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

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: September 24, 2014 Updated: August 25, 2016

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

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 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

How to Take Your Solopreneurship to the Next Level

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: September 18, 2014

If you’re like nearly 18 million people in the US, you’re operating your business as a solopreneur. That means you’ve been doing everything, from making sales to refilling the printer paper. But what happens when your business grows beyond what you can do on your own?

It’s time to call in reinforcements. But it’s not just a matter of hiring a few freelancers. You need a strategy that will help you scale your operations to match up with your boom in business.

Change Your Business Structure

When you’re small potatoes, operating as a sole proprietor is usually sufficient. But as you grow, you need to protect your personal assets. If someone sues your company, they’re essentially suing you, and your personal assets may be taken to cover costs. But operating as a corporation or LLC, you are separated from your business, and you’re not personally liable for it.

There are also tax advantages to choosing a formal business structure, so do some research and figure out which is best for your company.

Figure Out Your Staffing Needs

You can’t continue to do everything successfully, so it’s time to start hiring. You have a few options here, depending on how much help you need:

  • Freelancer
  • Intern
  • Agency or consultant
  • Part-timer
  • Full-timer

If you have a one-off project, like web design, a freelancer may work. If you want to hand your marketing over to someone else, consider hiring a marketing consultant or agency. And if you have regular tasks you need help with, determine whether you need to hire part or full time.

Be Willing to Invest Time

While yes, adding people to your team will lighten your load in some ways, if you’re truly ready to grow your business to be competitive with bigger players, you’ll probably have to spend more time working on that growth. Let your family know that at least for the time being, you’ll be less available at home.

Look to the Future

As your business grows, you may change your goals. As a solopreneur, you may not set your sights as high as you can once you’re moving up to the next level. Reassess your business plan, and decide whether it’s still in line with where you want to take the company. You may find that you want to grow more aggressively now that you’ve built a team to help you move faster.

Let Go

Up until now, you were the one to make all the decisions. Now that you’re working with other people, it may be a challenge for you to not want control everything. But realize your growth involves you working with people who are skilled in areas you aren’t, so trust them to do the job and contribute to your company’s success.

Moving from solopreneurship to a larger small business isn’t an overnight miracle. It will take planning, time and money, so make sure now is the right time for you to step up your efforts.

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

Laying Off Workers…Sort of

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: September 11, 2014 Updated: September 11, 2014

Even though a business may be non-seasonal, it can still experience significant swings in the amount of revenue it takes in; sometimes things are very busy, while at other times things may be slow. Businesses that have dramatic work reductions often terminate members of their staff in order to make ends meet, but it can be the wrong thing to do. If you’re experiencing slow times but don’t want to lose valuable help by laying off staff, explore whether you can use a work-share program to tide you, and your workers, over until business improves.

Work-share programs

These are state-level programs that provide partial unemployment compensation for workers who have their hours reduced because of a temporary slowdown in the employer’s business. In states with work-share programs (also referred to as short-time compensation, shared work programs, or other terms), workers can continue on the company payroll while receiving partial unemployment compensation benefits. This arrangement applies only if an employer voluntarily agrees to participate in the program.

To participate, an employer must experience a serious reduction in business that causes the company to cut hours, usually shifting workers from full-time to part-time. Rules vary from state to state. For example, the state of Washington, requires that there be a reduction of at least 10%, but not more than 50%, in hours and at least two permanent employees must be enrolled in the program. In California, which started its work-share program in 1978, there must be a minimum of two employees comprising at least 10% of the employer’s workforce who have a reduction in weekly wages and hours of at least 10% but not more than 60%; corporate officers and major stockholders cannot participate to receive benefits. In New York’s program, the reduction in hours must be between 20% and 60%, and the employer cannot hire additional workers to replace the reduced hours.

Employers then complete some paperwork to trigger participation in their state’s work-share program. This paperwork identifies eligible employees (those with reduced hours).

Once the employer is in the plan, the employees can receive partial state unemployment benefits, which make up for some of their lost wages. For example, if a business experiences a 20% reduction in business and cuts hours accordingly, employees would receive 20% of unemployment benefits to which he/she would be entitled if they had been laid off.

A business can use the program more than once; it’s not a one-time option. In New York, for example, its Department of Labor approved 877 employer plans under the state’s Shared Work Program for 2013, and of these, nearly half had participated in 2012. But employers had to be reapproved by filing a new request for participation and undergoing a review to ensure that they still met eligibility requirements.

Benefits and drawbacks of work-share programs

Benefits for employers:

  • Retaining good employees who are already trained
  • Avoiding future costs for rehiring, retraining, and recruiting when times improve
  • Maintaining diversity in the workplace (normally, younger workers would be let go first and these workers may represent added diversity within the company)

Benefits for employees:

  • Maintaining income
  • Keeping health coverage and other employee benefits

Drawback for employers:

  • Unemployment taxes are increased because of the claims made against them

Drawback for employees:

  • The partial unemployment benefits do not completely replace lost wages

States with programs

More than half the states and the District of Columbia have work-share programs in place or will have them ready in the next two years. These include:

Arizona

Maine

Ohio

Arkansas

Maryland

Oklahoma

California

Massachusetts

Oregon

Colorado

Michigan

Pennsylvania

Connecticut

Minnesota

Rhode Island

District of Columbia

Missouri

Texas

Florida

Nebraska

Vermont

Iowa

New Hampshire

Virginia

Kansas

New Jersey

Washington

Louisiana (not yet implemented)

New York

Wisconsin

Conclusion

Many small employers are unaware of this option that could be helpful in certain situations. Check with your state’s department of labor and unemployment division for details.

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

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