To compete in today’s economy, it’s essential to stay on top of the latest business ideas. But like many entrepreneurs, you may not have much time for traditional continuing education, whether through conferences or seminars or an MBA program.
Fortunately, a growing number of free, online resources are available to help you close gaps in your knowledge, invigorate your thinking, and otherwise help you keep pace with key business trends. And you can tap into them in whatever time you have available, whether it’s while listening to your iPod during a lunchtime walk or at midnight, after your family is asleep. Here are some that are worth checking out.
Get a quick crash course
Launched by MBA Stephanie Burns, Chic CEO offers information for both entrepreneurial newbies and seasoned business owners on practical topics ranging from applying for an Employer Identification Number to documenting an invention to protect your intellectual property. Although the site is aimed at women from 25 to 45, it contains a lot of useful information for all entrepreneurs in a light, easy-to-read style.
Create a stand-out business plan
An MBA program isn’t the only place you can learn to write a great business plan. Whether you started your business without such a road map (as legions of entrepreneurs do) and now need to write one or fine-tune it to raise funds, the process of writing a business plan can be a little overwhelming. SCORE, an organization that provides free and low-cost advice to entrepreneurs, offers a useful mini-course in business plan writing.
Expand your thinking
You can tune into the latest ideas from experts at universities such as Harvard and Stanford on videos at iTunes U. They’re not just talking about theoretical stuff. The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, for instance, offers courses such as “What Angel Investors Want,” “From Entrepreneur to Investor,” and “Design and Innovation.”
Another good place to turn if you’re looking for fresh ideas is Mybrainshark. While the offerings aren’t as extensive at those at iTunes U, if you search under the term “entrepreneur,” you’ll find useful video presentations including “Cash Rules for Entrepreneurs,” a seminar on cash flow management, and “No Time Marketing,” a 45-minute conference presentation.
Branch out overseas
Considering exporting? Simply determining if it makes sense to market your product or service in a foreign country can be a bit daunting. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a helpful overview, including an Exporting Self Assessment, at Export.gov.
Stay on top of taxes
Even if you have a great accountant, it’s important to understand IRS tax policies that affect your business. Even if you delegate the task to a pro, you are ultimately responsible for filing your taxes correctly. To get up to speed, entrepreneur Janis Badarau, owner and designer of CrafTea Designs and Tea Dyed Teas in Lavonia, Georgia, recommends Tax.gov, an IRS portal. It includes short audio and video presentations (and written transcripts) on topics that range from reporting bartering income to managing payroll so you withhold the correct amount from employees’ paychecks.
Rethink your mission
Need to re-brand your business or reach out to a new client base? Consider signing up for the 30-day New Year/New Career Challenge, a virtual coaching series funded with a grant from Jones New York. Career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of Six Figure Start, will run free webcasts each Wednesday from January 26 through February 16 from 9 to 9:45 pm Eastern Standard Time. (It’s possible to listen in by phone as well.) The topics: Create a Multidimensional Personal Brand (January 26); Build a Network That Supports You (February 2); Align Time, Money and Energy with Your Goals (February 9); and Open Q&A (February 16). Register early: There is a limit of 250 people for the webcast and 1,000 for the phone lines.
Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist specializing in entrepreneurship whose work has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, BNET, Crain’s New York Business, CBS Moneywatch, Good Housekeeping, Inc., Working Mother and many other publications. A former senior editor of Fortune Small Business magazine and editor of its website, she does editorial consulting for online and print publications.