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5 Free or Inexpensive Online Classes Small Business Owners Can Take

The business world is ever changing, and it’s important to be at the forefront of innovation in order to run a successful business. It is in the best interest of small business owners to continue to brush up on their business skills to keep their competitive advantage. While business owners have enough expenses without committing to pricey programs and degrees, there are plenty of free online resources on various helpful topics. We have included five of our favorites for you here:

MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology shares some of their undergraduate and graduate course content online, providing a great resource to small business owners without the hefty price of MIT admission. You can learn accounting with their Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting and Management Accounting and Control classes; learn how to file a patent with by following the advice in the Inventions and Patents class; brush up on Entrepreneurial Sales and learn about Pricing from the comfort of your home or office!

The Open University

The Open University is a UK non-profit group that offers over 1,000 free courses and videos on different topics, such as business! There are 104 free courses in the area of money and business, such as:

HubSpot

HubSpot helps its customers grow their sales by providing marketing, sales and customer service tools. The site offers an 11-hour course that helps small business owners with inbound marketing (marketing with the goal of attracting new business) and sales.

Learn about the full inbound marketing methodology, content marketing, sales, design and contextual marketing with their free tools and courses!

U.S. Small Business Administration

The SBA provides a multitude of free resources for small business owners, including online courses, the option to web chat and other helpful videos. Courses cover topics such as mentorship programs, getting a competitive advantage, winning a federal contract, taking a product to market, etc. You can view the list of classes or search in a catalogue, finding more information about each course when you click on it.

Fundamentals of Operations Management

Another free course that highlights the importance of operations management. Learn about how to plan, find a facility, schedule and conduct inventory and quality management for effective operations.

The course has four modules:

  1. Operations management
  2. Operations management strategies
  3. Applying operations management
  4. Assessment

If you come across other courses or classes for small business owners that require a financial contribution, IOU Financial can help. We provide small business loans of up to $300,000 to help you grow your business. Contact us today!

3 Ted Talks Small Business Owners Should Listen To

As a small business owner, would you appreciate the opportunity to get advice from accomplished and world-known leaders? Would you be especially interested if this advice was free and accessible from a computer, tablet or smartphone? If you answered yes to the two questions, you will love Ted Talks — videos from leadership experts that specialize in various industries.

Ted Talks originated in 1984 as a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design, and has grown to a collection of  short videos (18 minutes or less) that are available in over 100 languages. The following three Ted Talks are particularly beneficial to small business owners as they can help them become better leaders:

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

This Ted Talk is hosted by Simon Sinek, a famous author, marketing consultant and motivational speaker. He is responsible for books such as Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last on the topics of inspirational leadership.

In this video, he tries to explore answers to how leaders can promote trust and cooperation and encourage and accept change in organizations. He utilizes real world examples that don’t only focus on the world of business, bringing to light successes from people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and brands such as Apple. Sinek focuses on similarities between inspiring leaders in how they act and think, and shares them with his listeners.

The video has gotten over 34 million views, and is the third most successful Ted Talk of all time!

Why It’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work

While many of the inspirational leadership Ted Talks are hosted by authors or motivational speakers, this video is hosted by someone who has actually walked the walk! Margaret Heffernan was the CEO in five businesses. Her experience is diverse – she worked as a television producer, headed IPPA, a trade organization that represents independent film and television producers in England, worked on public affair campaigns, ran Internet businesses and wrote a book.

Heffernan shares what she learned throughout this time, which is that company leaders should nix the “the superchicken model” that only values the highest-performing employees, and instead focus on cohesion and the empowerment of every single member of the team to truly create change and success within the organization.

Learning From Leadership’s Missing Manual

What do the leader of the Ashaninka Nation, a leader of an NGO from Bangalore and a Chinese businessman have in common? They all provide inspiration for motivational leadership skills to the presenter of this Ted Talk, Fields Wicker-Miurin.

This social entrepreneur looks for leaders in unique situations and places, and shares what knowledge she was able to get from their stories. She is a director of Savills, an international property advisory company and CDC group, a UK development finance institution, as well as the co-founder of Leader’s Quest, an organization that connects leaders and encourages them to not only analyze their positions and roles, but to seek inspiration from leaders around the world.

In this Ted Talks, Wicker-Miurin provides examples of non-traditional leaders in order to help business owners consider their own leadership roles and how they can help their teams in a better and more productive way.

IOU Financial is committed to helping small business owners become the best leaders they can be! If you want to attend leadership conferences or take business classes, we can help you finance that goal with a small business loan in under 48 hours! Contact us to learn more.

 

Five Ways to Lead Independent Thinkers

There are different types of leaders – micro and macro-managers. Micro-managers are akin to dictators, they want to be involved in every small decision, and do not provide their staff members with the ability to think for themselves. Macro-managers, on the other hand, lead a democratic team, encouraging their employees to make their own decisions, take chances, and provide innovative solutions to everyday problems.

