Industry practices frequently change, so it is important to keep your staff up-to-date on the latest methods and programs to avoid falling behind your competitors. Seminars and instructors do not come cheap, however. One session often costs thousands of dollars. Many small businesses operate on a tight budget and are unable to afford that type of expense. Still, with some creativity and networking, there are ways to help your staff get the training they need without spending a fortune.
Trade advertising space for training.
Barter with clients by allowing them to place an ad on your website or publication in exchange for the cost of a training course or session. The trick is to think of what you can offer someone else in exchange for something that you need.
Use an online course.
If you can’t afford to send your staff to a conference or seminar, check if the training course is available online. Webinars offer videos, text, and sometimes live interaction, making them an excellent educational tool. An added benefit is you can keep an eye on your staff without wondering if they actually attended the course. A similar option is computer-based training, which draws its files from a CD, or within the company’s server, instead of from the Web.
Team up with other businesses.
Invite companies that are not your competitors to split the cost of hiring an instructor, or sign up for a class that offers a discounted rate for a certain number of students. This way you reduce the price and everyone wins.
Look into community colleges.
Susan Smith, an adjunct and Service Learning Liaison at Mohawk Valley Community College in New York, recommends checking if your community college offers not-for-credit courses that your employees can enroll in. Short-term courses in HR, accounting, marketing or other areas are sometimes available for a fraction of what commercial organizations charge. An added benefit is that the professors usually have both theoretical and applied experience in their field.
Ask your local government for help.
State departments of labor and local chambers of commerce often offer contracts and grants to help small businesses or non-profits offset the costs of training.
Train one employee who can share the wealth.
Send one or two people to the seminar and have them share what they learn as well as the reference materials with the rest of your staff. Encourage your employees to set up study groups if they need help absorbing the information or need to pass a certification exam.
Approach board members, vendors, or donors.
If you have board members or corporate donors, find out if they are affiliated with companies that have "in-house" training programs or departments. Ask if there are any available sessions that you or your employees could attend. Or else ask if they would be willing to sponsor an endowment with which you can send your most qualified employee to a course each year.