The best 18 free online courses for small business owners in 2015

The best 18 free online courses for small business owners in 2015

Have you ever daydreamed about furthering your education only to put the idea on the backburner as launching a new product or dealing with a dispute with a supplier takes priority?

Well, SmartCompany is here to help. We’ve pulled together a handy list of 18 online courses to give small business owners an edge this year. From accounting basics to tips for managing the company of the future, these courses will help you work on, instead of in, your business.

Thanks to the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs), you can now access resources from some of the world’s leading universities from the comfort of your own home or workplace. All of the courses listed below are free and many can be done at your own pace. For others you will need to register ahead of time for the next instalment.

Read more: Are free online courses worth your time?

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to put your study hat on and get learning.

For the entrepreneur…

Melbourne’s RMIT University offers a free course in Entrepreneurship and Family Business, starting in February. Taught over four modules – each containing 10 videos – the course covers the whole gamut of starting and successfully running a business, from funding strategies and business plans to managing people and succession planning.

But if your business idea has a tech bent, you might prefer the first part of Stanford University’s course on Technology Entrepreneurship, taught by Chuck Eesley, assistant professor in Stanford’s department of management science and engineering. The course has a practical element, with students forming teams to develop their own startup idea and the top teams going on to pitch their ideas to potential investors.

For the accounting and finance novice…

If it’s a refresher on accounting and finance you’re looking for, the Wharton University of Pennsylvania offers a six-week Introduction to Corporate Finance or you can complete an Introduction to Finance at the University of Michigan. Both courses offer a foundation in the fundamental principles of valuation and an understanding of financial risk.

For a broader picture of how any economy works, the University of Melbourne offers an introductory course about the Principles of Macroeconomics. Macroeconomics is the study of economic aggregates and in this course Professor Nilss Olekalns explains concepts including the national accounts, unemployment and inflation, as well as the fiscal and monetary policy responses from governments.

For the future marketing whizz…

Digital marketing is now part and parcel of most company’s activities but if writing content for online publication makes you nervous, you can study Writing for the Web via Open2Study. The course covers the difference between writing for print versus the web, how to write effectively online and how to look after your content after it has been published.

If your business is in the services sector, Betina Crooks’ course on Services Marketing – Selling the Invisible may be useful. Available through OpenLearning, Crooks’ course explains the difference between service and product marketing, as well as top tips on how to brand a service.

Polytechnic West also offers a four-week course on the Principles of Project Management. Learn about the benefits of effective project management and how to successfully manage a project through its concept, development, execution stages.

For the business owner who wants to grow their company…

Scaling a business is inherently risky but you can mitigate some of those risks by taking Stanford University’s course: Scaling up Your Venture without Screwing Up. The course explains the different strategic choices when it comes to scaling a business, how to add complexity to your company while avoiding “cognitive overload” and how not to succumb to “illusion, impatience and incompetence”. 

If growth through international expansion is on your agenda, Griffith University offers a four-week Introduction to Business in Asia course. The course includes modules on Asian leadership and management styles, culture and business in Asia, personal relationships and business in Asia, and one week dedicated to doing business in China.

A little closer to home, SmartCompany also has a wealth of resources aimed specifically at helping you improve your business, including this webinar on Work 3.0: How to digitise, automate and get mobile to boost productivity. Learn how your business can get ahead and continue to grow by streamlining communication flows, automating your accounts payable systems, digitising paper documents and enabling a fully functional mobile workforce.

For the leader and manager…

Wharton University’s Total Leadership course promises to help those who complete it “become a better leader by having a richer life and have a richer life by becoming a better leader”. Not just limited to work, the course aims to help entrepreneurs create “harmony” among all the different aspects of their life.

Negotiation is an essential business skill and the University of Michigan offers practical tips for improving your negotiating skills in Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills. The self-paced course is built around the four key stages of negotiation: planning, negotiating, creating a contract and performing the contract.

What will the company of the future look like and what skills will you need to lead it? The University of London attempts to answer those questions (and more) in its five-week course, Managing the Company of the Future. The course looks at both traditional principles of management and compares them to “alternative” principles that are becoming increasingly important.

The International College of Management also offers an introductory management course, called Management for a Competitive Edge. Topics include the importance of planning and goal setting; how to develop sustainable competitive advantages; and what defines a successful leader.

For the innovator…

Design thinking is an alternative to traditional methods of problem-solving. The University of Virginia offers a four-week course in Design Thinking for Business Innovation, which offers a snapshot of an increasingly popular business tool used by the likes of Apple and IDEO.

The University of Maryland takes a back-to-basics approach to innovation in its course, Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship. The course aims to “demystify the startup process” to help budding entrepreneurs to “build the skills to identify and act on innovative opportunities now and in the future”.

Finally, Stanford offers A Crash Course on Creativity. Billed as “highly experiential”, students are presented with a new challenge each Wednesday, and asked to submit a creative response to the challenge by the following Tuesday. The aim is to unpick the factors that foster or constrain creativity in individuals, teams and organisations.


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Rob Lockhart
Rob Lockhart
6 years ago

Westpac’s Davidson Institute offers a number of free online courses on financial and business management. Visit our website at

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