The back-to-school season is wrapping up, but the annual rush of children meeting their teachers, gathering school supplies and learning new things may inspire a lingering thought for some professionals: a return to the classroom.
Continuing education can be a boost to small business owners. Whether it’s through a master’s degree program, in-house training sessions or online webinars, the oft-used phrase “never stop learning” has merit.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons why seeking additional education can pay dividends.
Why it’s important
Some may scoff at the need to go back to school after professional success has been attained. But who can say they are a finished product, with no need to expand their horizons? Lisa Burrell writes about how businesses can foster educational opportunities in a story for Harvard Business Review. She also writes that professionals are “not only allowed but expected to be perpetual students.”
“As we make our contributions and manage others, we grow and adapt, and so do our organizations, creating new reasons and ways for us to stretch,” she explains. “Some employers help by providing venues for mentoring, coaching, and networking. But there’s a big difference between professional development and structured learning. And although some forward-thinking employers with plentiful resources have corporate universities, most companies seem to view continuing education as self-directed — something that people take on in addition to their regular duties as invested members of their organizations, families, and communities.”
Burrell references the book Learn or Die, by Edward D. Hess, writing that he “urges companies to assume a greater share” of encouraging this additional education. Hess, she says, suggests creating “a workplace where people’s jobs become their classes — ‘where learners experience a combination of positive support and positive challenges.’”
Get past initial obstacles
The prospect of additional education may cause quick concerns about two things: cost and time involved. These can be valid worries. But some avenues can be more manageable. A story by Microsoft Office for Business Insider points out the “stigma” of continued education includes expensive seminars “or a full-fledged MBA program at a top business school.” There are other, easier options, according to the story:
“… A number of free online courses can be completed in a few hours a week, including those through edX, Coursera, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. If you’re looking for actual face time with instructors and classmates, be on the lookout for free seminars and guest speaking sessions sponsored by local small-business alliances.”
A sample of some of the offerings from the Small Business Administration’s Learning Center site includes courses titled “Taking Your High-Tech Product to Market,” “Understanding Your Customer,” “Business Technology Simplified” and “Cybersecurity for Small Businesses.”
Keep an open mind
For business owners that haven’t sat in a classroom in a while — real or virtual — there may be an adjustment period. For those who are skeptical, it may be tempting to resist the notion that continuing education is truly necessary. In a story for Entrepreneur, Matt Mayberry writes that an open-minded approach is needed for personal development.
“Rid yourself of assumptions and convictions so that you can be open and receptive to new information,” he advises. “This at times may even contradict what you have always believed to be true. You will eventually come across information that challenges your worldview. Rather than remaining static in your comfort zone, use this time to stop, reflect and shed light on these ideas in a way that can develop and expand your vision.”
Instead of rejecting a new perspective, Mayberry suggests taking “the time to think about what you believe and why.”
“Is your outdated mindset preventing you from advancing in a modern world? Be willing to question new information and research it further. Digging deeper will separate you from the crowd and allow you to see the value in developing an independent mind.”
This is important in every level of business. Developing relationships can lead to new ideas, collaboration possibilities and avenues to reach new clients. But those opportunities may be limited for smaller operations. As the Microsoft story notes, entrepreneurs that don’t “work in a busy office building on a town’s main street or in a collaborative co-working space” may find it hard to meet new contacts.
“Don’t limit the idea of expanding your network to places like stuffy networking events with awkward name tags and light hors d’oeuvres,” the story explains. “Whether in a classroom or online, your educator is likely someone who has forged valuable contacts in the industry. And your classmates can also become a significant part of your network as well — as sounding boards for ideas, potential business partners for future endeavors, or even strategic new hires.”
There’s a word that we could all use more of in business. One source of happiness can come from the additional knowledge and experience that continuing education can bring. In a story for Inc.com, AJ Agrawal acknowledges that “Learning is tough and can be frustrating,” particularly when it’s in an unfamiliar area. When the goal is achieved, however, the payoff is significant. He uses the goal of writing software as an example: “… It is such an amazing feeling when your code works bug-free.”
“Several studies have shown that the more ambitious goals that we set, the happier we are,” he writes. “And when we decide our own goals, our happiness is not reliant on others. We pick how many hours we practice, and we take ownership over what we achieve. Personal development is a way to guarantee us serenity from within.”
Relate to employees
A small business owner won’t necessarily have expertise in every area of the business. For instance, someone who excels with numbers and statistics may not be the best person to handle public relations and communications. But additional education opportunities may allow the owner to learn more about those areas that don’t come naturally to them, as Microsoft’s Business Insider story describes:
“Investing in a marketing seminar or sales webcast can change how you connect with employees in departments outside your educational background. Get a better understanding of what your employees face each day, and find ways to present new ideas to them with ease.”
Arrogance is often the enemy for business owners. Leaders who are self-absorbed may find resentful or uncooperative employees as a result of this behavior. Continuing education can help to establish the entrepreneur as having a dose of humility, by acknowledging that they have more to learn. As Agrawal writes, “True charmers don’t make themselves look smart, they make others look smart. And when people see that you are trying to learn from them, it makes liking you that much easier.”
Agrawal points to watching Ted Talks as an example: “What I love about these short speeches is that you can learn so much about subjects you thought you’d have no interest in. But by keeping an open mind, you discover patterns in how people present their talks that you can learn from. It just shows you that no matter whom you meet, there is always something valuable to learn from the encounter.”