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9 Ways to Beef-Up Your Business Skills on the Cheap

9 Ways to Beef-Up Your Business Skills on the Cheap
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In a perfect -- albeit creepy -- world, all entrepreneur-hopefuls wouldn’t need to mess with getting an MBA. Their business acumen would be engrained. That’s true to some degree. Some people can, as they say, sell ketchup popsicles to people wearing white gloves. But it’s hardly common knowledge to know how to manage employees or keep track of expenses or even devise a marketing plan.

For that, you need an education. But you still don’t necessarily need an MBA. Here, we break out nine low-cost, limited-time programs and offerings to help you get a toehold on the basics of business:

1. Community college courses: Audit courses if you can. After all, you’re there for information, not a degree. Want to make sure the instructor meets your goals? Try going to the class one night the semester before and ask to sit in. Most faculty will let you do that once. Or ask students how competent the instructor is. The website RateMyProfessors.com may also be helpful. Not interested in next Tuesday’s content? Skip class. Once you have the syllabus you can redesign the course to fit your needs. You’re auditing, remember?

Related: Online Education for Young Entrepreneurs: Worth Your Time?

2. Seminars: Sometimes these activities can get expensive. But if you look around, you can often find less expensive takes on the same topics. How do they do that? The seminar host is hoping you’ll buy CDs and books. Although you should prepare for some sales activity in the program, you don’t have to buy anything to get good basic information for a song.

3. The internet: Ted talks, blogs, websites (like this one) are loaded with information you can use. Make a list of areas where you feel weak and create your own training program. By searching on one topic every couple of weeks and taking notes, you’ll be surprised at what you can learn.

4. Magazines: These can be a rich source of information on business in general or your specific industry. Some of the industry-specific subscriptions can be expensive, but they’re worth it. If you’re not sure if the content will be valuable, check the magazine’s website to see if they have an accessible archive of back issues or ask for a trial subscription.

Related: Starting Up Under One Roof: A Look at the Surge in Residential Incubators

5. Build your own learning group: Do you have friends who are entrepreneurs or small-business owners who feel the same lack of business knowledge? Create a roundtable of them scheduled every couple of weeks. You can take turns exploring and sharing information on a topic or invite an expert to join you for the evening to answer questions.

6. iTunes U: This can be a terrific resource to hear from some very savvy people, often free or at a low cost. Download talks and listen while jogging or driving. Ivy-league professors have lectures available — both audio only and video. One online reviewer said: No dress code, bathroom breaks whenever, phone calls and texting are allowed. Only complaint is that my classmate meows sometimes, but that’s not really a big deal.

7. Local associations in your field: Many industries have associations that meet regularly, with speakers presenting on subjects that may interest you. As far as annual dues go, you should think of it like this: For the cost of a few lunches, you can stay on top of industry issues and learn more about business — not to mention, network with people in your industry.

8. Books: There are some great books out there on entrepreneurship, and many of them can help provide insights on how you can improve your business skills. I have one suggestion for you (shameless promo here) Small Business, Big Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did It Right. If we didn’t think it was a valuable book, we wouldn’t have spent the time and effort it took to write.

Related: Must Read Books to Fuel Your Summer ... And Your Startup

9. Just do it: Yeah, I know, stolen from the shoe folks. But jumping into the fire is going to teach you a lot. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, just do the best you can. Because after all, it is your business and no matter how much you work to learn, you’re the one responsible for your decisions.

What other resources would you suggest? Let us know in the comment section below.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.

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