Small Business Advice

Free educational resources for small business owners

A list of free educational resources for small business owners, from marketing to accounting, business plan development to taxes.

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Whether you have years worth of experience as a small business owner or you’re just starting out, there’s always more to learn about running your business. Fortunately, there are many free online resources that make keeping up with business education simple and straightforward! We've listed six options below in no particular order.

OpenLearn is a UK-based free learning platform aimed at students, but it is just as useful for the intellectually curious entrepreneur. OpenLearn offers more than 900 courses across nine academic subjects. The “Money and Business” category alone contains over 100 courses of varying difficulty levels, many of which are applicable to small business owners. Two classes that caught our eye were First Steps in Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship - from Ideas to Reality. Course material is segmented into bite-sized readings that are designed to fit into busy schedules. OpenLearn offers relevant articles, interactive games, videos, and audio recordings for each class as supplementary materials, although all can also be read independently 

OpenLearn is unique in that, unlike most other sites, its free educational courses are only part of a much larger project. In addition to academic courses, OpenLearn offers resources designed to teach skills for life outside of work. A few examples of these skills include personal relationship building, money management, and maintaining physical fitness. You can also create an account to track your progress towards meeting your goals and eventually earn certificates of completion. Please note that because OpenSource is based in the UK, some information may not apply in the US.

Created by Santa Clara University, My Own Business Institute (MOBI) offers three business courses: Starting a Business, Business Expansion, and Quick Start Entrepreneur. Starting a Business and Business Expansion both contain 15 sections while Quick Start Entrepreneur contains only 10. These sections include readings, videos, and quizzes or assignments. Each course should take a total of 1 to 4 hours to complete in its entirety, and MOBI emphasizes the importance of completing their courses in full. MOBI also offers the MOBI Business Plan, which is a template consisting of 15 sections that directly correspond to the content of Starting a Business. MOBI’s COVID-19 Resources for Entrepreneurs & Small Businesses is another useful educational resource and contains dozens of guides, checklists, and other relevant information. 

MOBI’s offers several unique perks that other platforms may lack. For one, you can access MOBI on any mobile device via the Moodle app. Second, MOBI has translated versions of its courses, course content, and website in Spanish. Finally, while most platforms require payment for certificates of completion, MOBI offers its certificates for free. 

For the entrepreneur looking to bolster their marketing and sales knowledge, Hubspot Academy could be a perfect fit. Hubspot is a software company specializing in marketing, sales, and customer service products. Hubspot Academy offers overviews on large topics such as general business advertising or branding as well as narrower topics such as mobile marketing, SEO, or sales hiring. We particularly like Taking Your Business Online and Inbound, which covers the fundamentals of content marketing. For a handful of courses, Hubspot offers official certificates of completion. 

As part of each course, Hubspot provides traditional education materials such as digital kits and guides, eBooks, webinars, online courses. As supplements to these traditional materials, Hubspot also offers interactive resources including quizzes, games, and tools like a website grader, blog idea generator, and an SSL checker for your website. These are fresh and fun ways to easily implement the new knowledge you’ve learned. All material on their site is original content that has been created by experts on the Hubspot team specifically for their website. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA, offers a variety of courses specifically for small business owners in their Learning Center. On their website, the SBA has created an archive of 30 minute, narrated Powerpoint-style presentations as well as a corresponding transcripts and worksheets. A few of our favorites are “Introduction to Pricing”, “Marketing 101”, and “Legal Requirements for Small Businesses”. For those just starting out, the SBA’s step-by-step Business Guide outlines 10 clear steps to starting your own business. Every step is packed with statistics, testimonials, and expert advice to get you up and running. 

In addition to the Learning Center and Business Guide, the SBA offers local assistance designed to counsel, mentor, and train small business owners. The SBA’s district, regional, and disaster field offices operate nationwide and SBA resources are also accessible through resource partners such as the Women’s Business Center. These centers can connect you with business specialists, mentors, and programs both inside and outside the SBA specific to your needs. Many of these programs are typically in-person, but may be virtual due to COVID-19 safety precautions.

If you’re looking to take a deep dive into a particular topic, MIT’s OpenCourseware might be a good fit. OpenCourseware contains a semester’s worth of lecture notes, readings, and assignments for hundreds of classes across academic disciplines. Courses from MIT’s undergraduate college and all its graduate programs (including its business school) are available on the site, making OpenCourseware suitable for novice and experienced business owners alike. All of OpenCourseware’s content is directly sourced from real MIT classes and professors. Classes within the “Business” topic on MIT’s website cover accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing, and project management, with each category containing plenty of classes to choose from. 

One drawback of the program is that there are no videos or narrations included in the course materials, meaning that all coursework must be read or written. However, OpenCourseware provides a great opportunity to strengthen your business acumen as well as explore topics of personal interest.

edX  is a well-established and popular hub for online learning, and for good reason. edX lists hundreds of independent college courses from institutions such as Harvard, University of Chicago, and UCLA.  They feature courses across every area of study, including business and management. Some courses require payment, but there are plenty of free options as well. Most free courses will offer a certificate or proof of course completion for an extra fee, which could be an impressive addition to your professional portfolio. While edX doesn’t create its own courses, it does run a blog that offers business advice in both English and Spanish.

If none of these options are appealing to you, don’t despair! There are plenty of other options out there, including past and upcoming posts on the Nearside blog. We’re committed to helping you launch your business successfully. To be notified of our newest content, subscribe to our newsletter.

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