professional development, Startup Advice

Get learning: 16 free online courses for entrepreneurs to get ahead in 2018

Emma Koehn /

There’s no shortage of lifelong learners in the world of small businesses and startups, but finding the time to extend yourself while also steering the ship of a growing business can seem next to impossible.

There are hundreds of opportunities for professional development out there, but even the task of wading through online courses to find the quality options can take hours.

That’s where we come in: whether you’re after business planning tools or social media training, leadership development or insights into an entirely new topic, here are 16 free online courses ready for you to dive in and develop your skills.

Most only take a few hours a week, and many are self-directed so you can work through the program without having to wait for anyone else.

Planning in your business for success

Online Business: Planning for success
Provider: RMIT
Focus: A four-week program to test your idea for an online business and work out how it will fit into the broader market. Lessons include customer profiling techniques, planning tools and global regulations for online businesses.
Time commitment: Two hours a week for four weeks
Start date: Register your interest for a course in the near future.

Social Media Analytics: Using Data to Understand Public Conversations
Provider: Queensland University of Technology
Focus: Learn how to track social media data related to your business, how to distinguish trends when looking at social data, and understand theories of social networks.
Time commitment: Three hours per week for three weeks.
Start date: Available now as well as future start dates.

Cybersecurity for small and medium businesses
Provider: Deakin University
Focus: Consider the most common methods hackers are using day-to-day, as well as the preventative measures you can take in your business. The course will draw on case studies including the Panama Papers leaks.
Time commitment: Three hours per week for two weeks
Start date: Available now.

Project Risk Assessment
Provider: University of Michigan
Focus: Those wanting to take a dive into statistical modelling and data analytics could benefit from this course, which focuses on theories of risk and how to use statistics to understand and measure potential risk in projects your company undertakes.
Time commitment: 30-40 hours of self-paced learning
Start date: Available now.

Considering the broader business landscape

Social enterprise — turning ideas into action
Provider: Middlesex University
Focus: A four-week course exploring different business models for social entrepreneurship, how to pitch a social enterprise idea and developing your concept to secure funding.
Time commitment: Four hours a week for three weeks
Start date: Available now.

Business Futures — the sharing economy
Provider: RMIT
Focus: Consider the explosion of sharing economy businesses through this course, including the regulatory concerns that could affect your own business in this space.
Time commitment: Two hours a week for three weeks.
Start date: Register interest for upcoming courses here.

How to succeed in the global workforce
Provider: British Council and the University of Sheffield
Focus: Aimed at business owners and new employees, this course takes you through exercises to prepare for meeting new clients and entering a workplace for the first time, including: how to make a good first impression; how to have an effective conversation across cultures; and theories for building rapport with colleagues, no matter your job.
Time commitment: Three hours a week for four weeks.
Start date: Available now.

Becoming a better team leader

Sustainable business through “Green HR”
Provider: RMIT
Focus: Human resources is increasingly becoming about sustainability and “green” practices. This course digs into ideas of self-interest and social responsibility, how to create a sustainable business model and how HR departments fit into that goal.
Time commitment: Two hours per week for three weeks.
Start date: Register for an upcoming intake soon.

Management and leadership: Leading a team
Provider: The Open University
Focus: A four-week course to introduce business owners to theories about managing stakeholders, making a case for change and managing a team effectively. This unit also fits into other courses about management if you want to build up to a “chartered management” certificate.
Time commitment: Three hours per week for four weeks
Start date: Available now, as well as in April, July and November of 2018.

Priming yourself for success

The Science of Happiness
Provider: UC Berkeley
Focus: Happier business owners are often more successful, according to the experts — but do you know how to get there? Berkeley’s eight-week course delves into questions like why happiness matters, the role empathy plays in long-term satisfaction, as well as what science has discovered about human satisfaction. The aim is to increase your own happiness with this knowledge, whatever your goals.
Time commitment: Four hours a week for eight weeks.
Start date: January 8, 2018 (perfect for your leadership new year’s resolutions).

Mindfulness for wellbeing and peak performance
Provider: Monash University
Focus: An introduction to the concept of mindfulness and how you can use it to boost performance at work and in your personal life. Entrepreneurs can enrol to learn how to mindfully manage stress, as well as finding out more about the relationship between mindfulness and memory and being introduced to ideas of mindful communication at work. Run by mindfulness expert associate professor Chris Hassad and clinical psychologist Richard Chambers.
Time commitment: Three hours a week for four weeks.
Start date: Now, or January courses also available.

Professional resilience: Building skills to thrive
Provider: Deakin University
Focus: Deakin Uni professor of digital learning, Marcus O’Donnell, takes participants through modules focusing on building resilience skills and capabilities, how to build self-care practices into your life, and how to build “resilient values”.
Time commitment: Three hours per week for two weeks.
Start date: Available now, with future dates to be announced.

Engage with China

Basic Mandarin Chinese — Level 1
Provider: MandarinX
Focus: The first of six courses of basic Mandarin, this course gives you a basic overview of the languages “tones” and vocab, as well as an introduction to Chinese culture so you can get started on engaging with the country’s business community.
Time commitment: Four hours a week for six weeks.
Start date: Self-paced, start at any time.

Mandarin Chinese for Business
Provider: MandarinX
Focus: Expand on basic knowledge of Mandarin Chinese by learning about Chinese business customs, common Mandarin business phrases and common words during negotiations.
Time commitment: Four hours per week for six weeks.
Start date: Self-paced, enrol at any time.

Trying a new focus 

Introducing robotics: Build a robot arm
Provider: Queensland University of Technology
Focus: If you’re looking for a project to complete with your team, building a robot might just be the new learning experience to get creative juices flowing. The robotics team at QUT takes you through where to buy materials to build a robotic arm, how to design it and how to test the finished product.
Time commitment: Three hours per week for five weeks.
Start date: Available now, with other courses starting in future.

Philosophy and critical thinking 
Provider: University of Queensland 
Focus:
Looking at your business in a new light can be invaluable for progress, and this course takes you through the basics of how philosophical thought can help you think with more “clarity and rigour” about the things that are really important. Led by QUT professors, the modules takes users through topics such as how to structure a cogent argument well. 
Time commitment:
One to four hours per week for four weeks. 
Start date: 
Self-paced, available now. 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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