One of the great things about the internet is that you can learn so much while spending so little money—which is perfect for small business owners short on cash.
As any SME operator will tell you, keeping yourself and your staff skilled and up to date can be difficult, but there are resources out there that make it simple and cost-effective.
This is important because while plenty of potential recruits would love to work for an SME, they are often dissuaded from taking up the opportunity as they feel bigger companies offer more structured opportunities for training and career development. As a result, small businesses can find it hard to attract ambitious employees who want to better themselves through additional education and training.
Of course, as anyone who has worked in a smaller enterprise can tell you, professional growth opportunities are abundant. While at big corporates, employees are often consigned to a narrow and highly specialised set of tasks, when you work for an SME you’re expected to know your job and everyone else’s too! It makes for a well-rounded business education.
Training yourself and your staff is vital if you want to keep an edge over your competition. Your people are the key to staying competitive and innovative. The better educated they are about their work, the more likely they are to be passionate about it too; knowledge leads to engagement.
Here are some great resources you can use to further your education as an entrepreneur, as well improving the skills and knowledge of your employees. If you’re serious about creating a more structured program, there’s no reason why you can’t mix and combine these resources to create a really solid in-house training program for your business at minimum cost.
1. TED Talks
TED Talks have become a phenomenon in our age of constant self-improvement. The events and their accompanying videos have really exploded into the public consciousness over the past five years even though the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) non-profit organisation has been around since 1984.
TED Talks cover a massive range of topics and are presented by subject experts. Usually about 15-20 minutes in duration, the talks are presented in an easily watchable style, by people who are passionate about their topics. Basically, they are the teachers and lecturers you wished you had in school.
Takeaway: Set up a weekly TED Talk session for your team where you all sit down and watch a talk together and then discuss the ideas and how they might apply to your business. This could be a great way of getting everyone to think about the business in new ways and open up new paths to innovation.
2. LinkedIn Learning and Lynda
LinkedIn has become far more than just a place to put your CV online and network with others. As well as becoming a publishing platform, it has also branched out into providing online courses in the business, tech and creative arenas.
LinkedIn Learning provides a massive number of short online courses that have been prepared and designed by industry experts. Thinking about putting an ebook out? Or perhaps your bookkeeper/accounts person needs to learn about QuickBooks Pro 2017?
There’s a one-month free trial period and after that the cost starts at $24.99 per month for an annual subscription. That’s a pretty low price to pay if you want to access structured and regular education resources for you or your staff.
LinkedIn Learning has also integrated about 9000 courses from the Lynda.com online learning site after LinkedIn acquired Lynda for $US1.5 billion at the start of 2016.
Takeaway: Take out a subscription to LinkedIn Learning and then sit down with your employees and map out the courses that would work best for them and your business. You can set a target of completing something like four courses a year as part of a professional development plan.
3. MOOCs like Coursera
MOOCs stands for Massive Open Online Courses and these resources have become a disruptive force in the world of higher education. Instead of having to enrol for a full course like a Bachelors or Masters degree, you can now simply pick and choose the units relevant to you, all provided by some of the world’s leading universities.
And even better, most of the courses are free. Often you get access to lectures and materials, and you only pay a fee if you sit an exam for accreditation of the course.
Coursera is one of the biggest MOOC providers and its range of courses is incredible. Want to learn about data science from the world renowned educators at Johns Hopkins University? Feel like adding the Python programming language to your CV? Or maybe you want to learn more about marketing in a digital world?
Takeaway: Use a subscription to a MOOC provider like Coursera as an incentive to attract ambitious recruits as well as current employees. Investing in your workforce will pay dividends down the road.
4. Google resources
I have written before about the fantastic resources Google has for small businesses but it’s well worth reiterating.
Google for Entrepreneurs, Think With Google, The Digital Garage, and Google My Business should all be bookmarked by savvy SME operators. However, look even deeper and you will find a treasure trove of resources that will help turn you or your employees into Google gurus, including:
Takeaway: Google is such an important part of running a successful small business. Make use of its resources to keep ahead of the game.
A friend of mine still has a big clunky reference book (Reader’s Digest published it, I think) that tells you how to do all sorts of household things like fix a bike tyre or build an outdoor fish pond. Quaint!
Of course all that stuff is on YouTube now, presented by people who (mostly) know what they are doing and are eager to pass that knowledge onto others. Can’t work out why your laptop has suddenly stopped working? Or need some help with filling out your Business Activity Statement form?
There’s also lots and lots of really obscure, in-depth lectures, talks, and documentaries on all manner of topics too. Need to learn about ecosystem building for platform business models? It’s all pretty much there on YouTube.
Takeaway: Encourage your staff to share and recommend helpful and educational YouTube videos they watch. This is a good way to get discussion and debate going about new ideas for your business.
Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award.