How to Choose Business Training

In the Market for Business Training? Assess Your Needs First

••• Image (c) Noel Hendrickson / Getty Images

Every business needs to invest in some business training at some point.

Suppose that you run a successful business and want to start selling your products online. You, however, don’t know anything about ecommerce or designing or promoting websites.

Or suppose that your business needs money to expand and you’ve decided you’d like to attract investors, but don’t know how to go about it.

Or suppose that you’ve invested in some new software that you thought would make your business run more efficiently, but discovered that doing anything with the software other than installing it was beyond you.

Now suppose that all three of these scenarios involve the same small business.

It could happen. When you’re running a small business, it sometimes seems as if there’s no end to the number of hats you have to wear. And every day, at some point, (normally during a crisis), you say to yourself, “if only I knew more about…”

Knowing that you're in the market for business training is the easy part. Knowing where to find the business training you need or knowing how to choose the business training solution that's best for you and/or your employees is harder.

Before you sign up for a seminar or training session on whatever subject you’ve decided you just have to know more about ( or insist that your employees sign up for business training sessions!), you should take the time to analyze the learning you want to acquire and assess your learning needs. Choosing to learn something through crisis-response only sets you up for disappointment. To choose the right training solution, you need to:

  • Assess the learning.
  • Assess your learning style.
  • Determine exactly what is to be learned.
  • Examine the learning options.

Assess the Learning

Ask yourself these questions to determine whether or not the training will provide you with enough benefits to justify your business training investment.

1) Is it something you really need to know?

No matter how you do it, learning takes a considerable investment of time and often money. No matter how successful you are, your amounts of both are limited. It might be nice to learn how to design websites, for instance, but it’s not a skill you can pick up in an hour. Is learning website design directly related to your business? If the answer is “No”, then you might be better off hiring someone else to design a website for you, and investing your time and energy in what you do best.

2) Is this business training worth the time?

Some learning just requires too much of a time investment. Suppose that your business has expanded to the point that you’ve had to hire twenty people. You’ve decided that it would be good for efficiency to have all your employees using a networked computer system. All you know how to do is word-process and use your email program. Is it really worth the years of intensive training to learn all about computer networking so you can choose, install, and maintain the system yourself?

3) How will the business training benefit you?

If your books are such a mess that every accountant you approach rushes out of the room and never returns, then a course in bookkeeping or learning how to use a software accounting program has a direct benefit. An indirect benefit may be worth the business training investment too. A seminar or workshop can rejuvenate us, or provide networking opportunities that aren’t otherwise available. But before you invest in business training, you should always ask yourself how acquiring a particular knowledge or skill will make your business more successful.

Taking the time to assess the learning and figuring out how the business training will benefit you can prevent your wasting time you don’t have or allow other parts of your business to suffer. In many cases, what you need is to hire a contractor rather than trying to learn enough to solve the problem yourself.

Assess Your Learning Style

People lean best in different ways, and you'll get the most out of your training experience if you choose a learning mode that's best suited to your learning style. Ask yourself:

1) How do you learn best?

Do you need hands-on experience, or do you prefer to extract information from lectures or text? Do you enjoy the social interaction of learning with a group of like-minded individuals, or do you prefer to work things out by yourself? Is it helpful to you if the information presented is very structured with lots of lists and worksheets or is it easier for you to learn if you discover the information yourself through problem-solving or case studies?

2) What learning schedule works best for you?

Do you thrive in an intensive environment, such as the weekend seminar with all day workshops, or do you retain more if you learn pieces of content over a longer period of time, such as once-a-week sessions over a period of months?

3) What type of instructor do you learn best from?

While it’s certainly true that anyone can learn from anyone if the learner is motivated enough, it’s also true that we all have style preferences. Do you need a ‘drill sergeant’ type of instructor to keep you on task, or do you prefer a more informal person who acts as a facilitator?

Determine What Is to Be Learned

Once you've thought about your learning style, the next step in deciding what training to take is determining exactly what it is you want to learn.

Generic business courses can be a lot of fun (for both the participant and the instructor), but they rarely provide solutions for the specific problem you may be encountering in your business. Do you want to learn general information about ways of financing a business or do you want to learn how to write a proposal that’s going to attract risk capital investors? Will you be able to learn techniques to promote your website by taking a seminar titled “An Introduction to Ecommerce”?

If you want to learn how to solve a specific problem or learn particular pieces of information, you may need to find a specific seminar or workshop on that topic, or find a business trainer/consultant who can provide a learning solution tailored to your needs. Don’t expect someone presenting a workshop or a seminar on a generic topic to be able to provide an answer specific to your situation.

Many people provide this kind of consulting service (for a fee), and some provide services such as one-on-one coaching, but you need to be able to describe the problem or tell the consultant exactly what you hope to learn before she can provide the training solution you're looking for.

Examine Your Learning Options

If you live in Seattle, Toronto, Chicago or Vancouver, there are a lot of trainers and business consultants providing business training solutions where you live, but if you live in Kapuskasing or Two Dot, your local business training options may be limited.

That’s the beauty of online business training; through the internet, you can access the learning materials you need no matter where you live. The downside of online learning is that at its worst, it’s like reading a book. The material is there, but there’s no direction and no interaction.

Many online learning providers are trying to overcome this difficulty by establishing online communities and providing online instructors to facilitate the learning experience and interact with the learner. Only you can decide if this is the right mode of business training delivery for you.

Besides considering whether you want to attend a class in person or learn virtually, you also need to consider how much you can afford to pay for the business training. That E-commerce Essentials day course led by the superstar guru may sound great, but are you willing and able to pay the $1500 he's asking?

Check with your local community college or university. Many of these institutions  have community education or outreach programs that offer business training, from generic business courses through learning how to use specific software programs.

Once you’ve established exactly what you want to learn, how you want to learn it, and what you’re willing to pay for it, you’re ready to start the search for a business training solution that fits your needs and circumstances.