of funding that they provide, so start that research!
- AFCEA Young Entrepreneur Scholarship: The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) features a Young Entrepreneur Scholarship program providing $2,000 to students aged 40 or under who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree while employed by a small business.
- Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Scholarship: NYU’s Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation awards 40+ undergraduate scholarships providing $20K in tuition assistance to social entrepreneurship students who have or are planning to develop an innovative idea with a sustainable social impact.
- Dr. Denny Ko Future Entrepreneurs Scholarship: This scholarship comes courtesy of the Southern California Monte Jade Science & Technology Association (SCMJ), and awards up to $3K annually to Asian American and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs who are graduating high school seniors, full-time undergraduates, graduate students, or young professionals.
In addition to these grants, entrepreneurs can also take advantage of student discounts to help finance their businesses. These discounts include free general computer software, discounted specialized programs and online services courtesy of companies hoping to attract students, low cost/free printing, and access to school computers. Being a student offers numerous ways to save money on tech costs, which can be a significant expense for a small business.
Time: There’s Only 24 Hours in a Day
While money remains an important practical concern, perhaps the most challenging part of being an entrepreneurial student is managing to attend your classes, study, complete projects, and run your business at the same time. Running business refers to both real and digital life. The latter keeps on developing every day, and it needs to be studied carefully. There are digital marketing statistics and trends which are of great importance to consider to make success. After all, you’ll still have calls to make, problems to fix, employees to manage, and countless other responsibilities – and that’s not even taking into consideration your personal and family life.
The first step towards maintaining your sanity (and keeping your business afloat) is figuring out your priorities. What matters most to you: short-term profits or a high GPA? Do you have children or caregiver responsibilities? Are you seeking to spend significant time building a network through your MBA program, which could also keep you away from your business? Can you afford to offload some responsibilities by reducing your client load or new projects? Are you fine with slightly lower grades if you can learn what you need while maintaining your business’ momentum? Are you okay with spending an extra semester or two at school, and can you afford it? Only you can answer these questions, and the answers will point you towards the compromises you’ll have to make. In case the answers to those questions are positive, you may need an MBA consulting.
Once your priorities are established, you’ll need to focus on scheduling. If scheduled correctly, your life shouldn’t be a constant dash between class, studies, and work. Students have downtime that most professionals don’t, and you can use that time to focus on your business. Try to schedule a class on certain days, with others reserved for your business, and others for studying. Additionally, don’t forget to block out time for family and self-care. There’s no sense in pursuing a degree to help your business if you’re too burnt out to absorb what you’re at business school to learn.
Finding the Energy to Do It All
This leads us to an important point: the best-laid plans can be ruined if you don’t have realistic expectations of what you’re able to accomplish within a specific timeframe. Sure, you can work 70 hours a week… but for how long? What happens when you can’t maintain this grueling schedule? Wouldn’t it be more realistic to admit that fatigue is real and that you’ll need time to recharge? On the one hand, the commitment you want to make requires significant willpower.
On the other hand, prioritizing mental health is a vital element of your academic and professional success, and saying you’ll “power through it” isn’t always a viable option. Our suggestion is to seek healthy ways to keep your energy levels high and to maintain focus. If you’re a gym rat, make sure you don’t start missing those workouts. If you’re into yoga, find time to hit those classes – but only if they recharge you, not if they’re an obligation. Finally, meditation is a free way to unwind, but this practice requires blocking out time and space. The important thing is to listen to the needs of your mind and body and react accordingly.
Conclusion: Using Your Resources
Use these tips, and you should be in great shape when it comes to pursuing your educational and professional dreams simultaneously. We have one final tip: use the resources available to you as both a student and an entrepreneur. Leverage those student discounts for your business, and leverage your business contacts to contribute to your academic life. Studying as a business owner is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to take your professional life to the next level.
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