How entrepreneurs can use online learning to improve their businesses

By Michael Crump | 09 November 2017

Everyone needs to keep learning to get ahead in life, especially entrepreneurs. Now more than ever, it’s critical to continue learning new skills. Entrepreneurs can’t get stuck in the day-to-day operations of their businesses. Successful entrepreneurs have to force themselves to step back and see what is going on in the wider business world. They don’t want to miss anything that others are doing.

Every industry changes at some point; change usually comes multiple times. Some industries don’t see change for a few decades while others see change occur every few years. It’s a scary reality for entrepreneurs, but for the most part that change is always coming.

Historical changes in major industries

evolution of music physical copies

Consider the music industry. Music had a great run for about three to four decades from the 1960s through the 1990s. Artists and labels could sell millions of physical copies of albums and singles. Listeners needed a way to listen to recorded music and that’s what was sold. But as the 2000s emerged, the industry changed. Digital music took over and out of nowhere people no longer needed a physical copy of an album, and were less likely to buy a complete album, instead purchasing single tracks online in digital format.

The second example is the shopping industry. In the early 20th Century, many businesses would sell with in-person, door-to-door salespeople. A company could have one central location while having salespeople located in other areas as they handled all sales in a region. That industry was challenged with the mail order industry. Companies could now print catalogues and other items to ship directly to people to earn business. That changed again with the popularity of the internet. Now people can get electronic messages via email and they can shop on websites.

The fact is, there are many different industries that have changed. If you’re an entrepreneur, the question you need to consider is whether there is a change occurring in your industry. The lesson is that if you’re not prepared to make a change in your business when the time comes then someone else in the industry will - and you can get left behind.

Learning prepares you for inevitable change

You have to pay attention to what’s happening in your industry, and learning new skills and continuing your growth is a major part of that. If you stay the same, others businesses and ideas could come along and take over your segment of the market.

Other business models are always going to be coming up from behind you looking to innovate. They have it easy because they can see what you and others have done and they can build on that. Your only defence is to keep thinking like you need to keep learning.

As the owner of your company, you have two jobs:

  1. First, it’s your job to continue learning so you can become a better leader.
  2. Second, it’s your job to provide a way for your employees to learn so they can become better employees both for their own benefit and for the benefit of your company.

In the following sections we’re going to look at the steps to take to position your business to thrive in the future as your industry changes. As you know, it’s not a matter of if the industry will change, but when. And the action you take now will determine if you and the company will be prepared.

change just ahead road sign

Online learning for the entrepreneur

Many business owners have continued their education by taking classes. Previously, the only way for people to attend a course was to be there in person. That often requires commuting and you generally need to follow the timeline of the provided lesson.

Today, online learning provides much more flexibility in where you take the course and how fast you can move through the lessons. That’s an opportunity for you. Chances are you have a very busy schedule. Online learning can provide you with the ability to improve your skills while doing it on your schedule.

Here are the steps recommended for entrepreneurs to improve their business with online learning.

Step 1: Assess your business landscape

First, examine the state of your industry. Look at any new companies entering the market with new models that could throw a wrench into your plans. These new companies don’t have to be successful right now. You’re looking for the potential for a new company to be successful.

It could be that a company is trying out a new technology from another industry as a way to gain an advantage in your industry. The cost for the new technology may be too high today, but as it comes down it may pose a threat.

Look for these threats and determine if there is an area that poses a real threat. If the answer is yes you could find yourself needing to learn about that threat. It might mean that you have to learn about computer programming or a new style of management or a different style of business operations.

Step 2: Assess weaknesses

Next, assess where you are weak. We all have weaknesses as hard as it is to admit. There are a million things I wish I could do better. I don’t always like talking about it, but deep down I know I can improve.

You probably became great at one thing or a few things and that’s why you’re business has been successful. But it’s important to keep learning.

You might be an expert at computer programming. You may have started your company with that knowledge, but as the company has grown you’ve realised that you need to learn how to manage people and the operations of the business. This would be an opportunity to learn those skills with online learning.

Step 3: Prioritise weaknesses

If you’re like most people you probably recognise more than a single weakness in yourself (probably the same for your attributes). The key here is to prioritise those weaknesses. Focus on the one or two that are likely to have the most impact on your future and the future of your company. When you have these listed you’ll know what to look for from online learning opportunities.

