With the start of the new school year, many small business owners are about to become students. Some are brand-new entrepreneurs who want to learn the basics, such as how to use accounting software. Others are veterans who want to learn new skills so they can expand their business.
Owners who want to learn have a wide variety of options. Traditional options like colleges and universities offer courses, but so do trade organizations and chambers of commerce. Some government agencies also have courses.
Lynette Viviani, who owns a public relations firm, will be going to school this fall to learn more about social media and how to use it for marketing. Viviani has taken classes at the City University of New York's Business Development Institute. She has also taken courses offered by trade groups.
"You have to go out there and learn new things," says Viviani, whose company, Viviani Associates PR is located in Parsippany, N.J. She's been taking classes since the early days of running her own business, which she started 22 years ago. At first she was taking courses in subjects like speechwriting. Now, she says, "continuing education is a must, especially in light of today's evolving world of social media and content marketing."
An owner concerned about the expense will quickly find that money isn't an issue. Although some courses at major universities can cost $1,000 or more, there are plenty of courses or seminars that cost $20, $50 or at most, a few hundred dollars.
Location is also not a problem, because so many courses are offered online. And taking classes doesn't have to be a big time-burner. Classes range from 90-minute seminars to college or university courses that last a semester.
COLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES AND FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS
Schools ranging from community colleges to major universities usually have courses that appeal to business owners. There are also for-profit schools and companies that offer courses in specific business subjects such as accounting.
Most schools list their course offerings online. Some of the big-name business schools tend to cater to MBA candidates, but they may also accept students for individual classes. And some offer certificates in specific areas of business such as accounting, marketing and management.
For owners feeling ambitious enough to pursue an MBA, many schools offer part-time programs.
Jennifer Campisi, who owns a Senior Helpers caregiving franchise in Lafayette, La., took classes given by a consulting firm to learn accounting and other financial basics.
As a nurse she didn't have a head for numbers. "I had to really get an understanding of the whole financial side of running a business," she said.
She chose a consulting firm for her studies because it offered refresher courses and support after the class ended.
CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE AND TRADE GROUPS
Joining a chamber of commerce or trade group can give owners an opportunity to take courses and seminars at little or no cost.
Chambers in the largest metropolitan areas tend to offer a variety of courses; the Denver Chamber of Commerce, for example, has several scheduled each week. Topics include business taxes, using the accounting software Quickbooks, sales and marketing, and how to take advantage of the latest trends in technology.
Smaller chambers are likely to have fewer offerings, but they are still aimed at helping business owners learn. The Springfield, Ill., chamber has seminars once a month. This year's topics have included employee handbooks, customer service and using Facebook as a business tool.
Many trade groups also have seminars and courses, including the American Management Association, the American Marketing Association and the Public Relations Society of America.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTERS
SBDCs are sponsored by the Small Business Administration and are located throughout the country, often at colleges and universities. They offer advice and counseling to owners, and many also have workshops and seminars on business basics. They also have online courses.
The Connecticut SBDC, for example, has workshops on starting a business, writing a business plan and company finances. The workshops are held in different cities around the state.
The Kansas SBDC has online courses that take between 30 minutes and two hours to complete, on topics including starting a business, managing finances and marketing.
Source: The Associated Press.