What I Learned from Business School that has Translated to the Real World

A Former BSBA Student's Experience

To give you a little background... after a couple years of wavering back and forth and dabbling in all the various introductory and elective courses at the accredited university I was attending, I finally decided it was about time I settled in on a major and begin to pick a career path. I was initially really enjoying and intrigued by the prospect of becoming a writer, but the reality of relatively low wages and a difficult job market swayed me away from that course. I also thought about chasing a doctorate in Psychology for awhile as well but decided I really didn't want to get that focused on one area and not sure I could deal with other people's problems everyday either. After some careful analysis of all my options, I ultimately decided it was business that was my calling because it applied to so many different areas of both society and business, and I also knew that was probably the best course of action if I was ever really going to chase my number one dream, which was to become a successful entrepreneur at some point down the road. If you're interested in a trade visit Technical and Vocational Career Outlook for additiona resources and information.

I started off with a focus in management, and while it was very beneficial, I quickly realized that seemed a bit more for the corporate types who really wanted to manage departments and work for the really large companies. Since I didn't quite fit that mold, I switched it up to marketing and was on my way towards a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing.

Some of the most beneficial experiences I had from my years in business school were obtained through classes that basically involved working in a consulting capacity for real clients. This not only introduced me to business communications, presentations, prioritizing, and fiscal responsibilities, but how to diplomatically deal with client relationships, and the importance of keeping your customers happy.

One basic example was my Market Research class, 1/3 of our grade was based off of a survey the business school was contracted to do for an accounting firm that specialized in accounting for dairy farms. The project involved creating a survey for approximately 100 dairy farms, a creative call to action, and overall analysis of the data in a useful fashion that would help the client to better understand all the targets in their market and how to best approach and serve them.

Another example, and one of the more beneficial ones, was for a senior level Marketing Projects class. The class was broken up into a number of small groups of four people and each group had a real local business that was interested in something marketing related, such as expanding to new markets, opening new branches, conducting surveys, industry research, and so forth. My group had a small computer store with about 10 employees in nearby city that had a desire to open a new office solely focused on computer training. The owner had pretty high aspirations and estimations on the annual revenue and profit this new venture was going to produce but he wanted a feasibility analysis performed to make certain it was the right move. This time around the project was for 50% of the class grade so slacking was not an option, and it was exciting for most of us anyway so that wasn't a problem.

On the surface everything sounded great and the client's new training center should be an overwhelming success. Yet, we still spent countless hours researching all the secondary market research we could find using the usual suspects from the library, Lexis-Nexis, and a little bit on the Internet (which was only just getting started at that time unfortunately). Financial analysis was performed using historical data and all sorts of industry ratios we had learned about in class. We even decided to take it up a notch and interviewed all of the local competition as prospective students to get some primary market research to kick into the mix.

In the end, it turned out this great sounding opportunity probably was not going to be everything the client was hoping for, at least not in the short time period he was planning on, and nowhere near the ROI he wanted. His market was one of the most competitive in the country for that type of business, and within an hours drive, the main metropolis for our state happened to be the most competitive with the most per capita training centers in the country and only a few big ones were thriving. Because of our findings, we of course had to make an even more concerted effort to map everything out in a very detailed and well documented fashion (ie. 30 page report), and then give an hour long presentation on those findings, and our ultimate recommendations to the owner, the seniors in the marketing department, and all the marketing faculty at the school. We were concerned because most everyone thought that seemed like such a great idea, but ultimately all the attendees at the presentation were incredibly impressed with the results, and needless to say the owner held off and we got an A on the project!

The reason I give all that detail above is not so much nostalgia, albeit a bit of course, but more to show everything that went into that project. Since that time I have used a number of those skills and experiences in everything I deal with in my business career today. I've performed additional feasibility analysis for multiple clients, and my own business ventures, since that time. I also continue to use market research as the foundation for making decisions and developing marketing plans. And, I have been dealing with customers and clients on many occasions and routinely have to give them information they do not necessarily want to hear. While I try to keep that to a minimum, it happens, and as long as you can back it up with sound information and analysis it ultimately makes everyone much happier in the long run.

While I've been rambling a bit here, and could go on for hours and hours with more examples in fact, I should probably sum up some key points before I bore you to death. So, here's the Key Things I took away from Obtaining my Business Degree:

  • Good to have knowledge of basic business principals in all functional areas
  • Planning & Budgeting are critical for larger companies but not always a necessary ingredient for success in small business. I've worked for all sizes of companies and consulted for many, and I must say that most small businesses do not take the time to build a proper business plan, or a complete marketing plan. Those that do definitely have an edge up but a plan alone does not assure success.
  • Basic and advanced Market Research skills benefit you in all areas of business. At least some level of Market Research should be done before making any plans and/or developing campaigns, and it's useful to know how to track
  • Presentation Skills are more critical than you think, even if you're not doing power points in your daily job, if you don't learn how to present an argument and get your key point across to your audience you will never make it to the next level
  • Business Communications skills are key, learning how to communicate quickly and to the point will aide you in almost every business situation or environment
  • You never know when you may be able to use some of your skills to make more money, I can't even begin to get into the number of things I've done for clients and have been paid for that I originally learned how to do in business school.
  • A degree by itself is meaningless, soak up everything you can from your business courses and be ready to put that to use and work hard
  • If you can go to a business school that offers at least some hands-on work for actual clients then do it!
  • If you can go to a school that has professors who are successful business people themselves, that is another great plus.
  • A standard Business Degree is only the foundation, it's real-world experiences when you get to put your newfound knowledge into play in the business world that count the most. It's when dollars and cents, the company's future, and your job are at stake that you truly realize how beneficial that education can be.

The list above could be expanded exponentially with all kinds of details because I truly have used a great deal of what I originally learned from business school about 10 years ago. Since that time, I've worked from being a marketing assistant to coordinator to many years as a marketing manager for a few companies, have had some ups and downs, but have now owned my own marketing consulting company for a number of years and life is great. Another great resource is The Rise of Continuing Education, which points out how valuable a degree can be in the business world. So in the end, the main thing that I got out of it was to be able to reach one of my life goals, which was to own a successful business, and I can honestly say that business school provided me the foundation to make all of that possible.

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