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Learn, Develop, Grow – Free Online and Offline Small Business Training Opportunities

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: September 24, 2014

Running a business is a fulfilling endeavor, but it often leaves very little room for self-development and on-the-job training.

In fact, finding the time to develop and hone your business skills is probably not top of your list of priorities, but it should be.

One of the best, and simplest, pieces of advice I’ve been given as a business owner is to make a habit of attending at least one relevant webinar or online learning course per month. Whether its tips on how to do a better job of marketing my business or staying on top of the changes to tax law – free online classes are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of your industry and business.

But where do you start, and how do you find free courses that are relevant to your needs?

Check Out the SBA Learning Center

Research proves that small businesses want fast access to relevant and trusted information that can help them make informed decisions about starting, running and growing their businesses. With a goal of providing small business owners with fingertip access to free, helpful and reliable training opportunities, in 2012, SBA launched its Learning Center.

Since going live, the site has grown to feature nearly 150 self-paced online courses, videos and web chats hosted by industry and government experts. Topics include starting and managing a business, financing, marketing, taxes, government contracting and more.

Content is filtered by topic, so no matter the stage of your business, or the kind of insight you need, you can quickly get answers.

For example, if you’re wondering how SBA loan programs work or just need a primer in accounting or small business taxes, check out these self-paced online financing courses and short videos. Or explore tips from the pros in these archived SBA Web Chats.

New courses are added all the time, including how to establish values for your business and what is intellectual property and how do you protect your ideas? 

More Trusted Online Training Options

The Learning Center isn’t the only hub of learning. Here are a few other useful resources to explore:

  • SBA YouTube Channel – Here you’ll find SBA’s archived how-to webinars from its regular webinar schedule as well as online courses from National Small Business Week. Sign up for the SBA Weekly Updates (at the top right of this page) to learn about upcoming webinars.
  • SCORE – Sponsored by the SBA, SCORE is a small business mentoring organization and you’ll find many interesting webinars on their calendar featuring real-life business use cases and practical tips. SCORE also offers a free email advice line. Simply type in your question and a SCORE mentor will contact your directly to see how they can assist. This is a great option for getting answers to those one-off questions that perplex you.
  • BusinessUSA – Bookmark BusinessUSA.gov’s events page. This site filters online and in-person small business webinars and trade events that are taking place across the country. It also offers access to online training seminars from the IRS and other agencies.

Get Training and Help Offline

Your personal and business development doesn’t have to stop at your desktop. SBA also offers in-person training, counseling and access to business development specialists through its SBA District Offices. In fact, SBA’s Local Assistance programs also include targeted help for women business owners, veterans and businesses interested in exporting.

Local Small Business Development Centers are located in hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. and are another valuable source of counseling and in-person seminars.

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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The Power of Words in Business

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: September 23, 2014

Words can be a very powerful tool. They can help you connect with customers, assist in negotiation and, ultimately, they can help you build your business. That’s why it’s vital to pick your words wisely.

Sometimes otherwise great words and phrases lose their meaning. They get so diluted by overuse that they end up meaning nothing at all. And that’s why it’s important to track how we use them in business.

Choose your words carefully
 I first noticed that phenomenon back in the early 1980s with the phrase “user friendly,” as in “user-friendly” software. That phrase was so attractive to users and advertisers that publishers swarmed all over it. Within a year or so, “user friendly” lost all meaning. Ironically, lots of software, then and now, is actually user hostile. But we in the industry had to look for different wording. That phrase was empty. We all laughed at “user friendly.”

I’m happy to report the pendulum has finally swung back again so that it’s quality of content that matters, not quantity. Word quality is up.

And isn’t this awesome? When I was a kid, “awesome” was reserved for a very few things that truly inspired awe, like Yosemite Valley, the Grand Canyon, and the powers of God (or gods). Hurricanes and earthquakes were awesome. Awe was the active word. You could look it up.

I wonder how much we were all influenced by one particular sportscaster (Howard Cosell) who liked to call a really good play awesome. We had awesome tackles and awesome catches. Whether it was that in particular, or just evolution, awesome now means “good.” Or even “nice.” We have awesome sandwiches, awesome suggestions and awesome t-shirts.

Are you using meaningless phrases?
Think about some of the business phrases we use all the time. How quickly our words can lose meaning. Nobody thinks inside the box anymore. There are no worst practices, not even intermediate or common practices – just best practices. And good luck with the basic math of giving 110% to anything you do. Even when the hold time is half an hour, the menu is nine levels deep, and the answers scarcer than user-hostile software, we are still told, as we’re waiting, that customer satisfaction is that organization’s #1 priority. It’s hard to image what customer service would look like if it weren’t a priority.

Stay clear of content-stuffing
There was another ugly trend a couple of years back called “content-stuffing.”

At one point, it seemed like sites rushed to stuff their pages with junk content — much of it meaningless words and robot-generated SEO garbage — and were rewarded with better rankings in Google searches, and more traffic and sales.

Lots of bloggers went nuts, throwing up any old error-filled, half-baked, two-paragraph post, just to have a post every day of the week. Having boatloads of content was important!

I think we all saw how that was working. I particularly hated the fly-by-night blogs that would steal content and traffic by just copying stuff and filling it full of useful keywords, mucking things up for those of us who actually wanted useful content.

Eventually, so many sites did the junk-content thing, website readers got hip to it and stopped visiting these sites. The sites quickly lost their credibility. Rankings for junk-post sites went down.

The days when blogs could be sloppy, half-thought-out pieces written in 10 minutes and still succeed are over.

