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Updated: Jan 3, 2020
Small business owners must never stop learning. The more you know, the more your company can do. The better educated you are, the smarter your hiring decisions will be. The better communicator you are, the easier it will be to create instant understanding in your customers and to the other people who interface with your business.
A survey conducted by Coursera, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington, recently demonstrated the huge benefits to individuals taking online courses. It found that 87% of people who take classes for career advancement found success and 35% realized other benefits, including starting their own business.
The online learning landscape has transformed over the last few years. Money is flooding into MOOCs and prestigious universities are beginning to understand that the educational space of tomorrow may not look like the one we have today.
This is great news for all of us as it means the range and quality of online courses available today has never been better. If you look at the 2 or 3 hours per week required over 4 to 6 weeks as an investment in your business, it’s easy to justify the cost in time. Additionally, understanding how MOOCs work, and how seriously easy it can be to get started in a class, will help you to understand what kind of ongoing training efforts you can develop for your team.
Here are 5 courses that will help any entrepreneur or small business owner:
As a small business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats, and you’ll often find yourself wearing the marketing hat. Whether you handle all your own marketing, or you have a team, you want to make sure that your approach is as up to date as possible. Many businesses underestimate the value (or are simply not aware) of the range of tools and methods out there that can be used to create quick, meaningful growth.
Growth hacking is all about finding and building audiences online, then conducting experiments through social media, email, and on your website, in order to generate as much analytic data as possible. Once you have actionable data, you can make iterative tweaks to your sites and other assets, which will help you optimize your conversion rates, grow your brand and generally make your digital presence more effective.
Many courses for entrepreneurs focus on philosophical concepts that can be tough to put into practice, but this course is all about actionable techniques that the course leaders walk you through implementing as you are learning. You’ll go from a beginner level to comfort with some very advanced modern marketing techniques. You’ll learn about everything from how to find your customers, how to interpret the analytic data that their interactions with you generate, how to get influencers to write about your business, search engine optimization (SEO), to advanced blogging techniques, how to grow your email list and use it to increase sales, and a basic framework for generating overall viral growth.
The course comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and there are lots of user testimonials on Coursera to help you decide if this course is right for you.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners often pursue the goal of owning a small business at great risk to their personal well being. The time commitment required means that nearly all of your relationships will suffer at some point. Your financial priorities may narrow your choices at times, and in general, your work-life balance will probably just suck pretty often. And yet, we elect ourselves into this life!
Taking proactive steps to managing the stress and disjointedness inherent to the lifestyle of a small business owner can add years to your life. This course from the Indian School of Business and the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas Austin, provides a practical approach for achieving ‘A Life of Happiness and Fulfilment’.
While no single college course can turn you from a frayed mess of hot wires to a serene example of Buddha-like calm, merely taking the steps to manage your own happiness will have beneficial effects.
This class focuses on psychology, neuroscience, behavioral decision theory, as well as a secular appreciation of spiritualism to understand the ways that happiness functions, and how we can better attain it.
Buyer beware, this class is subtitled, but the contributors, from NY Times bestselling and TED-approved other Dan Ariely, to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Flow) and many others, make it worth the small amount of extra effort.
If you haven’t already learned how to code, you’re probably sick of people telling you that you should learn to write code. You’re probably also sick of people telling you that it’s not as hard as you think it is.
What’s stopping you though? People that start businesses are the kind of people who like to build things, and writing code for the web is just another way to build things. You don’t have to become an expert, but getting to the point of familiarity where you understand what’s happening with your site and why other sites (like those of your competitors) are good or bad at accomplishing what they should do, is really important for the growth of your business. These days it matters less and less what type of business you’re in, customers and clients often expect you to have a respectable web presence.
There is a rapidly diminishing pile of excuses for not understanding the web. If you take the first steps, you’ll learn enough to build simple things to help your business, or to help you negotiate well and interact with a professional web developer to build your site for you.
There are few things more essential to your success as a business than your ability to build and manage your brand. Your brand is the soul of your company. It is the intersection of the value you provide with the desire you create.
A major key to why branding is so important is differentiation. Two businesses may offer the same exact service — consider Uber and Lyft — and yet, their brands may be entirely different. Uber portrays itself to customers as sexy and sophisticated and opulent, while Lyft portrays itself as friendly, approachable, and accessible. If the two companies were fighting not just for the same customers, but for the same brand territory, it’s unlikely that they could both survive.
Branding skills come naturally to many small business owners, but this free course, a collaboration between the University of East Anglia and Wolff Olins, one of the top brand consultancies in the world, could be of tremendous benefit to business owners of any skill level. Having an understanding of what branding is, and a strong vision for your company, may not be enough. There are skills related to branding that can take you the extra mile. Learn to articulate the soul of your company through every product, service, interaction and asset that you offer.
Don’t delay in signing up, as the class began on January 25, but they’re still accepting new enrollees.
This free course offered by the University of Michigan through the absolutely invaluable edX platform takes a practical approach to understanding the role of finance in every aspect of our lives. When small business owners making financial decisions for the company, those decisions can often reverberate through their personal life. This course will help you learn to make smart professional and personal choices.
Smart financial management is a skill. Some people are a bit better at it than others, but most of us have room for improvement. For many businesses, success is about having enough time to build your business and establish ongoing relationships with returning customers. Time, as they say, is money. Learning how to make the best financial decisions could be the key to having enough time to turn your business into a thriving success.
Money stress is one of the worst kinds of stress. This class will help you in every area of your professional and personal life.
Michael Jones is a Senior Editor for Funding Circle, specializing in small business loans. He holds a degree in International Business and Economics from Boston University's Questrom School of Business. Prior to Funding Circle, Michael was the Head of Content for Bond Street, a venture-backed FinTech company specializing in small business loans. He has written extensively about small business loans, entrepreneurship, and marketing.