Training on a Budget for Small Businesses

A lot is going on in your small business. You have to deal with tight budgets, a small staff, and fast growth, but there’s one thing that people often forget: training.

Though you may only have a handful of employees, and even less time and budget to train, developing your employees has a wealth of benefits for you and your business, including:

  • Greater effectiveness on the job
  • More motivated and engaged staff
  • Increased retention

You don’t need to pay thousands for tuition or hire a full-time trainer to take advantage of these benefits. Get the most bang for your buck with these five cost-effective ways to help employees develop new skills:

Leverage outside resources.

No need to build your own training soup to nuts! There are plenty of free articles, webinars, YouTube videos, and low-cost community events that can help employees build new skills.

To make it stick, be sure to supplement the training with company or role-specific reinforcement. This can be as simple as a few reflection questions, a worksheet, or short handout.

For example, say a team member is interested in a leadership path. You might link them to a TED Talk on body language. In your email or IM, include 2-3 questions that will help them reflect on what they learned and tie it back to their role, such as:

  • Take a moment to audit your current body language. What would someone infer about you from this posture?
  • Describe three upcoming situations in your role where power posing beforehand may be helpful.

Delegate—with support.

Stretch assignments are a great way to give employees hands-on practice. If the team member is brand-new to the skill, pick a low-stakes project and schedule plenty of check-ins to coach and offer encouragement. They’ll likely struggle and make mistakes—that’s where the learning happens! When roadblocks crop up, try using the GROW coaching model to help them discover their own solutions.

70% of learning & development happens on the job, not in the classroom.

Host a book club.

When Ruby was teeny tiny, our Director of Customer Happiness led a monthly book club. We discussed books like Contagious Leadership, First Break All the Rules, Lean In, and The Happiness Advantage. A quick Google search will often point you to pre-made discussion guides.

Pro tip: Delegate facilitating the discussion to someone who’s building their facilitation skills!

Brown bag it.

The more team members you have, the more faculty members you have! Have an employee who is exceptional at customer service? A whiz at Excel? Has an eye for design? Ask them to give a short presentation or lead an activity over lunch. Not only will it expose other team members to new skills, the presenter solidifies their expertise and gets an added ego boost to boot.

Get your money’s worth.

Remember, your employees are building new habits as they learn. To keep them from sliding back into old habits, be sure to set clear expectations before the event and follow up afterward. According to research, the follow up after a training contributes 50% to the entire training’s effectiveness.

Even a simple, informal question like, “What are you still implementing today?” will show you’re serious about the time and energy they’ve devoted to the learning process and help cement their new skills.

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