As a small business owner, you know that an effective training programme will motivate your staff and increase productivity. But resources are tight and you have to squeeze margins just to survive. So how can you afford to pay for training?
Draw up a Training Plan
As with anything else in business, training is most effective when you are clear about your objectives. Drawing up a plan will help you to get the maximum benefit from your training budget by targeting business need and identifying the most efficient ways of delivering training.
When setting your objectives, start with the existing skills gap, for both new and longer serving staff. Then look at future requirements. For instance, are you planning to introduce any new technology, or to diversify into new areas of business? Think about succession planning too: do you have people ready to replace managers as they leave?
Make sure that the plan includes every member of staff (including yourself), even if they already have the skills for their current role. The more skills your staff have, and the more they know about your business and your industry, the more they will identify with the company and be ready to contribute to its success.
It is good practice to involve the staff themselves when creating the training plan to allow them to share ownership of their own training and development. You are likely to find that this generates creative ideas about their training requirements and about the best ways of meeting those requirements. Linking individual training plans with the performance appraisal process is a good way of focusing training on business objectives.
Make the Most of Your Own Resources
It is surprisingly easy to meet many of your training needs from your own resources. You probably already expect managers to train their staff on basic procedures, but don’t overlook the possibility of allowing team members to train their new colleagues. This has the additional benefit of enabling the trainer to acquire coaching skills that will help them if they move to management roles in the future.
Similarly, if part of your plan is to make sure that everyone understands all parts of the business, think about a programme of shadowing, job swaps or presentations from one team to another.
Don’t forget the possibility of managers learning more about the business at a grassroots level by spending the occasional day on the shop floor. You can fit all of this into times when you are not so busy, so that the resource cost to the business is minimal.
If you have a continuing requirement for specialist training, another way of reducing costs is by training an in-house specialist. For instance, if you have a manufacturing operation, you may need all of your managers to have Health and Safety training. Rather than outsourcing the training to an external consultant it can work out much cheaper for an existing member of staff to acquire the qualifications that will allow them to train their colleagues.
Look for Free External Resources
Even when you have to look outside your organisation for training, there are lots of free (or almost free) resources available. Traditional resources include books and periodicals – which may be available from the library or from any professional organisations you or your staff may belong to – but today there is also a wealth of material available online, including e‑learning on just about any subject imaginable.
Government agencies, small business support centres or local educational institutions may all offer free or low cost training. Try your local library or Chamber of Commerce for information on what is available. Finally, if you do need to buy external training, consider finding another employer with similar needs so that you can share the training and so reduce the cost.
Reaping the Rewards
It is true that there will always be a cost to training, whether of time or money. However, with proper planning you can achieve your objectives without spending a fortune. And you will reap the reward with staff who have the skills and motivation to help your business to succeed.