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How to upskill on a budget: Our guide to the best online courses

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Training and upskilling can be a great way to keep your employees inspired. It can also help to fill any knowledge gaps for small business owners – like you – who wear many hats. Investing in your team’s development doesn’t need to be expensive or time-consuming, either. Here’s our guide to five online courses that can help you upskill on a budget.

Woman speaking to team members on video chat.

LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning report found that companies that excel at staff development are able to retain employees for an average of five and a half years – that’s nearly two times as long as companies that struggle with it. The spread of COVID-19 and the emergence of the Great Resignation has meant that retaining skilled staff is more important than ever.

One way to support your employees – and encourage them to continue working with you – is by providing opportunities for career progression and learning and development. It shows you’re as invested in their careers as you are in the growth of your business. And it’s not just your employees who can reap the benefits of a tailored training program. As a business owner, investing in your own development can help to improve your efficiency and leadership skills.

The push for online learning – thanks to new technology and pandemic behaviours – means there are now many affordable workplace training options available at the click of a button. Committing regular time to upskilling means you and your team can take a short break from core responsibilities – while still learning something new.

Here’s our guide to a few flexible, affordable and accessible online training courses that could help you and your team upskill.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Price range: Free (with option to upgrade)
Course length: Approximately 5 to 8 weeks, 3 to 5 hours a week
Level of expertise: Beginner

What skills can it help you develop?

MOOCs are free, self-paced online courses on a range of topics – from entrepreneurship to business management. If you’re looking to improve your business efficiency, a good place to start is with their accounting, marketing and finance courses. If you’re building a website, it may be worth exploring their design and web development courses. The platform also offers a range of holistic courses suited to every level of employee, like leadership and health and wellbeing courses. MOOCs come with clear course outlines and time estimates so you know exactly what you will learn and how much time to set aside.

LinkedIn Learning

Price range: 1-month free trial, then monthly or annual subscription
Course length: 10 minutes to 2 hours
Level of expertise: Beginner to intermediate

What skills can it help you develop?

LinkedIn Learning is an on-demand library of instructional videos covering the latest business, technology and creative skills. You don’t need a LinkedIn account to join, but it can help to recommend which of their 17,500 courses is right for you and your team. LinkedIn Learning courses are designed to reflect your and your team’s interests and expertise – from ‘Humble Leadership’ to ‘Essentials of Team Collaboration’ and creative training like ‘Learning Lightroom CC’.

General Assembly

Price range: Free (with option to upgrade)
Course length: 10 minutes to 1 hour
Level of expertise: Beginner to experienced

What skills can it help you develop?

Since launching in 2011, General Assembly has provided tech-focused classes for over 40,000 students around the world. Its suite of courses offers extensive training on User Experience (UX), business, data science, marketing and coding. There are five types of immersions to choose from: Workshops & Events, On Demand Learning, Part-Time, Full-Time and Flex. If you’re looking for bite-sized, self-paced courses, Workshops & Events and On Demand Learning are great starting points. Part-Time, Full-Time and Flex immersions are useful if you or an employee are looking to deep-dive into a particular subject.

Meta Blueprint

Price range: Free
Course length: 10 minutes to 1 hour
Level of expertise: Beginner to intermediate

What skills can it help you develop?

Meta Blueprint – formerly known as Facebook Blueprint – provides affordable, self-paced digital marketing tutorials. Its short videos give key insights on how you can best engage with Meta’s primary platforms Instagram and Facebook. The courses range from as simple as ‘Promote Your Business from Your Facebook Page’ and ‘Get Discovered with Instagram Reels’ to more complex marketing lessons like ‘Four Dimensions of Liquidity’, which explains how automated systems can help your social media ads reach a wider audience.

Lady Startup

Price range: Varies from course to course
Course length: Self-paced
Level of expertise: Beginner to intermediate

What skills can it help you develop?

Based in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo, Lady Startup is all about supporting women in business. The program is run by Mia Freedman, co-founder and CEO of the MamamiaMedia Group. It offers four courses for women entrepreneurs: ‘The Idea Kickstarter’, ‘The Activation Plan’, ‘The Rocket Plan’ and ‘The Email Marketing Course’. While their courses are on the pricier side (up to $700 for a 12-month mentorship), the value is in their detailed, hands-on curriculums. If you like the sound of Lady Startup but you’re not ready to make the jump into the courses, their podcast has some great tips and tricks to get you started.

Learning and development in practice

When Kirsty Chapman-Smith launched Discount Party Supplies in 2009, she immediately invested in her learning and development. Her commitment led the business to be named a State Winner and National Finalist at the 2022 Telstra Best of Business Awards in the Outstanding Growth category.

Kirsty says that training is key to her success as a founder and CEO. “From the very beginning, like many businesses, it was a challenge. I didn’t have technical and coding skills to build a website. I didn’t have photography or graphic design skills to showcase the products. I had to find [out how] to do things,” she says. “I did WEA courses and TAFE courses. I’ve had mentors and business advisers over the years. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, attended industry events. You name it, I was prepared to do it. And I’m still prepared to learn and grow for the benefit of this business.”

Investing in your own development and your team’s skill training can have a positive impact on your business’s growth, efficiency and staff retention. Aside from the courses we’ve listed here, it’s also worth researching whether there are any government-run workplace training initiatives available to you, like Business Australia’s Events and Training Finder or the Victorian Government’s Upskill My Business.

If you’d prefer to start closer to home, consider what areas you’d like to develop and ask your employees what skills they’d like to learn. For a quick knowledge boost, Smarter Business is a great resource hub. Take a look at our range of short guides like ‘Payment options to increase your revenue’. The Telstra Business Intelligence report on Thriving in the Digital Age also offers valuable insights on how you can best meet your employees’ training expectations. However you choose to approach upskilling, it’s important that it makes sense for you, your business and your team.

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