“Let’s have an ice-breaker to get to know each other. Say your name, what you do for a living and a hobby of yours.”
When you’re sitting in an online class with other online MBA students, the answers are usually something like this: “Hey, I’m Brad. I work in finance for General Electric. In my spare time, I like to go hiking.”
Most answers are that uninspiring, but these people also made a lot more money than someone that decided to go the news route for a few years in hopes of becoming a documentary filmmaker at National Geographic or CNN Films. Some could probably teach the classes. Some just needed the MBA on their resume for a promotion.
I hated sharing when my turn came. I felt this colossal imposter syndrome and knew people wouldn’t understand how a creative could use an MBA.
My answer usually went something like this: “Hey, I’m Dixon. I’m a photojournalist for FOX 5 Atlanta. I enjoy hobbies that involve making something, like cooking.”
It’s different. That’s for sure.
While the biggest reason I decided to pursue an MBA was initially just because I wanted, there were other reasons that helped seal the deal for why I started the journey and what made it worthwhile as a creative entrepreneur.
It was a bucket-list item
My number one reason for getting an MBA initially was because I wanted to—nothing more and nothing less than that.
To understand that, you have to understand where I come from. I come from a family full of farmers in South Georgia. Both sides of my family had lived in their respective small towns for hundreds of years.
Growing up, my parents told me I could do anything I wanted when I became an adult. There was one caveat though: I had to get a college degree first. I could even run the family business, but I had to have that piece of paper first.
While the family business provided for our family, my father never hesitated to mention he’d do something else if he could. For him, higher education meant opportunities.
That doesn’t mean I listened to all the advice. I got the grades required of me to avoid punishment. Anything above a 90 was unnecessary effort.
I also made it through college without wasting too much time studying. Until my final semester of college, I didn’t really care for the experience and felt it was a distraction from furthering my career.
At this point, I’d decided to become a documentary filmmaker one day. The news industry was my vehicle for getting there.
While there were other routes to doing documentaries, I chose to go through the news industry so I could collect a regular paycheck, learn from others with more experience, and steadily move into larger markets every two years.
There are quicker routes, but they often entail years of financial insecurity and already having connections in the entertainment industry.
As more time passed after college, I realized over time that I actually enjoyed reading and learning. I also realized that I didn’t want to spend my life not seeing home for weeks or months at a time.
What started as an itch to go back to school became a way to move my career in a new direction.
By this time, I’d met the person who would become my wife, fallen in love with Kentucky and was having trouble explaining my skill sets to potential employers outside the news industry.
Two years out of school, I’d already landed a job at a FOX-owned-and-operated station in Atlanta. I didn’t want to go back to a mid-size television market while still doing TV news, but I also didn’t have any substantial business world experience.
I finally decided to cross getting a graduate degree off the bucket list in March or April of 2020. My fiancé—now wife—supported the decision and COVID had cleared my social calendar for the foreseeable future.
It was good timing for us, and we felt we could do it.
It Gave Me a Leg up on My Peers
I remember working at my first full-time job after college at a news station in Louisville. The weekend morning team was sitting around talking one morning about career goals, and I mentioned wanting to get a graduate degree.
You would have thought I’d suggested selling all my belongings and becoming a bartender in some small beach town.
“Why do you need a graduate degree to point a camera?”
The truth is, most creatives are great at their crafts. However, they’re often bad at business skills, like project management or talking to clients.
I had started asking other creatives further along in their careers for advice. The answer—whether they had an MBA or not—was to get an MBA.
They all said they either regret not doing it or were glad they had it.
Most creatives focus solely on being better at their craft early in their careers, but those skills aren’t as important in the middle or second half of our careers.
Being a great video producer doesn’t help with managing a team or understanding a client’s objectives.
Learning a New Language
Working in a creative field is like knowing a different language. Very few clients can talk about the inverse square law or color theory—they also don’t care.
The language of business is centered around increasing sales, improving efficiency and ROI—things creative don’t care about. Up to this point, I had a background in news and visual storytelling, not business communications or content marketing.
I remember talking to potential clients when first dabbling in the freelance world. The potential client would share what their company does and how a video project would help with some objective. I understand the individual words but not what they all meant together.
This lack of understanding ultimately hurt my ability to secure jobs or do an effective job. How can you trust someone that doesn’t understand you?
The MBA helped me translate what clients were communicating into something I understood. It also helped me communicate with them how I could help them meet their goals.
An MBA program covers a wide range of topics including finance, marketing, operations, and strategy. For a creative individual that wanted to become a creative entrepreneur, it built a strong foundation in business concepts and strategies.
It also gave me experience in personal selling, learning business strategies and becoming a better communicator. (Creatives may work in communications, but that doesn’t mean they’re good personal communicators).
While not every creative needs to have an MBA, it is good for people like me who are new to the business world or want to quickly expand their business knowledge.
It also surprises most clients when you say you’ve been to business school.
Increased Networking Opportunities
While an online program isn’t great for networking, it was my best option while living over 400 miles away.
I could have attended other MBA programs, but I only applied to the University of Louisville because I knew that was where my wife and I were planting our roots.
Emory or Georgia Tech may have great MBA programs, but there’s far more UofL alumni in Louisville than those two combined.
When I moved to Louisville halfway through the program, I started attending in-person classes.
This allowed me to make face-to-face connections with future colleagues and clients. While I couldn’t sell them something at that moment, the opportunity may come up in the future, and I’ve already built the foundation for a good relationship.
I’m now an alumnus of three different colleges, which gives me a lot of fellow alumni to connect with. Here’s a specific example of how I use my ties to those alumni networks to benefit my business.
When I meet with potential clients, I’m immediately trying to establish a quick connection with that person. An easy way to do that is by belonging to the same alumni networks they belong to.
My bachelor’s degree is from Western Kentucky University, and there are a fair amount of WKU alumni in Louisville. If I see on someone’s LinkedIn profile that they also graduated from there, I’ll put on my WKU dress shirt ahead of the meeting.
I won’t say I saw it on their profile—that’s creepy—but I’ll let them mention the connection and ask what year I graduated if they feel like making a connection that way.
When meeting with potential clients—outside of Louisville—that graduated from UofL, I’ll probably put on a UofL dress shirt
I’m currently trying to do more business in my hometown. If you think I’ll walk into any meeting in Tifton without my ABAC shirt, you’re crazy.
I want people to know that I’m from there, and I’m trustworthy.
If You’re on the Edge
If you’re a creative person that wants to enter the business world, you should get an MBA. It cost me just over $30,000 and has already paid dividends.
From the personal to professional perks, there isn’t a downside once you get over the work it takes to do it. Best of all, education is the one thing that others can never take from you.