SCORE: Keep skills sharp through education

Question: I have run my business successfully for quite some time, but it seems that things change so quickly anymore I struggle to keep up with changing client desires, effective marketing and even software changes. Can SCORE provide some doable guidelines for staying on top of trends?

Answer: During my college years my sociology professor made a statement that has stayed with me. He said that the only thing you can count on in life is change. And today, with progressing technology and global connectivity, it is much more apparent than it was then.

When it comes to staying on top of business trends there is nothing more valuable than education. Albert Einstein once said that, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” That’s a principle that all small business owners should take to heart.

So, while the fundamental requirements for small business success are timeless, a commitment to continuing education will help build your skill set, keep you abreast of emerging trends and technologies affecting your industry and your customers, and introduce you to new ideas and methods that will improve efficiency, sharpen competitiveness and boost your bottom line.

What should you be learning is a question only you can answer, based on your type of business, immediate and long-term goals and professional interests. Aside from obtaining a degree in a particular field, there are other, less demanding ways to stay on top of developments. A professional certification class will qualify you for new types of projects. A photography seminar might be the ideal complement to your business communication skills or a discussion on the local economy may alert you to changes in customer demographics.

Continuing education has never been more accessible. Many colleges are adding more courses to their online catalogues, allowing you to take in a lecture from anywhere in real time, or at your convenience. A workshop may require in-person participation, but the time will be well spent. Along with gaining valuable knowledge, you also have the opportunity to network with fellow professionals and potential customers.

Here are some other good continuing education resources to consider:

Professional and trade associations. These groups regularly offer a variety of industry-focused learning opportunities via regional and national conferences, topical seminars and webinars, as well as packaged courses that can be accessed via the Web.

Chambers of Commerce. A fixture of business networking in the U.S. dating back to the 1700s, local Chambers and similar economic development groups regularly sponsor presentations with a local focus. In fact, the presenters are often other small business owners discussing issues that are influencing the local, regional and national economy.

SCORE. Local SCORE chapters regularly sponsor workshops, seminars and presentations on both fundamental small business issues, as well as current issues affecting entrepreneurs. These events are often held in conjunction with local Small Business Development Centers, which also have their own range of continuing education offerings.

Google Trends. Google allows users to set up email subscriptions based on customized topic queries, which they can receive reports about on a weekly or monthly basis. If you are an interior designer, just choose that topic and you’ll get a notification via Gmail. This can be installed on your smartphone so your information can be accessed while you’re on the go.

Books. The oldest and best self-paced continuing education tool of all. You’ll find both traditional paper and electronic versions on topics ranging from leadership philosophy and economic trends to human relations and social media.

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