4 Things an MBA Can & Can’t Teach You about Running Your IT Training Business

As part of my job at ITpreneurs, I speak to many IT training providers, large and small. More often than not they are all looking at ways to improve the way they run their business. As a recent executive MBA graduate from a top-tier European university, I started to reflect on how an MBA mindset can be applied to IT training providers, here’s the result.

1. Planning Your Training Business Carefully

An MBA teaches methods to understand the market, the competition, the market dynamics and provides tools to use this information to plan ahead. In order to do this exercise some basic reflection is required. How many times, or have you ever, asked yourself: why are you in the IT training industry in the first place? Is it because you’re good at it, because it’s profitable for you, because you simply love it, or maybe a combination of these reasons? Porter’s Five Forces is an analysis framework for assessing competition and industry that is useful in this planning phase.

Have a look at my earlier post What Would Michael E. Porter Do if He Was Running an IT Training Company? for some more detailed guidance and food for thought.

2. The SWOT Analysis For Your IT Training Business

An MBA also provides methods to shape business strategy, one of the most popular being a SWOT analysis. It is so popular that it seems everyone with some understanding of the business is able to do it. What most schools do not tell you is that the most important SWOT analysis you will ever have to make is the one you make of yourself, before you make one for you company. It will tell you a great deal about yourself. Honesty and self reflection are mandatory here as the

What most schools do not tell you is that the most important SWOT analysis you will ever have to make is the one you make of yourself…

In almost all the SWOT tables I have seen (including some of the ones I have drafted), the following pattern appears. For every 10 strengths, we have 5 weaknesses, 6 opportunities and 2 threats. How is it possible that I see this pattern so often?

The most common reason for that is that your strengths and weaknesses are subjective, valid only in how they relate to the overall strategy of your training company. For example, if your strategy is to conquer the IT Service Management training market in a specific region, then a ‘multilingual employee base’ is not necessarily a strength (though it may create an interesting work environment). Unless of course, the region you are in is diverse and consists of people speaking many different languages – languages in line with the ones your employees speak fluently. Similarly, ‘not having a strong virtual infrastructure to deliver online training’ is not a weakness if you only intend to deliver classroom training.

If you’re looking for more inspiration on ‘opportunities’ – download our white paper which lists 10 frequently missed opportunities by training & consulting businesses.

3. Honest Communication with Yourself

An MBA gives guidance to build effective communication skills with respect to customers and stakeholders (external and internal). How to negotiate, how to manage virtual communications and teams, how to make beneficial agreements and build long-term business relationships. But more importantly, and this is something that an MBA may not teach you, is to be honest and open with communication towards the primary stakeholder in our lives, and ourselves. We tend to be our own hardest critics and at the same time the worst liars (I know I am). That’s because we want to feel that we can still improve and evolve, but at the same time we don’t want to consider ourselves ‘failures’, at fault or damage our self-esteem – something called self-serving bias. That’s a difficult balance to keep. My advice, just be honest, don’t be diplomatic with yourself.

We tend to be our own hardest critics and at the same time the worst liars (I know I am).

How many times have we all regretted not speaking our mind or admitting our real beliefs mainly to ourselves?

  • Did I really try hard to make this training a success?
  • Did I make every possible effort in order to make this or that deal happen?
  • Did I really offer the best possible service to my learners?
  • Did I really look for the right supplier for my needs or did I take the easy way out?

And above all, we ask ourselves: What more can I do next time?

The solution is not to be be able to answer ‘yes’, but simply accepting the reality and being open to paving a stronger future for ourselves. We can do this by avoiding being overly critical but also the other extreme of rationalizing our personal responsibility away.

4. Own It

An MBA will offer insights and tools to set up and run a company, and it applies to an IT training business. But an MBA will never give you enough insight on what is, to me, the most crucial element: how to own it.

