Just a few decades ago, the ways to learn about operating a small business were limited—get a business degree from a college, find an experienced mentor, or just dive in and learn as you go. While these options are still viable today, it has never been easier to learn how to start or grow your company, irrespective of your industry.
Between official certifications from Silicon Valley titans to free classes offered by the government, the internet now ensures you never have to stop your business schooling.
Where to Find Online Courses
The field of online courses—especially online courses aimed at business topics—has exploded over the past 7 years. Now many top universities, including institutions like Stanford and Harvard, offer classes that are available to anyone.
Several platforms have sprouted up to become leaders in the online course world—Coursera, Udemy, and Udacity are some of the top platforms providing massive open online classes (or MOOCs). Some classes are free, while others require a one-time payment or come with a monthly subscription.
LinkedIn Learning, formerly known as Lynda, is another popular website for business classes and is connected to the business social media outlet LinkedIn. Many of these classes come rolled into a monthly subscription, and many can be completed in less than a day.
The United States government also has a series of free classes aimed at American small business owners through the Small Business Administration. The video lectures for these courses are usually pretty short, but the information is extremely useful, especially if you are new to entrepreneurship.
Pretty much every internet platform used by small businesses has some form of training programs for entrepreneurs interested in enlarging their digital footprint, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
There is an entire industry of courses you can take any time of year and at your own pace, although it’s worth checking out some of the platforms mentioned above to see if there are any specific online classes scheduled that best suit your business interests. Here are 15 online business classes that are always available.
Become a Digital Marketer
No matter the nature of your small business, you will almost certainly benefit from having some sort of digital marketing presence. This could be a lavish website that allows you to connect to customers anytime and anywhere, or it could be a simple strategy of email blasts that lets people know that you’re still around. Having some knowledge of digital marketing is crucial, which is why small business owners can wring a lot of knowledge out of the Become A Digital Marketer course from LinkedIn Learning.
The 15-hour course will be included in a Lynda.com membership, and you will develop marketing plans as part of the course. Additionally, you’ll get hands-on training with Google Analytics so you can better understand how to test and tweak your online marketing strategy.
Google IT Support Professional Certificate
Created by Google and hosted on Coursera, the Google IT Support Professional Certificate is meant to give anyone a step up in the information technology world. Google promises that the 5-course certificate will take learners from beginners to job-readiness in 6 months. In the end, graduates receive a certificate that is backed by Google. In fact, the certificate aims to make recipients ready for a job at a tech giant like Google, although there’s no guarantee of a job for taking the course.
The course is completely online, and you can take it at your own pace. Google even offers a special rate of $49 per month for students, which is less than many other Coursera offerings. The certificate could give you the grounding needed to start your own IT support business, or it can help you better understand and control the tech side of whatever operation you currently oversee.
The Complete Crowdfunding Course for Kickstarter & Indiegogo
At the start of the decade, it seemed like crowdfunding through platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe would open up massive new pipelines for taking your small business straight to the people. After hundreds of projects failed to make their funding goals or failed even after getting the funding, small business owners now know that crowdfunding is not as simple as asking your Facebook friends to spare a few bucks. Taught by Kickstarter successes, The Complete Crowdfunding Course for Kickstarter & Indiegogo on Udemy promises to help you understand this new world of funding.
Depending on Udemy’s current promotions, the course can cost as little as $11.99. Crowdfunding can be an excellent way to bring funding into your business before you’ve even manufactured a product. However, you can spend hours setting up a page and not receive a dollar without some forethought.
How to Come Up with Killer Business Ideas
If you’ve come here after searching the internet for small business advice, there’s a good chance that you don’t necessarily own a small business already—but you’re very interested in becoming your own boss. That’s ok! If you’ve decided you want to start a business but you’re unsure what the nature of that business will be, the Udemy course How to Come Up With Killer Business Ideas can assist you in setting yourself up for success.
Even if you already have a business, this workshop course is still illustrative. There’s likely a way you can reshape your core business to attract more customers, or there may be ways you can pivot your company into new, more profitable fields. The course is one of Udemy’s most popular business workshops. Students focus on generating actionable business ideas.
The Essential Guide to Entrepreneurship by Guy Kawasaki
Guy Kawasaki is one of the most consistent and insightful entrepreneurship gurus that Silicon Valley ever produced. Back in the early 1980s, Kawasaki marketed the first Macintosh computers and popularized the concept of being an evangelist for a brand. Having weathered several decades of the tech industry, he now has a career as an author and a favored speaker at many conferences. His Essential Guide to Entrepreneurship course on Udemy has plenty of information for both budding entrepreneurs and experienced small business owners.
The course features 4 hours of lectures from Kawasaki, as well as some intense, hands-on learning. Importantly, the cost of the course includes lifetime access to the material. While Kawasaki’s background is tech, his decades of experience give him the ability to teach about entrepreneurship in all fields.
While many small business owners dive immediately into the nuts and bolts of their particular company, those with experience know that having some background in overall analytical thinking, methodology, and business philosophy can help you better evaluate the situations facing your business day-to-day. The Critical Thinking course on LinkedIn Learning is a thoughtful way to help you build your methodological toolbox.
This course, intended for intermediate entrepreneurs, has been viewed over 1 million times since its release in late 2016. The course lasts for about an hour and comes with a LinkedIn Learning membership. Taught by business leadership expert Mike Figiluolo, the course aims to help you not just in business but in life as well.
Body Language for Entrepreneurs
In our era of email and texting, understanding body language remains an important skill for any entrepreneur. Reading nonverbal clues will help you respond to potential customers, investors, and business partners. Not only that, but understanding body language can unlock your ability to sell and pitch better.
