As an entrepreneur, you likely have little time and even less money to invest in self-improvement. After all, you’re already dedicating every spare moment to building your business. Continuing education might be the last thing on your mind.
But picking up a few business courses can not only keep you up-to-date on changes in the business world, it can also help you learn new marketing strategies, better ways to manage your employees, and how to streamline your business operations. The best part is today’s technology allows you to take courses from some of the best business programs in the nation in your own time, at your own pace, and without spending a dime.
We’ve highlighted six free online courses that can benefit a variety of small-business owners.
1. Entrepreneurship and Business Planning
This Carnegie Mellon course, taught by Renaissance Consulting’s Mark Juliano, is available free of charge through TalkShoe. Lectures are available in a series of PowerPoint slides, and they cover topics such as generating an idea, building a team, starting the company, and writing a business plan. The course also covers funding, sales and marketing, legal issues, and giving effective investor presentations — just about everything an entrepreneur needs to know for success. Even if you own an established business, the course, which is included in Carnegie Mellon’s Masters in Information Systems Management program, offers food for thought from an industry expert.
2. Entrepreneurial Marketing
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a variety of business courses through its MIT Open Courseware. Entrepreneurial Marketing is part of MIT’s graduate catalog and is taught by professor Jin Gyo Kim. The course is designed to clarify key marketing concepts, methods, and strategic issues relevant to startup and early-stage entrepreneurs, and help students develop a flexible way of thinking about marketing problems in general. Students who complete the course will be able to answer the question, “What and how am I selling to whom?” and understand how to best leverage limited resources to overcome challenges.
3. Conducting a Thorough Market Assessment
The University of California, Irvine, also offers business courses through its Open Course Ware program. In its “Conducting a Thorough Market Assessment” lecture, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, entrepreneurs and co-authors of The Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development: a Cheat Sheet to the Four Steps to Epiphany, provide guidance in determining target customers and understanding what strategies will work in a given market. According to the lecturers, most startups don’t fail because they can’t build a product, but rather because no one wanted the product. After watching the lecture, entrepreneurs will better understand how to gauge what will work in a market, even if they have to abandon their original plans. Not only is the lecture informative, but you can watch it in less than an hour.
4. Entrepreneurial Behavior
The Open University, a U.K. nonprofit organization that offers a plethora of free online courses, also features a variety of courses aimed toward business owners and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial Behavior consists of four units and covers such subjects as the economic function of the entrepreneur, entrepreneurial qualities, and entrepreneurial work style. Students who complete the free course will obtain a better understanding of how to transform an innovative idea into an entrepreneurial product.
5. Transaction Processing for E-Commerce
Part of the University of Washington’s computer science and engineering program, Transaction Processing for E-Commerce is available free online through a series of lecture slides and video archives, and even includes four assignments to enhance students’ understanding. The course offers students a deeper understanding of the engineering aspects of transaction processing, including how to implement and distribute a transaction system in Java or C+. Although there are no specific prerequisites to the advanced-level course, students should bring a general understanding of web programming and basic knowledge of SQL.
6. Innovation, Markets and Industrial Change
Also offered through The Open University, Innovation, Markets and Industrial Change is designed to help students examine the role of innovation in the development of industries and consider how production costs can change as sales increase or new technology is introduced. Students who complete the course’s six units will also understand the relationship between consumer demand for a product and its price, as well as how output and production costs can affect industry structure.