I never got an official MBA. Since I'm a consultant who works with C-suite executives—most of whom have MBAs—that fact often surprises people. The reason I didn't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and two years away from my business is simple. I didn't need to. Through creative professional development, I've learned (and continue to learn) everything I need to know to exceed client expectations from two sources: other business owners and massive open online courses, otherwise known as MOOCs.
People commonly go to business school for networking and professional development purposes. But you don't have to be in a long-term program with the same people in order to meet individuals from whom you can learn. In fact, many business owners go out of their way to interact with one another, applying what's known as a “pay it forward" approach. In other words, we aim to help others learn whenever we can, because we know that the good karma will come back around.
Collectives Are the New Guilds
Given this attitude, it makes sense that groups of entrepreneurs and solopreneurs in similar lines of work would formalize group relationships to make it easy to help and be helped, teach and be taught.
In the near future, as more people enter the contract workforce, we will see the rise of human collectives. In medieval times, human collectives were called guilds, and they encompassed craftsmen or merchants who played similar roles within a community and banded together to pursue common goals and multiply the power of their knowledge and skills.
Today, my professional development occurs mostly within the context of two collectives. The first is an organizational development “firm" called PeopleResults. I put the word “firm" in quotes because normally, firms have full-time employees. PeopleResults does not. We are all independent contractors with related backgrounds and services who regularly meet via online collaboration tool Zoom.
I've mastered new skills like meeting facilitation, change management and client relations from those who have more experience than me. In return, I teach other members about writing, speaking, research and trends analysis. Although each of us is in charge of our own book of business, we refer each other constantly, and even have an infrastructure in which we pay into a central administration account for assistance with meeting organization, branding and billing.
Collectives Come in a Variety of Shapes and Sizes
The Young Entrepreneur Council is my other collective. This one is a lot bigger, and members are considerably more spread out. I communicate with Council members mostly through Facebook, and occasionally via in-person events hosted in my area or one-on-one networking calls.
YEC consists of business owners who have established at least one successful enterprise, and so much of what I have learned about running a business has come from these individuals. The organization provides a forum to tap dozens of vetted sources for quick advice or more detailed guidance on everything from expanding into a new geographic area to recouping funds from a bankrupt customer.
Interacting with both collectives so frequently solves one of the problems of being a solo business owner: I often don't know what I don't know. Just by reading and listening to what other collective members are saying, I pick up knowledge and ideas I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. The professional development is passive as well as active.
If you aren't in a collective already, consider asking other business owners in your space about groups they know. You might inquire with your Chamber of Commerce, your local chapter of the Small Business Administration, or third-party associations related to your field. If you're motivated, you can also start your own collective. LinkedIn is a terrific resources for finding like-minded professionals who are ready to mobilize for the common good of all.
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