Affordable, practical business education for small business, family business, and self-financed entrepreneurs
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If you currently run or have ever wanted to start your own business, but you don’t have a business background, you may be wondering whether you could benefit from an MBA education. If money were no object, the answer would most certainly be yes. But with tuition soaring into the stratosphere, a business degree is not always an entrepreneur’s best bet.
In the US, small businesses make up 99.7% of firms, according to the Small Business Administration. Of these, over three-quarters are sole proprietorships or partnerships employing only the business owners, and over half are home-based. Some small businesses grow and become medium-size or large firms, while many others die off (roughly 50% within the first 5 years). Many small businesses are designed to stay small, so-called “lifestyle businesses,” whose main purpose is to provide a steady income, not to become the next Uber.
With such uncertain odds and differing motivations, it’s no surprise that when faced with the choice between investing in the business itself or plunking down $100K for a business education of unknown ROI, many small business owners forego the degree. In some ways, that’s just smart business. In other ways it’s a shame, since small business owners, managers of family businesses, and people who are planning to start a small business one day could certainly pick up some valuable skills from a graduate business education.
A Better Alternative for Small Business Owners
Enter massive open online courses. For this demographic, as for many others, a MOOC-based business education offers an attractive alternative to a pricey MBA degree.
Business education for small and family-owned businesses is a topic of great personal interest to me, both as an international development professional and as an entrepreneur. Worldwide, small and family-owned businesses make up the vast majority of all firms. In the Latin American and African economies I’ve worked in, there isn’t a lot of venture capital sloshing around, so new businesses are often built by bootstrapping or taking out bank loans. These entrepreneurs may not have money to spend on a business degree, but they do need to pick up business skills in order to be successful in their new ventures. Additionally, I myself started a small business as part of my No-Pay MBA education. The experience was the ultimate capstone to my business studies, and it brought home the importance of a business education that delivers value, no matter the size of the enterprise.
These entrepreneurs may not have money to spend on a business degree, but they do need to pick up business skills in order to be successful in their new ventures.
If you are running a small business, or looking to start one, you can pick up much of what you need through free and low-cost courses. They key is finding courses that are highly practical and tailored toward your needs as an entrepreneur. Below are a few of my top recommendations.
This course will train you to view your business with the critical eye of an operations manager, looking for opportunities to improve efficiency in every repeating process. From filing, to stocking, to customer service, you are bound to find many areas of your business that could benefit from a bit of operational analysis and a few tweaks to pick up the slack.
Did you know that some of the most successful, fastest-growing companies were built without venture financing? This includes companies like Dell, Shutterstock, GoPro, and many others. The perfect antidote to a culture that has become increasingly obsessed with venture capital. You will learn at least five other ways to finance your startup, all of which are less risky than seeking venture capital.
This comprehensive course is great for demystifying what happens at top business schools. Chris Haroun, venture capitalist and former management consultant, teaches a highly condensed, highly practical course. He covers all the major b-school topics in an intuitive way. In the section on accounting, for example, Haroun focuses not on accounting theory or manual bookkeeping. Rather, he talks about the kinds of accounting software and services that business of various sizes rely on. The section on finance, the least intuitive topic in the business curriculum, is where you’ll find the real meat of this course. Well worth the money, and readers of this blog can get 75% off the course using this link.
And while we’re on the topic of finance, many would-be and current entrepreneurs could benefit from learning the basics of financial modeling in Excel. This might sound intimidating, especially if you don’t have any prior business experience, but don’t worry! Modeling is just a method for identifying all the money coming into and going out of your business, making educated guesses about those flows, and mapping them out over time. This course offers an approachable take on the topic of financial modeling, using the example of a lemonade stand, a simple business.
Many brick-and-mortar businesses are behind the curve on digital marketing. Don’t have a digital marketing strategy? This course can help get you up to speed and get you thinking about opportunities to engage a digital audience.
If you run or plan to start a business, what courses have you found valuable? Share your favorites in the comments!