A new era has been born and valuable content and word choice is king. It’s not about quantity any more. It’s all about quality.

I hope so.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 44 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including The Plan As You Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press, 2008.

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Credit Unions Help Set the Stage for Greatest Generation's Encore Act

By Maria Contreras-Sweet, SBA Administrator
Published: September 17, 2014

The need to earn income doesn’t go away for many Americans as they reach retirement age. Even with Social Security or pension income, bringing in a supplementary revenue stream can be a lifeline for seniors. It’s also true that for some, retirement isn’t exactly a choice, for it can be harder to find work as we grow older.

One of the great things about this country is you can hire yourself. Especially in this age of E-commerce, it has never been easier to start a business from home. Today’s entrepreneurs don’t have to invest in inventory, personnel or brick and mortar. The SBA is committed to empowering 21st century business owners to prosper in the Internet age.

This month, at the AARP’s Ideas@50+ conference, I spoke to the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America: our seniors. More men and women 50 and over are applying their lifetime’s worth of experience to pursue their passions in the second act of their career.  We call them “encore entrepreneurs.”

Most new businesses don’t need that much capital to get off the ground. Often, a microloan of anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 is all that’s needed to get started. So at AARP, I announced that the SBA is forging new partnerships with America’s credit unions to make it easier for seniors to get a small business loan on reasonable terms.  We are working directly with the National Credit Union Association and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions to educate their members about SBA products.

There are nearly 6,800 credit unions in America, but only a small fraction currently offers SBA microloans. Millions of Americans have used their credit union to finance their car, their home, or their children’s education. We want to make it easier for credit unions to finance small business start-ups, too.

Credit unions are nonprofit, mission-based institutions, so there’s tremendous untapped potential here. The average age of credit union members is 47. Roughly ninety-eight million Americans (or about 1/3rd of the country) are members of one. This enormous reach is why I’m committed to bringing more credit unions on board to provide our encore entrepreneurs with the microloan financing they need.

Encore Entrepreneurs at SBA.gov is a great place to get started for those who want to learn more about starting a business in their golden years. There’s an online tutorial for creating a business plan, another for financing a small business, and another for marketing a business online. You will find free courses on general business topics like accounting and marketing, as well as specific courses designed for encore entrepreneurs.

The Greatest Generation has already shown this nation that it can lift American productivity in times of great need. These dedicated Americans did it after World War II, and they’re doing it again now. By channeling their passions into fulfillment through entrepreneurship, our seniors are stepping up to serve their country yet again.

About the Author:

Maria Contreras-Sweet
Maria Contreras-Sweet

SBA Administrator

Maria Contreras-Sweet is Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a member of President Obama’s cabinet. The SBA helps both Main Street and high-growth small businesses get access to capital, counseling, federal contracts, disaster assistance and more.

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Day at the Movies Inspires Business Incubator for Women

By Maria Contreras-Sweet, SBA Administrator
Published: September 16, 2014 Updated: September 16, 2014

Four years ago, after a marathon grant-writing session at University of California at San Diego, scientists Lada Rasochova and Rosibel Ochoa decided they needed a break and went to the movies. Playing at their local theater was Social Network, the motion picture loosely based on the founding of Facebook.

The two doctors watched with keen interest the depiction of how a company like Facebook could grow from a small start-up to a global behemoth. Afterward, while discussing the movie, they both had the same question: Wouldn’t it be great if more women in technology could benefit from the type of dynamic start-up environment depicted in the film?

So the scientists did what came naturally to them: research. They learned that only one percent of venture-backed startups have a female founder, and that women-led startups get only 4 percent of total VC funding. This inspired them to launch mystartupXX (XX stands for the female chromosome), a business accelerator at UC-San Diego founded to help women entrepreneurs turn their technology ideas into successful small businesses.

In just two years, six teams led by female entrepreneurs have taken their ideas commercial after being mentored in mystartupXX. Their small businesses have raised more than $2.6 million and created 130 jobs. One of the startups specializes in human genome sequencing; another has created a cutting-edge video game that teaches young children how to do computer coding.

All in all, it was a momentous day at the movies for Dr. Rasoochova and Dr. Ochoa in their quest to empower the next generation of female technology entrepreneurs.

In San Diego, I recently announced the winners of SBA’s first Growth Accelerator Fund competition – a $2.5 million contest created to export the small business support structure perfected in Silicon Valley to communities across America. My startupXX was one of 50 winners selected among more than 800 applications judged by a panel of experts with experience in entrepreneurship, investment, and business planning in the public and private sector. Each winner will receive $50,000 to support its accelerator operations.

The SBA competition was focused on seeding accelerators in parts of the country where there are gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We were especially concerned with providing a support structure for underserved entrepreneurs – including women, minorities, and veterans – and on lifting up new businesses in critical industries, such as advanced manufacturing.

Accelerators provide valuable resources to potential startups: a physical infrastructure to work in their infancy, mentoring, business-plan assistance, networking, opportunities to obtain venture capital, and introductions to potential customers, partners and suppliers. The SBA looks forward to working with the entrepreneurs in these accelerators to help them go from zero to 60 in record time so they can commercialize their business ideas, create good jobs and grow our economy.

SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet with one of the mystartupXX founders and UC San Diego students & staff

About the Author:

Maria Contreras-Sweet
Maria Contreras-Sweet

SBA Administrator

Maria Contreras-Sweet is Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a member of President Obama’s cabinet. The SBA helps both Main Street and high-growth small businesses get access to capital, counseling, federal contracts, disaster assistance and more.

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