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4 Online Courses for Smarter Small-Business Management

AUTHOR: Kevin Jaskolka

It’s safe to say that the online capabilities of the digital era now have an upper hand on sliced bread: It’s the best thing going. With a few key taps or finger strokes, endless amounts of education and information are within arm’s reach. This is particularly true of online courses, many of which are designed to work around your schedule. This fact alone is priceless for business owners who seek to gain more knowledge about all-important business processes and principles, but don’t have enough hours in the day to fit into their already hectic agenda.

Decidedly busy though you may be, carving out some time for an online class or two pays dividends, studies show. One study was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Washington and Stanford University. Detailing their findings in the Harvard Business Review, the researchers discovered that of the 780,000 participants who enrolled and completed a Massive Open Online Course - otherwise known as MOOCs - an overwhelming 87% acknowledged some kind of benefit to their professional life. These included those that were tangible (e.g. starting a business, higher salary, hired by a new employer) as well as intangible (e.g. improved skill sets, greater clarity after a career change, enhanced hireability).

Whether you graduated with an MBA or are brand new to running a small business, there’s almost always something you can learn that you didn’t know before. You can use these insights to improve operational efficiency, customer relationship management or supply chain optimization.

So, what are the best online programs out there? It all depends on what you’re interested in and who you ask. But here are a few that you may want to consider taking to hone your managerial capabilities. Several of them come are for free, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain:

1. Learn more in 30 minutes or less

You may think of the Small Business Administration as a government entity that provides small business loans. While that’s true, it’s also a great learning resource and offers several online courses, each of which is approximately 30 minutes in length. They include tips on how to write a business plan, details on legal requirements small-business owners must satisfy on a federal, state and local level as well as how to make the best use of social media to more effectively market your company and build your brand. All the courses are completely free and include worksheets that can help you master various concepts and best practices.

2. Become more social media savvy

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn boast billions of regular users, each of whom can quickly discover what’s new with their friends, current events and sales promotions from online and brick-and-mortar retailers, among other businesses.

Social Media Hero serves as another quick learning program that can help you master the tips and tricks associated with marketing your company on the online channel of your choice. It’s owned and operated by entrepreneur and blogger Melyssa Griffin, whose methods have been featured in many well known online publications, including The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Darling Magazine.

It sells classes for less than $40 and can provide you with a number of takeaway benefits that can help you more seamlessly utilize social media to improve sales and enhance name recognition. The strategies are tailored by channel, as what works best for Pinterest may be different than for IG.

3. Grow with SEO

While many millions have an online presence nowadays, it’s not the same as being readily discoverable via search engines like Bing and Google. That’s where SEO comes in handy. Short for search engine optimization, SEO uses keyword research that’s strategically placed into various types of content, like whitepapers and blogs, so your business’ is featured among the top hits in search results. This can drive more traffic to your Facebook profile or website.

SEO is a massive topic, but former Moz CEO Rand Fishkin breaks it all down effectively so you can determine if SEO is for Y-O-U. The nearly three-hour course is free with a SkillShare membership.

4. Communicate better by writing better

Regardless of your industry, communication is critical. Signals can easily get crossed when you don’t express your needs sufficiently and succinctly. You can improve your ability to connect with customers, clients, personnel and stakeholders with the university program “Effective Business Writing. Offered by the University of California Berkeley, the program is more of an investment in terms of time - lasting four weeks in three-to-five hour increments - but it won’t cost you a dime to enroll. Classes begin March 15 and can help you write more persuasively in emails, business letters, performance reports and more.

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