Training companies, like all other companies, are run by individuals with ambition and operate in a competitive environment. However, unlike all other companies, they have one thing that’s very different and unique. They are responsible for helping other individuals grow professionally and personally. This very direct human intervention is able to magnify every positive aspect but also every weakness that a customer experience may have. This is why ‘owning’ your training business (even if you are not the legal owner) is what can elevate (or preferably be added to) your upcoming strategic canvas.

Training companies have one thing that’s very different and unique, they are responsible for helping other individuals grow professionally and personally.

What do I mean by own it? This could take us into a pretty extended discussion. However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s take the very mainstream technocratic definition. Ownership is the right conferred by a lawful claim or title to enjoy, occupy, possess, rent, sell, use, give away, or even destroy an item of property.

Anyone can own something provided they have filled in the correct paperwork and provided the appropriate capital investment.

But this is where business schools and technocrats start to fail.

Can you really own something unless you really know everything there is to know about it?

The ancient greeks, who had a close interest in science and theoretical analysis, differentiated between multiple levels of knowledge, scaling from αγνωστία (agnosticism) – where it is assumed that no real knowledge can be accomplished due to the indefinite number of unforeseeable and dynamic factors/parts which something consists of (that being an object, a situation, an idea or a concept)- to a state in which someone knows everything there is to know about something and is able to use, benefit from, manipulate it in a way that it can provide any outcome that someone has designed for it. This interesting and, I assume, desired by everyone, state of knowledge is what I call ‘ownership’. But when can we say that we really own something?

According to Aristotle, you can only really know (own) something if you are able to pass on your knowledge and experience about it to others in a way that the receivers (learners) can also become experts.

In speaking and interacting with many training businesses, I believe you can stand out of the crowd by taking ownership of what you do. Allow me to explain.

In order to own you have to know deeply. And in order to deeply know you have to be able (and willing) to train others on it. Are you able to transfer your knowledge and experience (and not simply give the prescribed tools to your participants solely to pass an exam)? How often do you see your students come back to you explaining how the training experience has helped them solve complex situations in their work environment, design systems, services and structures that helped the organization and the individuals evolve and improve?

Do What You do Best

So we said that you cannot truly own something unless you can really pass on your knowledge about it. But when are you as a training company going to have the proper time and opportunity to prepare and pass on your knowledge the way you should if you are busy worrying about the other aspects of your business?

As a trainer or training company, I can imagine that a significant part of your daily life includes planning training sessions, creating training courses, planning exams, arranging accreditations and so on. I bet you would be more efficient and effective if you were truly and purely a trainer who had nothing to worry about except improving in terms of skills and knowledge, transferring this knowledge to individuals through exciting training sessions and growing as an organization.

In this, scenario, owning what you do can lead to you spending most of your time doing what you really love; training individuals, passing on your knowledge and at the same time learning, improving and growing your business. My colleagues from the marketing team have created a video that kind of says what I am discussing in this section of my post. How many times have you really experienced what Peter is experiencing when organizing and running a training course?

I would be really curious to hear from you regarding the ideas discussed in this post. Do these challenges sound familiar? Are there any other dimensions that you would add? Was this relevant for you as a training company? If yes, then I would really encourage you to get in touch with us, or me, join our Linkedin IT Training Group, send us a Tweet, share your ideas or questions and perhaps we can work together to create more valuable and quality time for you. In the competitive and often standardized world of IT training, it is not the cutting edge delivery method and not the courseware that will make you stand out from the crowd…

It’s you!

Nikolas Dimitroulakis
Nikolas Dimitroulakis was born in 1982. At ITpreneurs he is a member of the global operations team and is focused on how the company’s multiple products and services can be delivered in a smooth and effective way to training companies around the world. He also works with instructors, identifying and setting the standards for the selection and recruitment of the top instructors for every framework. He has studied Production Engineering and Management and when not trying to complete his part time MBA, Nikolas likes to listen to music of all sorts and read Tom Robbins’ books.