Education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
As a freelancer writer and editor, most of my time is spent working alone. However, when I do find myself in a social setting, inevitably someone in the group starts asking me questions about what it takes to be a freelancer or run a home-based business. It seems to be a hot topic in most circles. Either people want to start a side business or change their careers. My first reaction is surprise, when people ask me for business advice. I’m not a business guru. I don’t have an MBA or any formal training in business management. But after the shock wears off, I realize that I do have a little knowledge to pass on. And if I’ve learned anything from researching business ownership and muddling through the “real-life home-business ownership school of hard knocks,” it’s that you don’t need a business degree to run a successful business.
According to a 2007 report by the United States Census Bureau, 26.4 percent of business owners surveyed had achieved a bachelor’s degree and 18.5 percent of owners of businesses had earned a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree before starting or acquiring their business. The report doesn’t say how many of those degrees were in business, but even if most of those people had earned a business degree, that leaves an overwhelming number of people who started businesses without obtaining a degree of any kind. Only 36.7 percent of business owners surveyed had previously owned a business or had been self-employed before owning their current business. People start businesses based on a product or service they wish to sell, not on their level of business expertise. This is good news for those of us learning business ownership on the job. But, just as they used to sing in School House Rock, “Knowledge is power.” Business training is still valuable and needed. Fortunately, there are a lot of free and low-cost resources out there for use small business entrepreneurs. Here are a few I’ve found that can help any business owner brush up on the skills needed for overall business success.
- SCORE—This nonprofit organization is dedicated to helping small businesses. They offer a variety of resources, tools, and services for anyone trying to run a small business. They also provide free mentoring and counseling services with professionals from your field. Inexpensive and free workshops and webinars can be found on their website. You can also find a local chapter if you’d like to talk to someone in person.
- U.S. Small Business Administration—This government organization provides information and services that help small business owners. They offer online training and resources that cover, among other things, business planning, marketing, and finances. They also give stats and research about running a small business in the United States. Their website contains laws and regulations to help business owners with any legal issues they might encounter. These services are all free to the public.
- Local Library—Sure the library is the first place people go to find reference materials or genealogy help, but most local libraries have a treasure trove of information for the small business owner in the form of books, DVD training series, and instructional software. Some libraries offer computer training classes that range from basic computer skills (e.g., using Quickbooks and checking email) to more advanced skills (e.g., building a website with Dreamweaver or learning HTML). They also provide free access to resources that teach business assertiveness and effective communication skills. Your local library probably has a website that tells what they offer specifically.
- Local Colleges/Tech Schools—This seems like a no-brainer, but many small business owners overlook these valuable institutions because they fear the cost or the requirements. However, many universities, community colleges, and technical schools offer helpful, low-cost classes that can be very helpful to the small business owner. Many offer continuing education classes and noncredit courses for as little as $25/class—not a bad investment for an entrepreneur looking to learn a specialized skill such as grant writing or online marketing. Check local schools for what the educational institutions in your area have to offer.
- Social Networking Sites—Most people know that LinkedIn and Facebook can be used to stay in contact with clients and colleagues as well as market goods and services. But many people overlook the potential these resources have for providing education and information. By joining industry specific groups on LinkedIn and Facebook’s BranchOut, business owners can connect with other entrepreneurs who can give advice and answer questions. Business owners can also use these sites to find business news that can help them stay on top of the trends that can affect their business.
Resources that can help build your business are all around you, but they don’t just fall into your lap. You have to go out and find them. With a little effort, you can increase your knowledge without breaking the bank. If you’ve found a low-cost or free business resource, leave a comment. I’m always looking for ways to increase my business know-how.