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BFS Capital Blog

Accessible Online Learning Perfect for Busy Business Owners

March 21, 2013

Whether you own a restaurant, a florist shop or a pet supplies business, if you’re a typical small business owner, most of what you’ve learned about running your business has been from the school of hard knocks. While trial-and-error, ‘OJT’ learning is some of the best around, many small business owners want the benefit of some more formal education.

But who can spare the time, especially if the courses offer information that is largely academic? As valuable as that is, what business owners want—and need—is real-world knowledge they can apply in their own businesses right now … in areas like accounting, planning, budgeting, marketing, management and operations.

Online learning has exploded in the last few years, and small business owners are one key group of beneficiaries. There are topics and formats for a variety of learning styles and preferences. Three terrific—and very different—online alternatives are explored below.

One small business owner found the perfect solution and shared his experience earlier this year in the You’re the Boss blog on

Paul Downs, who founded Paul Downs Cabinetmakers, accidentally stumbled upon Coursera, the online education enterprise that offers free courses in a wide range of subjects, including business, to anyone who wants to take them. Referring to itself as a ‘social entrepreneurship company,’ Coursera currently partners with 62 major universities to provide courses taught by top professors.

Downs found a course called An Introduction to Operations Management. Running his business had taught him a lot, but he knew he needed to know more about allocating resources—people, space, machinery—to keep production flowing in a factory setting.

Not only did Downs expand his knowledge during the six-week course (video lectures, homework, and discussion forum), he also shared some of the lectures with his employees. Downs describes the course, and especially the video format, as a perfect fit for busy people.

Other business owners swear by the online educational tools offered by the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Don’t let the name scare you away: The kinds of information HBR provides aren’t just for corporate executives. Business owners who’ve sampled them say that the online seminars and tutorials are also targeted to those running small businesses and wearing all the hats. Examples: Harvard ManageMentor® offers 44 modules on critical management issues and will help you build, broaden or refresh your skills. And you might want to try the dynamic simulated learning on topics from pricing to marketing to working capital and managing growth.

Depending on your needs, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) offers continuing education resources and articles for business owners who want to ‘keep on learning’ and ‘keep up with the latest industry trends.’ From taxes and healthcare to networking and work-life balance, NFIB covers the gamut of relevant topics and will point you in the right direction for more.

Image courtesy of kangshutters /