In a perfect world, every business owner would have an unlimited budget that would buy them access to the top talent they needed.
In reality, budget constraints mean that often, small business owners and their employees have to be versatile and knowledgeable in a number of areas. The CEO may be running the marketing department. HR and bookkeeping could be one person’s purview. The sales manager may be asked to throw a staff-appreciation party.
Even in organizations where roles are more narrowly defined, there is always more to learn. New technology, methodologies, and better understanding of human psychology change the way we run businesses all the time.
In our hyper-connected world, there’s no need to shell out for a pricey degree to continue learning. Instead, there are many affordable (or free!) resources available to you and your team, if you just know where to find them.
Here are four professional development tools you can use to increase your skills so you can better serve your clients and customers.
If you or your team members need to learn more about a certain topic, MOOCs (massive open online courses) are a great resource. Platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and edX offer classes from reputable universities in wide-ranging topics from supply chain management to FinTech to B2B sales. These courses range in cost from free to a couple hundred dollars.
A few more online course providers to check out:
If you’re looking for more comprehensive training for your team, many of these platforms also offer enterprise solutions. For an annual fee, you can gain access to the best online courses to keep you and your staff up-to-date.
2. Masterminds or Cohorts
Large online groups can teach skills and techniques. But if that’s all it took to be successful in business, there would be a lot fewer failed businesses out there! When you need more personalized attention and connection, a small group setting can be a tremendous help.
Masterminds and cohorts are great places to share ideas, get feedback, and network. Usually led by a mentor-type, these groups provide accountability and education and can be catalysts for business growth.
A word of warning — there is no regulation in the world of business coaching, especially online. Anyone can hang out their coaching shingle one day and start bringing clients into their “mastermind.”
When vetting possible programs, look beyond their marketing, and seek out results. If they claim they can help you grow your eCommerce business, you have to ask — have they run a successful eCommerce business? How much revenue did it make? How long did it take them to reach those goals?
Just because a coach is bringing in big bucks selling their coaching program doesn’t mean they give good advice. So do your due diligence before you hand over your credit card.
3. Books, Books, Books
Helpful. Informative. Abundant.
If you’re wondering about it, there’s a book about it. And most can be had for the low, low price of FREE at your local library.
If your marketing messaging needs work, try Building a StoryBrand by Donald A. Miller. For a bit of help with cash flow, pick up Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. If your leadership could be stronger, read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. And if the overall organizational structure and productivity is a mess, try Jim Collins’ classic Good to Great.
Reading is no substitute for doing, but it can be a place to start filling knowledge gaps and getting your business back on track.
4. Business Podcasts
With over 1,750,000 podcasts on the air these days, do you think you might be able to find one that’s useful?
While some are strictly for entertainment, there’s a huge segment of educational podcasts available. You can listen during your daily commute to soak up a little knowledge and inspiration on your way to the office.
It’s easy to be sucked into the allure of the “inspirational” business podcast. While those can tell grand stories and may provide some nuggets of insight, if it’s professional development you’re after, look for podcasts that aim to teach rather than entertain.
A good option is HBR IdeaCast, from Harvard Business Review. Accounting Best Practices with Steve Bragg is an excellent accounting resource, and Women at Work offers career advice and growth tips for women.
Start Learning…Keep Learning
With such a wide range of professional development resources at your disposal, you can fill the knowledge and skills gaps in your company without hiring a new full-time employee.
By investing in your employees and helping them to learn, you’ll not only build a stronger workforce. You’ll also show that you’re dedicated to the growth and development of your team, increasing their job satisfaction and earning more employee loyalty.