This was originally published on AllBusiness.
Knowledge is power, as we all well know. And yet, for many entrepreneurs, once we initially figure out how to run our businesses, we don’t reinvest time and energy into knowledge to keep moving forward.
That’s a shame because learning more skills and tools is what makes us more competitive in a marketplace that never stands still. Here are a few ways you can improve your knowledge.
1. Online conferences
A silver lining of running a business during a pandemic is that instead of in-person conferences and events, everything’s been moved online. That means you can hear well-known industry leaders speak on their topics of expertise without the cost of airfare and a hotel. And most sessions are recorded, so if you can’t dedicate three days to watching one after another in real time, you can learn on your own schedule.
A personal story: I was looking at course software (which I know little about) and discovered one company had a free three-day conference with lots of educational sessions. Bam. Done. Not only will I learn how to maximize course sales, but I’ll also get a peek at the sponsor software to see if it fits my needs.
Remember these? Yes, books are still great resources for knowledge, especially if you’re in an industry that evolves overnight. I laugh when I think about the digital marketing books I wrote 10 years ago—they’re completely outdated by now. So even if you read a book about, say, programming five years ago, chances are there’s more to learn now. (Don’t know what business books to read? Don’t reinvent the wheel; follow others’ book recommendations.)
You can also find really great e-books for free from companies that want you on their mailing list. If stats and reports are your jam, look for companies you follow to see if they have any free white papers that might sharpen your awareness of what’s happening in your industry right now.
I spend my days creating content, and I do a ton of research on sites and blogs. There are some I rely on heavily for the latest in my industry. Neil Patel’s blog is a great example of one I use to understand the latest SEO trends. I also read a lot of Forbes Small Business for cutting-edge thought leadership. Consider who the experts are in your field and see if they’re writing. Likely they are.
This is a bonus source because if you’re creating content for your own blog (you are, right?), you can get great ideas from others. Just find your own unique angle when writing your blog posts.
4. Company resource pages
If you use software or tools, and wouldn’t mind better understanding how to leverage them, see if the company you buy them from offers resources to help. HubSpot is a fantastic example of a company that has a ton of free resources to help its customers, including an in-depth blog and free courses and certifications. It’s win-win: you as the customer learn tricks and strategies you might not have figured out on your own, and the company gets a loyal customer.
You might also consider requiring any staff that uses a tool to also take advantage of a company’s resources, especially webinars and tutorials.
5. Learning platforms
If you have a LinkedIn profile, you have access to the LinkedIn Learning platform, which has more than 16,000 free and paid courses on subjects ranging from creating a marketing plan to raising capital. The paid membership is $29.99 a month.
A free option is edX, a free learning platform that covers the gamut from language to nutrition. The site has some in-depth business courses, including those on supply chain management, fintech, and marketing analytics. The courses are actual college courses taught at prestigious schools like UC Berkeley and Columbia, but you get access to them online at no cost.
Making time to learn
“Okay, Susan, you’ve given me a list of places I can expand my knowledge. Are you also going to magically create time for me to learn?”
I get it. You’re busy. You don’t have a ton of extra time to put toward things that aren’t adding to your bottom line. But let me just stress this fact: knowledge does add to your bottom line. If you learn new skills, you can offer more services to customers. If you discover features of the software you use that make you more productive, you save time. It does require dedicating time to learning, so I suggest blocking off time on your calendar, just like you would do an important meeting. Don’t skip it; it may seem like there are more important things to do, but learning should be a priority.
If you simply can’t find the time, you might need to delegate more of your tasks to others. Your job as a business owner is to continually find new ways to innovate and remain competitive, and that sometimes means taking yourself offline (metaphorically) from the business so you can invest in your own knowledge.
Take notes. We all learn differently, but for me, taking notes is critical for my retention. Do better than me and don’t write cryptic notes you won’t understand later!
Remaining competitive in an ever-changing industry isn’t a nice-to-have—it’s critical. Boosting your own knowledge is an essential step in making sure your business is relevant and effective at solving customers’ needs.