Body Language for Entrepreneurs on Udemy is taught by Vanessa Van Edwards, an expert in the “Science of People.” She notes that 93% of human communication does not use words. Through the 5.5-hour course, students will learn tips on how to build rapport, sell successfully, and even detect lies. Fortunately, a large portion of the course focuses on high-pressure business situations like fundraising, pitching, public speaking, and negotiations.
Radiate Confidence: How to Create a 1000-Watt Presence
In our digital age, the ability to project a winning personality—especially in person—can have a real impact on your business’s bottom line. Not only can confidence help you during a sales pitch, but being more decisive and thoughtful can help you effectively navigate all business situations. While not specifically limited to entrepreneurs, the 4.5-hour Udemy course Radiate Confidence: How to Create a 1000-Watt Presence will help you become your own star.
Taught by Alexa Fischer, the course focuses on allowing students to find their beaming, authentic voice and tame any self-doubt that plagues them. Additionally, the course pushes students to build up a legion of their own fans and features coursework to help you project your confidence on-camera.
Introduction to Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has been heralded as the future for technology for almost 10 years now, and although VR doesn’t seem like it is defining our lives currently, it will surely be a major part of most people’s lives in the 2020s. Between employee training, video games, and the new phase of media, expect VR to become more commonplace for both work and play. That means that there is an opportunity now for those willing to fully understand the technology and its implications, which underscores why Coursera’s Introduction to Virtual Reality course will provide some essential information for curious small business owners.
Offered by the University of London, the course is pitched toward beginners looking to understand the basics of VR. Overall, these VR courses are aimed at those looking to start a career or business in VR, but they will also provide information about innovative ways to incorporate this tech into an existing business. Coursera has a whole Virtual Reality Specialization, so you can go really deep into the topic after taking this 18-hour class, which Coursera recommends you take across 4 weeks.
Managing in Difficult Times
Your business will face difficult times—that’s a simple fact of both life and entrepreneurship. It’s how you respond to a crisis, though, that will truly define you as a small business owner. Most small businesses fail within a few years, so handling emergencies will be a necessary skill for anyone starting a company. Between cash crunches, hiring headaches, and dealing with the IRS, the LinkedIn Learning course Managing in Difficult Times hands you the strategies that will keep your head above water.
Taught by former US Army Special Forces soldier Jan Rutherford, this hour-long course is a fantastic, easy-to-digest primer on strategic thinking during chaos. The course, which carries an intermediate difficulty level, emphasizes self-awareness and learning from the past.
Developing Applications with Google Cloud Platform Specialization
Google’s ongoing partnership with Coursera has been wildly successful in allowing people to get an education in IT—especially those who might not have had the opportunities from traditional higher educational institutions or pricey programmer “boot camps.” The Developing Applications with Google Cloud Platform Specialization is an intermediate-level course that teaches students how to design, build, and launch apps on the cloud using Google’s cloud platform.
The schedule for completing this class is flexible, and it’s suggested that students complete the coursework across the course of a month. Because you will be using Google’s cloud platform, you will get a solid knowledge of best practices for creating cloud-native apps. Students participate in several hands-on labs, so get excited to do some app-building.
100 Steps 2 Startup
While coursework can be immensely helpful when running a small business, the majority of small business owners learn by doing—and often by making mistakes. Some courses today focus on combining education with action, so students are starting their business while they’re learning about it.
If you are as analytically-minded as most startup founders are, it could be worth investing in 100 Steps 2 Startup. The innovative system is explained by the course’s title—students learn 100 small actions that will result in launching a startup. Taught by entrepreneurship professor Sean Wise, the goal of the program is for students not just to learn but to start their business. The course starts at the ideation phase and moves forward toward generating revenue in the 100 steps.
How to Write A Business Plan
A business plan is an essential document for any small business owner, although some may try to get started without one. A business plan looks both forward and into the past, using your company’s history as a way to forecast the future. It’s also a necessary document if you’re seeking funding, especially from a bank or from angel investors. Investors expect specific sets of data and predictions, so putting together an accurate business plan that will impress lenders is basically impossible without some research.
How to Write A Business Plan, a short course offered by the SBA for free, explains everything you need to know in an accessible way. Spending a half-hour on this tutorial can put you in a position to apply for a large array of business loans. Of course, a clear business plan is good for your company, too, so this is a course that’s helpful for everyone.
HTML & CSS Path
Understanding HTML is not just a necessary aspect of being a web designer—it can be an important skill for anyone dabbling with a website or even with specialized email content. Having a bit of knowledge about web design can be useful for small businesses of any kind. The Pluralsight courses on HTML and CSS are exceedingly helpful in this regard, and you can go at your own pace.
On the HTML and CSS Path, you can get started with HTML and web design basics. After some coursework, students can move on to learning HTML5, the newest generation of HTML for building the highest-level websites around. These courses are great because you will get a lot of practice with HTML, which is the best way to learn the topic because it is part art and part science.
Business Opportunities: A Guide to Winning Federal Contracts
The US government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services—yes, our federal government is the biggest customer in the world. Because of this status, you should think about how your government might be interested in buying from your business. Luckily, the SBA has a whole course on how to best position yourself to taking on contracts from the US government—and the information is free!
The half-hour Business Opportunities: A Guide to Winning Federal Contracts course gives you the inside information you need to engage the government and win lucrative contracts. Like almost everything involving the US government, federal contracts can be way more complicated than they seem at first, which is why a course like this is so key.