Step 4: Identify online learning opportunities

There are a number of online learning opportunities to allow you to improve your skills. You can get a Diploma of Business Administration (BSB50415) or in Leadership in the workplace. You could get your Diploma of Marketing (BSB52415) to improve your skills on getting more customers. Or maybe you’re looking to improve your management skills or your project management skills. Identify that top priority from your list and find the appropriate online course that can provide you with the opportunity to improve.

Step 5: Implement new knowledge

After you complete the courses you need to take the next step, which is implementing those changes. As you attack the course, use the knowledge to build a plan for how you’ll implement your skills into your business.

For example, if you get your Diploma of Project Management (BSB51415) you would come back to your business with a new understanding of what makes for successful projects. You can adjust how your company handles projects based on your new understanding. That should lead to better projects.

Knowledge and new skills are great, but they’re only beneficial if you use your new knowledge and skills to implement change in your business.'

colleagues working together

Online learning for employees

The next level of online learning for the improvement of your business is to provide online learning opportunities for your employees. Chances are that your employees are the biggest assets you have. They complete the tasks that make up your business model. Without them you would likely struggle to provide for your customers and earn profit.

study by Motorola stated that for the company returned $30 for every $1 spent on employee training and education. Another study found that employees gained advanced education through an employer were more likely to stay with that company. These are two of the biggest benefits your company will see by helping your employees with their continued learning.

And online learning presents, as we learned above, a flexible way to gain an education. Here are the steps we recommend for getting your employees to use online learning.

Step 1: Gauge interest in continued learning

Assess how your team feels about continued learning. Go to them to see what they would be interested in learning about. See if they’re willing to discuss their interests and their weaknesses. From here you can determine if they are willing to improve themselves to their benefit and to the benefit of the company.

Some people will be averse to continued learning. They won’t want to learn new systems. As humans, we get comfortable and complacent sometimes. For some, it’s a challenge to fight those tendencies.

Step 2: Hire people with willingness to learn

You’re looking for people that have shown an interest in getting better. Look for traits that they seek out information on their own. Look for people that are inquisitive about how business works and about how different areas of the business and industry work. These can be clues that they’ll jump at the chance to learn something new via online learning.

Step 3: Provide incentive to use online learning

You can also offer an incentive to encourage online learning. It might be that you pay for the learning or that you pay for part of the learning. You could present it as an opportunity for the employee to get a promotion by gaining the skills necessary to take the next step. For people that are driven it will be great for them to see the roadmap to reach their goal.

I know for me that just having the option isn’t always enough. Sometimes I need a little carrot to make it worth my while. Provide that incentive and give people that extra little push.

Step 4: Provide time and access to online learning

This is the biggest step. If you do the work to find the right opportunities and give all the access to your employees they will be more likely to take advantage. Find the courses online. Partner with the appropriate provider of online education. Determine the courses and diplomas that best fit your company’s needs. Then present the opportunities to your employees.

Also setup a plan to allow employees to take the courses. The best setup for your company might be to have the employees take the course on their own time. Even if that is the case, perhaps you can provide them access to a computer in the office that they can use during off hours to take the course. There are a number of different scenarios. The key is to provide the tools required for your employees to take advantage of online learning.

Step 5: Track results and get feedback

The last step is to track the results of your efforts. When an employee pursues online education, track their performance in their job. For example, if they are a salesperson, track their improved sales. You can also track to see if employees that take advantage of online learning are the ones getting promotions and thriving in your business with their new skills.

You can also gain feedback both from employees using online learning and those that don’t take advantage of the opportunity. Look for ways to improve your online learning program so that you can continue to improve and adapt as your industry changes.

man holding a light bulb

Using online learning in your entrepreneurial businesses

An airline pilot who was talking about his job and how it had changed over the years. He said that while he gained the basic skills early in his career, he still needed nearly constant updates in his skills to maintain his job performance over time. His industry was constantly changing in various ways including the equipment he flew as well as with regulation and other aspects of the job.

That’s just one example, but the fact is that every industry will go through some kind of change at some point. Some people get caught being complacent and they’re the ones that get passed by those that are willing to learn new things.

You and your business can succeed in times of change. Online learning can provide the skills you need to continue to improve. Follow the steps above to use online learning to improve your business.

man with blue shirt sitting on step and smiling

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