Hey business owners, quick question for you – what was the last class you took, and when did you take it?
For those of you whose profession doesn’t require continuing education, you might have to think back a bit. So let’s make the question more broad. What’s the last seminar or webinar you attended that advanced your knowledge as a business owner?
While I can’t be sure, I am guessing that many of you haven’t actively sought out additional education or training courses because you are busy running a business! Am I right?
But when I think back to my days as an employee rather than as a business owner, I do recall that the large companies I worked for all had a Training & Development department. Employees were expected to work their way up the ladder by taking on more responsibility and by receiving training, whether in-house or through outside professionals coming in.
Training might involve how to use software, like the week I spent in Maryland taking a SAS programming course in my first job. Or it could address leadership and management skills, like an in-house MBA-like program I attended for “future corporate leaders.” And when I taught business classes to undergrads, I attended the Annual Midwest Business Administrators Association conference to learn how to be a better college instructor.
As a matter of fact, in 2019, corporations spent almost $170 billion in North America on employee training.
What is your budget for education and training for your executive team (aka you)?
More importantly, I’m guessing you’re thinking, what’s the point of continuing education when you’re already in charge? You currently occupy the top rung of the ladder, so where do you go from here?
And to some extent, you’re right. When it comes to seeking out additional learning, nothing is required of you as a business owner. And, much of your education comes right there on the job. You know, the school of hard knocks, the classroom that is your office, that sort of thing. On top of that, many business owners participate in peer groups or seek out a business coach, which can help accelerate learning, increase confidence and improve communication with your employees and customers.
But here is one thing keeps me in search of learning opportunities even as I seek to grow my business – fear of being replaced. If I am not on top of things, up to speed at my own craft, then someone (or something? Robot Market Researcher?) can step in to take my place. If my potential customers encounter other market researchers offering services like mine who seem to be more knowledgeable, more tech-savvy, or more experienced, then I am not growing my business anymore.
So, just like the old-fashioned sales force saying from the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Closing (ABC), my motto is Always Be Learning (ABL).
What should you be learning about, and where can you go to find the information? Well that depends on your business and your own experience and education.
Here are some questions to help you focus your learning goals:
- How comfortable are you with preparing and analyzing financial statements? Even if you have a bookkeeper or accountant, it’s important for every business owner to really fully understand the value of an income statement or balance sheet, or some key ratios.
- Do you have employees, or do you plan to have them soon? Have you boned up on your interview skills? Do you know how to create the right kind of culture in your workplace? Maybe some additional HR/leadership development options could help.
- Is your software working to streamline your business or slowing you down? If you are using CRM (customer relationship management) software, project management software, or any other tools to manage your business, are you taking advantage of all they have to offer? Or are you still managing things with Excel spreadsheets, a Rolodex or some other method that could be improved upon? Time to learn about new features or new options that will ultimately save you time.
- Are you completely up-to-speed with the technology, trends and changes in your own industry? Whether you run a diner or build construction vehicles, every industry is constantly changing. It’s important to be on the lookout for technology shifts, like ordering food on tablets, or remote-control excavators, if it will severely impact your business. In addition, if you work in a technology field, it is equally as important to continue to update your skills, such as new software languages or network protocols.
And here are some places to start looking for training and education options for entrepreneurs like you:
Government and non-profits
If you know where to look, there are tons of free live and recorded webinars available through different government resources. So, let me point you in the right direction!
The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a whole Learning Center of free recorded classes for start-ups and new business owners, including “How to Write a Business Plan”, “Social Media Marketing” and “Introduction to Pricing.”
And they have online events (and when not in a pandemic, local events) for small businesses. For example, there are classes on “Skills for Conflict & Negotiation”, “Developing Your Online Presence” or “Understanding Your Financial Statements & Ratios.” You can sign up to get emails from the SBA to let you know what courses are available.
Other resources offering free webinars include SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce CO site for small businesses, the Kauffman Foundation with courses on entrepreneurship and the U.S. Census Bureau, offering training on how to use their massive databases.
Some classes I’ve taken that fall into this category include:
- “Your Business by the Numbers: Census Business Builder” and “Building Databases Overview” webinarsfrom the U.S. Census Academy
- “Entrepreneurship and Jobs” webinar from the Kauffman Foundation
- “E-commerce SEO,” part of the WI Lt Governor’s Conference on Small Business Development
Do you belong to any trade associations? Many of them offer online courses to members to increase your skills and knowledge of your industry or your customers’ industries. Conferences can also be a great place to hone your skills while you network and learn more from vendors in your industry. Many of these conferences have gone virtual, and in some cases, they have made select content available for free to the general public. It pays to sign up for newsletters to any associations that support your or your customers to keep informed on the options.
Some events I’ve attended that fall into this category include:
- “The Future of Insights” and “Barriers to Data Driven Decision Making”, part of the free online IIEX North America Conference from Green Book
- “30 Sites in 45 Minutes” – top websites you should know about from the Association for Independent Information Professionals (free for members)
There is a plethora of MOOCs (massive open online courses) out there, many of them free. You can look for listings by provider for free options. Or start with some of the better-known options, including Coursera and Udemy.
And don’t forget Ted Talks and You Tube, both excellent sources of business videos. Many larger universities (like Harvard) offer free options as well, so it pays to do some online searching.
Always wanted to learn more about probability? Try the 7-week Harvard University free course!
Wish you knew more about dealing with difficult conversations? Learn from a top debater in a Ted Talk!
Ready to enhance your programming skills? Take a Python bootcamp on Udemy for under $20!
If you want to learn more about marketing, why not learn directly from Seth Godin’s video on You Tube?
Some online classes I’ve taken this year include:
- “Blogging for Business Class” from Ahrefs Academy (free online videos)
- “Futures Thinking Specialization” from Coursera (monthly subscription fee) – completed three of the five courses to date
Training by and for Small Businesses
Finally, I’d be amiss if I didn’t recommend that small business owners support other small business owners, as I discussed in my last blog post.
Many businesses offer free webinars or workshops as a way to demonstrate their capabilities and encourage customers to purchase additional services or training. Take advantage of these options for a variety of reasons – not only is the initial offering free, but you can often make connections with other business owners in your industry, and also find a trusted resource to help you when you decide you need additional support.
How do you find these small business offerings? You can start on Eventbrite, sorting by category or geographic location to see free or low cost options available online or (post-pandemic) in person. Or look on Facebook or Linked In for business owners promoting their events. If you like what you hear, return the favor by offering a referral or testimonial even if you aren’t currently in the market to buy from them.
Here are some offerings I found that are geared to small business from small business:
- “Think Like a Futurist” webinar by Rebecca Ryan, futurist
- “Podcasting the Smart Way” webinar from Pat Flynn/Smart Passive Income
- “Creating Content Strategy” and “Get Started Podcasting” from digital marketing firm Keystone Click
What courses have you taken that have been beneficial? Or are you offering any courses or programs you want to promote? What else can you recommend to other small business owners?
Looking for some online training opportunities but can’t find any? Contact me at kelly@LearnStartGrow.comand I’ll help you find something.