Continuous learning is essential for small business owners

In the world of small business, there is always something new to learn. Depending on how small your company is, you may have to be a jack of all trades, which requires mastering new topics as they come along.

For example, many small retail businesses are taking advantage of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to drive customers to their doors. So owners have had to bone up on these tools and figure out how to best use them to promote their businesses.

Any small business owner who doesn’t embrace continuous learning runs the risk of having his/her business stagnate and fall behind the times. Fortunately, these days there are more inexpensive resources than ever before for learning new information that will help you grow your business. Here are just a few of the places you can turn to for low-cost or even free learning opportunities:

• Your local community college: A rapidly growing number of community colleges around the country offer a steady stream of workshops and non-credit (i.e., low cost) courses for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Many also provide networking opportunities and counseling and mentoring, often at no cost at all. I’m aware of what’s happening on community colleges campuses thanks to my work with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, which has over 300 member colleges all across the nation. I am constantly amazed at the range of serves these member schools have for the businesses in their communities. See what your local community college is up to; you may be surprised.

• Your local Community Development Corporation: Many of these nonprofit organizations offer low-cost workshops on business topics. For example, at the Hilltown CDC in Chesterfield, MA, I have presented workshops on writing Web copy and on how to get the media to tell your business story. The cost for these sessions has been only $35, and the CDC usually has some scholarship money available for those who need assistance. Check out what’s happening at your local CDC. And if they’re not offering something along these lines, check out nearby CDCs. I’ve noticed that offerings can vary significantly from one organization to the next.

• Your local library: Don’t let the cost of business books hold you back from learning. Most libraries are part of a lending system so that even if your particular library doesn’t have the business book you want, you can order it from another library in the network. Many libraries even have access to e-books now, so you can borrow a business book for your Nook or similar device. (Kindle recently announced plans to partner with libraries too, but that won’t start until later this year.)

• TED Talks: Get yourself over to, and check out amazing presentations by forward-thinkers from all over the world. TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design, but the topics covered in the approximately 900 lectures that are posted so far also include science, business, the arts and the global issues facing the world. At a minimum, you can find a presentation that will inspire you to get up tomorrow with a renewed focus toward achieving great things.

• YouTube: It’s amazing the amount of free instruction you can get on YouTube. And this is growing rapidly as businesses realize the value of using instructional videos to promote their expertise.

The beauty of TED Talks and YouTube is that you can access them according to your schedule, which every hard-working small business owner will appreciate. So there really is no excuse for not continuing to learn about topics that will help you be a better business owner.

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