Time and time again, research studies have proven that macro-managers are the best types of leaders; this manager not only creates a happier corporate culture, but has loyal and productive employees. However, in order for a manager to relinquish control and delegate tasks to staff members, they need to be sure that the workers are up to the challenge of working independently and trusting their own instincts. Whether you are integrating a new candidate into your team, or want to delegate more and micromanage less, you can lead your staff to become more independent thinkers in the following five ways.

Delegate

A common grievance of bosses is that they spend a majority of their day on tasks their staff members should be doing. However, not all supervisors have the skills necessary to take themselves out of the equation and delegate tasks to free up their schedule.

The first step to encouraging employees to think on their own is to make them responsible for their own tasks. This process starts with the team’s leader – this individual must be able to hand out assignments without looking over the individual’s’ shoulders every step of the way. Employees must feel capable and qualified to handle their duties in order to start thinking independently, otherwise they will keep turning to the boss with every question or concern.

Be Open to Different Views

Once tasks have been given out, the manager must be open to hearing and implementing different views. Many leaders feel comfortable following the status quo, and resist any suggestions to innovate. This attitude stifles the minds of the employees, and doesn’t encourage them to think on their own, as they know that any suggestion will be ignored or denied.

Trust the Capabilities of Your Staff

Another component to promoting independent thinking is to fully trust in the fact that your employees are capable of making their own decisions, and are invested in the best interests of the company. After all, you hired them for a reason! When bosses stop second guessing their team members, and trust that they are experts in their field and have the experience and knowledge to work independently, they can start encouraging their staff to trust themselves.

Encourage Original Thinking

To promote independent thinkers in your workforce, you should promote original and out-of-the-box thinking. Ask your employees to come up with innovative ideas and share them with the rest of the team. Consider rewarding employees who offer unique ideas that can benefit your company – you can offer gift certificates, time off or bonuses for the effort!

Provide Inspiration

Innovation often comes from inspiration, but it’s difficult to get inspired inside the bland walls of most office environments. To promote creativity and original thought, provide inspiration in the form of bright colors, vivid images (art and photography), music and unique experiences in the office.

Advise your employees to take a walk outside if they are in the process of a creative endeavor, or take your team to an ethnic restaurant to introduce them to flavors and smells from different cultures. All of these experiences can contribute to helping them change the status quo.

Want to Be a Better Leader? Ignore Popular Advice

Any person in a position of power likely strives to be a better leader. After all, most of us have encountered unfair treatment as we climbed the ladder to success, and now that we secured a leadership role, being the best possible boss is an important goal.

What defines being a great leader? Is it being empathetic, empowering or motivational? Does it involve expecting only the best and pushing your staff to work at optimal levels? There are countless articles both online and in print that provide tips on improving your leadership skills. What do some of the most popular sources recommend leaders do to improve?

  • Inc.com recommends investing in training, taking risks, creating a vision and challenging employees to optimal performance.
  • Harvard Business Review states that successful leaders have richer personal lives, and to hone leadership skills, individuals must focus on all domains, including their personal and professional lives, their community and their self (body and spirit).
  • Forbes takes the focus off employees entirely, and advises bosses to meditate to be better at their jobs.

With so much conflicting advice, what should you focus on if your goal for next year is to be a better leader? Do you budget for training your staff, or do you invest in spending time in your local community? Will either really benefit the relationship you have with your staff members?

We have only one piece of advice when it comes to exceptional leadership – skip all the popular advice (just not ours) and practice active listening! This one simple goal involves a few steps:

Stop Speaking

Many managers hold the false belief that as the most experienced members of the team, they must do all the talking. Bosses typically monopolize business meetings, prepare weekly to-do tasks for employees, and encourage subordinates to come to them when seeking help.

The problem is that with all the talking is leaders rarely stop and simply listen to their staff. Those that do, quickly realize that their staff will let them know (either verbally or through their actions) what it is they require for a happy and productive workplace.

Instead of micromanaging your staff, involve them in the plans and goals for your department. Invite them to contribute their opinions, raise objectives and suggest improvements. Doing so will empower your team to be driven and responsible.

Be Aware

Once you stop feeling responsible to lead the conversation, you can concentrate on becoming more aware of others around you. Remember that as a boss, your job is not only centered on overseeing job performance, but also ensuring your staff’s well-being and satisfaction. If they feel unappreciated, overworked or mistreated, your employee turnover will increase.

Start everyday by asking your employees how they feel; but also focus on their non-verbals. If they look stressed out, tired or sad, inquire about what is going on. Whether they feel pressured at work or are dealing with personal issues at home, a good leader will create awareness of their staff’s emotions, feelings and thoughts, making the workers feel valued and cared for.


Be Selfless

Many managers mistakenly believe that since they hold senior titles, they no longer need to work as hard as their subordinates. However, when you require your staff to work nights and weekends, but you’re the last person to come in and the first to leave, your employees become disgruntled.

Strive to be selfless, and be the example of what a hard working and dedicated worker acts like. This way, your staff will respect you, and not resent their selfish boss.

While striving to become a leader leader is noble, you don’t need to spend company funds on management training; instead, just focus on listening, being aware, and being selfless to create the best company culture for your employees.