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I won’t lie, it’s been tough. Running a growing PR business and maintaining two blogs (on B2B PR and social media) alongside an Executive MBA is a massive undertaking. Much bigger than I had anticipated in fact, and while the thought of it all being over in less than two weeks leaves most of my classmates heartbroken (if the comments on the Facebook group are to be believed) I can’t wait to close the door on the studying part of my MBA experience.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying that it hasn’t been fabulous (it has exceeded my expectations in almost every way). I’m just looking forward to being able to focus on my business, my social life, and reading something that wasn’t published by Harvard Business Review. I also know that as a soon-to-be-alumna, my LBS experience has only just begun.

People keep asking me whether the EMBA was worth the money, which I find very difficult to answer. It’s certainly been transformational, both personally and professionally, but how do I quantify that in a way that business school applicants (who have just completed their GMAT and are obsessed with data) will understand? Unfortunately, I can’t reduce my LBS experience to numbers (at least not at this stage), but I’ll try to paint a picture of the value of the EMBA with words.

In a professional capacity, the EMBA has been brilliant. I’m more effective as a manager, more confident and commercially savvy as a consultant and more efficient as an entrepreneur. That’s not to say that every entrepreneur needs an MBA to succeed (I know loads who have done it without any degree at all), just that the MBA has helped me identify and put in place better, quicker and cheaper ways of doing things.

I now have an enormous international network of successful professionals in every industry that goes well beyond the 80 people in my stream. The alumni community is extraordinary, and I have already found that every time I meet an LBS graduate, there is an immediate connection and a willingness to help.

Personally, it’s been a rewarding journey too. The EMBA creates a perfect environment for forming lasting friendships and I know that I will remain in close contact with many of my classmates for life. Add to that the self esteem benefits associated with any type of learning, achievement or professional development and it is genuinely worthwhile.

Does this justify the £50k spend? Well, firstly, when you look at all the hours that go into getting an MBA, you quickly realise that the cost is a lot higher than the fees alone! Even so, my answer is yes, definitely. My business has more than doubled in size since I started, I have already won my first client through the alumni network, and I am generally more effective. When you consider that I haven’t even graduated yet, and I get to enjoy these benefits for the rest of my career, it’s hard to argue that the EMBA wasn’t money well spent.

Every EMBA’s experience is different, but, from talking to my classmates, there seems to be a common theme– it’s been without a doubt positive and valuable. So if you’re considering applying, I can’t tell you what to expect, but I can assure you that you will never look back!

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It was only when Business Week tweeted its article on business schools getting all a-twitter about social media that I found out that LBS is about to launch its own social media elective, which kind of proves the point that LBS should be launching a social media elective.

 
Despite being entirely unqualified to do so, I predict that social media will become fundamental to the running of any business within a few years (or at least any business that requires communication between two or more people, which, in my opinion, is just about any business).  Why is that? Because, like it or not, Web 2.0 communications is easier, faster and cheaper than any of the media it’s up against. The volume of objections to using the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for business has been all but drowned out by the clamour to be the first to know which NOTW staffer will be next on the chopping board, to push job specs out to ever-wider audiences and to publicly scold BoJo for not heading back to his precious capital in time to grab the limelight from disaffected youth exercising their human rights to Nikes and iPad 2s.

 
More importantly, the world of social media is evolving faster than that of any other medium, so if you’re not convinced that this is the best way to communicate, you soon will be. Google has already spent $585million on developing Google Plus (its own social network), while the Royal Mail’s annual budget is conspicuously lacking a half a billion ‘get more people to send letters campaign’.

 
So where should business managers be looking if they are shopping for social strategies? I’ve dug out a few ideas from the vault at the B2B Guide to Social Media.

* To communicate with the public, think Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

* If you’re looking to speak to other businesses, try LinkedIn, Twitter and company blogs. 

* For engaging with your own employees, look at Yammer, Jive or industry-specific networks, such as RCEuro for the recruitment sector.  

* If you want to build links to your website, consider article marketing on the likes of eZineArticles and GoArticles. 

* To teach and learn, try YouTube. 

* For getting bums on seats, experiment with Gowalla and Foursquare. 

* And to drive sales and generate leads using social media, look at Groupon.

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It’s only three months into JEMBA2012 and it’s been something of an eye-opener. I don’t want to come across as arrogant (I’m way too awesome for that), but for some reason I had expected to breeze through the course. I’m an entrepreneur, I already run a business, I’ve learned all that stuff ‘by doing’ (i.e. the best way), and the MBA was going to simply reconfirm what I’ve been managing up to now, while introducing me to some cool new people.

I can categorically say that the MBA has not lived up to my expectations. Far from reconfirming that I’m running my business like a pro, the MBA has challenged EVERYTHING and knocked my confidence considerably. Every fortnight I find myself in a room surrounded by 77 over-achievers who all seem to know everything (even stuff that’s not in the textbook – how do they do that?). From accounting to talent management I don’t have to look far to find someone who has done it before, better than me, and has a way more interesting story to tell.

In such a short time, the course has overturned my thinking on so many elements of how I run my business and I have to keep asking myself, how the hell was I doing it before?

We had a class visitor last week – he runs his own design agency and asked me whether EMBA was worth it and how I managed the time. My answer was yes, the time is a real issue – my friends see a lot less of me (somehow they are surviving), Klaus’s piano lessons are on hold, and my boyfriend has become an expert in most household chores (worth it just for that one ladies).

But TopLine is benefiting already. Our new HR management and recruitment system has been largely influenced by Dr Dan (someone please tell him about the honourable mention before he marks assignment 2) who has introduced me to the wonders of the Wonderlic (hint hint if you’re one of the candidates coming in for an interview at TopLine next week) and has changed my approach to industry benchmarking surveys (I used to use them to guide on how to position TopLine. I now use them as a guide to how to differentiate TopLine).

My accountant no longer feels the need to bring an abacus to meetings as I finally ‘get’ the balance sheet, income statement and cash flows. My knowledge of Excel has skyrocketed to a confidence interval of at least 95%, and while I haven’t yet found a way to apply anything from Microeconomics to TopLine, it still feels good to have read the textbook and sat through David’s lectures.

But what has probably been most useful is the networking. For some reason, every one of those 77 high-fliers is willing (even keen) to share their experiences and knowledge. From the change management expert who offered to look over my recruitment strategy to the PR manager in a large telecoms company who has agreed to share his experience of being pitched by PR agencies (so so useful!). TopLine is a lucky little business. My only concern from now is whether I can handle the pain of the next two years where a whole host of other things I’ve been doing wrong all this time will no doubt be revealed to me!

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