Being competitive often means being informed and knowledgeable about what’s new: products, technologies, business practices, legislation, industry happenings, competitive threats, and more. But getting and staying educated on the latest of everything can be expensive: industry certification programs and professional conferences can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
If your company doesn’t have a large budget for professional development, or if you want to explore less expensive options, here are some free or low-cost sources of training.
1. Vendor-sponsored training.
Many vendors are equipped and willing to provide free onsite training for your employees. Sure, they’ll promote their products, but they can also provide valuable information on market trends and latest product features. And, if you’ve chosen a vendor to serve your company, then you’ll want to know as much as possible about appropriate product applications, installation techniques, etc.
2. Community College
Local community colleges often have abundant resources such as corporate training (classes in Six Sigma & Lean Manufacturing as well as human resources management and leadership development programs), workforce skills training, small business seminars (topics might include writing a business plan or how to use Twitter), and computer classes available through continuing education and curriculum divisions.
3. Professional Organizations.
Many organizations present free or low-cost webinars in addition to their traditional courses available for a fee. Learn about “The Science of Search: Guiding Online Readers to Your Content” for $29.95 or how to write about science and health for free at News University, The Poynter Institute. For members, APICS offers free recorded webinars such as “Demand-Driven Manufacturing” and “Aligning Supply Chain and Financial KPIs.”
4. LinkedIn Events
Search for events by subject matter or location to find seminars, speaker presentations, and workshops. Many event organizers will charge a fee for admission but some won’t: check the price on the event listing or go to the event website to determine charges. Similar to vendor training, you may need to sift through sales pitches but hopefully you can glean some practical information from these sources.
Join your local Toastmasters International group to help you or your employees develop presentation skills, which can be essential to making sales calls; explaining company performance to board members, bankers, media representatives, etc.; conveying the value of products and services to audiences at trade shows.
6. Colleges and Universities
Lecture series and short courses on contemporary topics are hosted by colleges and universities: some will help you keep pace with global events; others may aid in applying technology, such as a course on basics of digital photography. Also, check out free university courses delivered via the web.
7. Chamber of Commerce
Local chambers of commerce typically give workshops on business topics. They also may have resources (staff members or chamber members) that can help provide insight and guidance regarding business challenges.
8. Public Libraries
Local branch libraries might organize classes in computer technology, retirement planning, and foreign languages. University libraries may host lectures by researchers and thought leaders in their respective fields, such as online social media.
9. Book discussions
Form your own book group to discuss bestsellers in business or other topics relevant to your industry.
10. Cooperative Extension
Local agents of Cooperative Extension offices lead workshops and may provide consultations on topics such as emergency preparedness.
11. Your Own Employees
Many employees have a wealth of knowledge that may be used in day-to-day activities or shared briefly in meetings but largely goes untapped otherwise. Let employees transfer knowledge in lunch-n-learns or more formal training sessions.
To get started, define your training and development needs; next, explore opportunities that may be presented locally in face-to-face sessions as well as those delivered via the web, either live or on-demand (recorded). While some freebies or low-cost alternatives cover introductory rather than in-depth material, many simply offer tremendous value to a savvy business owner.