As detailed in a ThoughtCo article, the average tuition to obtain an MBA degree exceeds $60,000 and can be more than $100,000 for a top U.S. business school. Obtaining an MBA degree online can be cheaper, but expect to pay at least $7,000 to $120,000 or more on a top online program. Then add to that the costs of books, boarding and supplies.
Of course, you can obtain financial aid, but then you’ll have to pay back your initial loan balance with interest, leaving you in debt for years — maybe even decades.
But what if I told you there’s a way to obtain an MBA-level education for free or, even better, while making money? This can be accomplished by creating a thought leadership platform.
A thought leadership platform is an online networking tool where you produce valuable content about a specific business niche and share it with the world. Typically, an entrepreneur creates a thought leadership platform in order to build a reputable brand and/or promote their business. However, for the purposes of gaining an MBA-level education, the same thought leadership platform can be used to curate a customized educational program while also allowing you to network with business professionals who are currently working in the industry you want to enter. All of this can occur without having to go into debt — or even while collecting a paycheck.
Examples of thought leadership platforms include podcasts, YouTube channels and blogs. Regardless of which option you pursue, I would recommend having the platform be interview-based. That means you conduct interviews with business professionals who are currently working in your desired industry.
In my mind, this avenue offers four main advantages over an MBA degree:
1. You can build relationships with active professionals in the industry. For example, instead of going to business school for two years and sitting in a classroom, you could conduct one interview a week for two years with people who are active and already successful in the real world. That’s over 100 conversations or “lessons.” Or you can do what I do, which is to conduct daily interviews. That’s over 700 “lessons” in two years as well as over 700 networking opportunities to find a potential employer or business partner.
2. It can be significantly cheaper. Creating a thought leadership platform can be low-cost. If you decide to create a podcast, you only need a laptop and a microphone to get started — or for the most economical approach, all you need is a smartphone. Additionally, once you’ve built a large enough following, it provides you with the opportunity to make money through paid sponsorships.
3. You can add value to the interviewee. Since they work in or run a business, they’ll get free exposure. Also, you add value to the listeners because they’re getting the same real-world education from the people who are actually working in the industry.
4. You can position yourself as an expert in the industry. You can become known as the go-to resource for the best information and strategies for a specific industry. As your audience and reputation grow, you’ll attract better, more successful guests, which in turn can increase your audience, reputation and quality of business opportunities. Then, as an expert with a large following who is known to attract big-name guests, you can monetize your thought leadership platform by bringing on sponsors.
So, how do you get started on your MBA-level education?
1. Select a thought leadership platform. Choose a platform based on what you enjoy doing. For example, if you like speaking but are camera shy, create a podcast. Also, make sure you’re able to tap into a large built-in audience. Consider iTunes, YouTube or WordPress.
2. Set a consistent publishing frequency. Just like business school, you need to set a schedule. Weekly or daily is ideal.
3. Create a content calendar. This is like your business school syllabus that outlines a plan for the year. You should have your content planned at least a month in advance, which starts with scheduling interviews.
The type of person you’ll interview will depend on the specific industry you enter. The more specific you are, the better. For example, if you want to become an apartment syndicator (which is what I do), don’t just interview anyone who is involved in real estate. Instead, focus on the professionals who specialize in apartments, like other syndicators, commercial lenders and multifamily property managers and brokers.
Once you’ve specified an industry, find people in that industry to interview. Search for individuals or groups related to the industry on social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). Find other thought leaders in the industry on iTunes, YouTube, Google and industry-specific blogs and forums. Search Amazon for authors who write about the industry.
When you reach out, state that you’re interested in interviewing them on your platform. Tell them you created it to educate yourself on the industry, as well as to provide valuable content to others who may be interested in entering the industry.
I don’t have an MBA. But I’ve hosted a daily real estate investing podcast for nearly four years, which means I’ve had over 1,400 conversations with real estate professionals that have been listened to over 7 million times. As a direct result of the education I’ve received and relationships I’ve formed, I’ve gone from making $30,000 a year at a New York advertising company to controlling $400 million in apartment communities, as well as earning revenue from podcast sponsorships.
That’s the power of a thought leadership platform.
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