Published: May 28, 2024 | Updated: May 23, 2024

Training options abound for small businesses



While small businesses may not think they have a lot of options when it comes to training, citing either access, time, or cost, there is a lot more to choose from than they might think.

"Start with the basics," Brent Baker, executive director of Pend Oreille Economic Partnership and founder of Elevate Now Consulting. "Know what all the bases are, and cover them, and in the right order.  It is very common to see entrepreneurs doing a good job of working on the wrong thing."

Baker said his first recommendation to small businesses and entrepreneurs is to take advantage of what's out there — and there's often more than they might think — to boost their skills or analyze what they are doing or what they could be doing better. There are a lot of business coaches and consultants — and a lot of online courses — that guide entrepreneurs and small businesses through gaining new skills, either on a do-it-yourself basis or a do-it-with-you basis.

Businesses may think they need to spend a small fortune on the courses, but that isn't necessarily the case, Baker said. The courses can "cost quite a bundle and often just don't deliver on their promises," he added.

Instead, the region's businesses should first look to such groups as PEP in Bonner County and the North Idaho Small Business Development Corporation in Kootenai County, which offer lots of free and low-cost online resources and help, and offer the assistance of a business coach.

In addition, Baker said training and assistance can be found at the Women’s Business Center in Spokane (also affiliated with the Small Business Association).  Also, there are lots of courses available through NIC's continuing, workforce training, and education programs, the University of Idaho, Lewis Clark State College, and the North Idaho Workforce Training Program.  And for military veterans, there are multiple transitional entrepreneurship programs available.  

"Once a business has established some initial success and has taken advantage of the free and low-cost resources, then they can consider a consulting or training program," Baker said. "That’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and much of it is of marginal effectiveness, and some of it is quite powerful, so it’s important to invest in that carefully and strategically."

In Bonner County, some of the consulting services provided by Elevate Now Consulting are periodically offered as a free service through the Pend Oreille Economic Partnership.

However, what small businesses should do to boost their skills can be a complicated question because of the many variables, Baker said.

In the course of his consulting work through Elevate Now, Baker said everything starts with an initial assessment and conversation to shed light on an individual's business and personal goals and aspirations.

"From there, we can prioritize what needs to be worked on and, from there, recommend the best program or course of action," Baker said. "It could be online learning, continuing education, workshops and trainings, coaching, consulting, or a combination of all or some of these."

That means taking time for a frank assessment, either on their own or with a consultant, to establish or clarify those goals.

Core skills that every business should have in their repertoire include:

• Leadership skills, including communication, coaching/mentoring skills,  and emotional intelligence skills

• Strategic planning skills

• Understanding and implementing continuous improvement programs

• Managing by the numbers. That means, Baker said, understanding their accounting and bookkeeping systems, establishing key performance indicators and/or objective and key result goals, and knowing how to track them and what to do as they assemble and review that information.

• How to establish clarity, alignment, innovation, and culture to use in marketing and sales

• Customer service

"Everything else is pretty much technical training, which you also need," Baker said.

While the list may seem daunting, businesses can acquire those skills through a combination of formal in-house learning, training programs, and outside contracted workshops and training.

Taking those opportunities and ensuring their workers also get the training they need, can be key to a business owner's success — and the level of that success.

"I often hear business owners and managers utter cynical or derogatory statements about the workforce’s abilities," Baker said. "That’s not appropriate at all.  It’s our responsibility to hire right, and to establish effective training and development programs, and to put all the resources in place to engender success."

If workers don't have the skills they need, he said it's almost always the business that's to blame, not the workforce.

"The business world is a highly competitive environment, and to gain a competitive advantage, we need the best teams to deliver on the promise of our value proposition," he added. "Skills and training are paramount.