By Amanda C. Kooser
Online education is a growing industry, and the SBA is getting into the act with its SBA Classroom (http://www.sba.gov), which offers three courses: "How to Raise Capital for a Small Business," "Are You Y2K Okay?" and "The Business Plan." Our senior editor, Cynthia E. Griffin, logged on to check it out.
The lessons are simply written, so if you're somewhat knowledgeable about the subject, the information will seem very basic. But if you're a novice, they're a good starting point.
For example, since business financing is my "beat," I was more critical of the lesson on capital. Although it mentions various options, it concentrates on obtaining a bank loan--not always the most realistic option for start-ups.
Because I'm not as knowledgeable about computers, I learned more from the Y2K course. It not only explains which of your own systems may be impacted by the millennium bug, but also makes you consider the external forces that could affect your company, such as your suppliers and partners.
Once you've finished each course, a quiz tests what you've learned. If you want more details, click on the resources following each course. There are specific references for each topic, plus suggestions on which U.S. and Canadian government and quasi-governmental agencies can offer more information, and links to a variety of business publications.
Enrollment is free; you need Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator 4.0 or higher. Those with Netscape also need the ScriptActive plug-in, 30-day shareware you can download from the SBA Classroom site. (This includes a companion plug-in, DocActive, which isn't required for the SBA Classroom; if you elect to take it, be aware it could alter how your e-mail functions.)
Like any good school, course offerings will change, so don't forget to check back periodically to see what's new.