When you’re head down in the daily business routine, the idea of learning can seem unmanageable, expensive and sometimes scary.
Perhaps the thought of fitting learning into your already hectic schedule seems impossible, or you feel that you just couldn’t afford to pay for a course.
Learning, however, isn’t simply arrived at by attending courses, although that is one option.
There are so many other ways to learn that will benefit both you and your business, and best of all, a lot of them are free.
Assess for knowledge gaps
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Well, that seems a tad obvious. Of course, you don’t know what you don’t know.
But what if you ‘could’ know what you don’t know? Wouldn’t that be useful?
This assessment could be of you, your business team as a whole, or just a section of your employees, but I’m going to write this from the perspective of a one-person assessment.
What do you know? That’s a great place to start. You could include:
Get down to the detail of what you can do. You might want to include skills that you don’t use in your day to day work. For instance, I used to write murder mystery plays for a living. That isn’t a skill I use in my copywriting business, but it’s definitely helped to develop both my writing and business experience.
When you have a complete picture of what you know, take a minute to pat yourself on the back for having achieved all of this.
Next, look at your role. Write up a job description, the kind of thing you would come across if your job was advertised. Try to be as cold and detached as you can. What are the tasks and responsibilities involved? Who do you communicate with in this role? What experience and qualifications are required?
When you’ve finished, compare the job description with your list of what you know. Are there any gaps? Don’t be down on yourself if there are. You’ve simply found a way to improve your business skills.
Where there are no gaps, take the assessment a step further. Future proof your skillset.
There are three approaches you can take to this:
Who is your dream customer?
You have the skills and knowledge to do your job and serve your current customers. What about the customers you want to work with?
I’m not suggesting that you don’t want to work with your current customers. What I’m getting at here is your dream customer.
For instance, a florist provides wedding flowers as part of their regular trade but it’s on an individual basis and mainly reliant on local visibility.
Their dream client is a nearby country hotel, which as a wedding venue includes flowers in its wedding package.
The florist dreams of being the key supplier to the hotel, with regular (seeing as the hotel is fully booked for weddings months in advance) and extensive (the wedding package includes floral displays, bouquets, buttonholes and more) orders.
To land their dream customer, the florist might have to develop their floristry skills to meet the ever changing trends in wedding fashion and flowers.
What skills do you need to learn to serve your dream customer?
Developments that affect your industry
Are there any current changes taking place that will have implications for the industry you work in or the job you do? This could be an update in existing technology or the introduction of a new law.
One excellent example of a cross-industry development is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which was introduced in 2018, stating how data is handled and processed and safeguarding the related rights of individuals.
Do you need to learn a new skill to make sure that your business continues to be both competitive and compliant with the law?
Where do you want to take your business?
You may well know everything you need to know for your business as it exists in its current form but what if you decide to specialise in some way?
Maybe you want to focus in on the type of clients you serve, or drop certain services so you can concentrate on the ones you’re really good at.
For instance, a virtual assistant realises that the clients whom they enjoy working with the most are coaches, and decides to offer their service to that sector only. They investigate exactly what a coach needs from and values in a virtual assistant, assess any gaps in their knowledge, and learn any missing skills.
Using any, or all, of the above approaches can flag up a potential area of learning that may help develop your business.
Decide how you will learn
You’ve identified your knowledge gaps and know what you need to learn. The next step is to decide how that learning will take place.
As I said before, this doesn’t have to cost any, or a lot, of money. It will take time and effort though.
Exactly how you bridge your knowledge gap will depend on you, your business, your resources and what you need to learn. There’s no one answer for everyone.
Look to your competition
I don’t see my competitors as combatants to be defeated. I see them as another source of learning.
This is where the value of networking comes into play. That could be physical networking – attending events or, yes, even using the phone – or it could be online networking in the form of LinkedIn or Twitter, for instance.
Keep an eye/ear on your competitors. What developments are they seeing in your industry and what changes are they making? Could you learn from their advice and experience? What are they saying about their own customers?
Listening to your competition can be a learning experience in itself, or it can point to areas of learning that you need to consider.
Keep up to date with the legal stuff by finding the experts
I know, this isn’t the most exciting of topics but as a business owner you are required to keep up to date with the legal aspects of your business, including tax and other HMRC dealings.
One way to do this is to find the experts out there, people like Suzanne Dibble for up-to-date information about GDPR and small business accountant Ruth Prins. HMRC’s website is generally kept up to date and worth using as a starting point but equally useful are:
- ACAS for employment law
- Health and Safety Executive for related laws and requirements
- Information Commissioners Office for information rights legislation
Ok, so this will cost a few pennies, but books (physical or e-book) are still an excellent way to brush up your skills or learn new ones.
I’m currently reading The Art of the Click by Glenn Fisher and Copywriting Made Simple by Tom Albrighton. This isn’t because I don’t know how to write copy. I do. That’s what you’re reading now. I am, however, keen to learn from those further along the copywriting path. Both Glenn and Tom have much more experience in the word trade than me and I’m happy to be guided by them.
Plus, I like to read. And I like real books to put on my overloaded bookshelves.
Beyond learning from a book in the initial read-through, it’s also a great reference to return to, and the author is a new face in your industry too. While they may not always be available to network with, they may be someone to follow online and keep track of their blog posts and future books.
It’s not just books though. There are all kind of trade magazines out there, depending on your job, magazines like Cow Management Magazine, Earthmovers and Caring Times.
Remember the experts I mentioned above? There are sure to be experts for your job and industry too. Seek them out. Read their blogs and articles.
Finally, what about newspapers? Whether you read your news online or buy your copy from the newsstand, newspapers can be a great way to learn new things:
- News – that’s an obvious one but knowing what’s going on in the world can flag up any implications for your business
- What’s happening with your current clients and their industries?
- New potential clients and business opportunities
- Changes in the law
- Developing trends
This was going to have to be mentioned eventually. Courses don’t have to be bum-on-seat classes though. Many courses can be accessed online.
Your exact requirements will be individual to you. For more official learning, the professional bodies such as HSE are always a good place to start when searching for course providers. Equally, those experts I talked about may provide courses too.
Although there are free courses available online, the majority of courses will require some level of investment.
Why should you keep learning?
You know how to run your business and you’re tootling along nicely, thank you very much. Why should you go to all the bother of continuing to learn?
Here’s the thing. Business success is a moving target.
Or to put it another way, nothing stays the same. Laws change. Markets disappear. Customers come and go.
You can protect your business by keeping up to date with your competitors and all the developments that affect your business. The easiest way to do that is to keep learning.
Learning increases your value. With each new thing you learn, you grow as a business person.
Finally, learning opens your eyes, whether that’s to new opportunities, a new direction for your business, or simply how to do your job better.