When business is slow, carve out more time to sharpen the skills you have and acquire new ones. It will pay off when business picks up.
There are many ways to update current skills or learn new skills. If you are unsure how to proceed, ask yourself: What do I need or want to learn, and how much time and money am I able and willing to invest? Identify pressing needs and long-term educational goals. Then, consider how you can effectively meet your educational needs in terms of requirements and the time and money you can afford to invest. You might sharpen some of your skills with little time and/or money. Goals such as requiring a new skill set, or perhaps a degree, may require further education, more time, and more money.
Read a Blog. Industry gurus abound and many can be found sharing their knowledge through an internet blog on a regular basis. Once you find a reliable, informative blog, bookmark it and check in regularly. If an RSS feed is offered, allow the feed, and the information will come to you. You can drop it if you outgrow it. It is a free, steady stream of current information.
Download a Podcast. Many podcasts (audio or digital media files) are free, and they cover a wide range of subject matter. Training techniques, legal information, listening skills, language courses…there is a podcast for every subject. Podcast.com and iTunes offer large collections, and many institutions and industry professional associations also feature informative podcasts on their websites. They can be downloaded to your computer, portable media player, or smartphone, and you can listen (or watch) and learn at your convenience.
Subscribe to a Trade Magazine. Magazines related to your business are still a great source of information. Save pages with interesting subject matter and read them later while you are waiting for a client, flying to a business meeting, or in your spare time. Many magazines offer an online choice (either free or low-cost) that you can easily access through your laptop or smartphone.
Teach Yourself. Texts are available on any subject, and the cost of a quality training or self-help manual is far less than the cost of a class. Tackle your training as if you would any project, and hold yourself accountable; create a training plan with a time frame and goals for each chapter. Allot enough time daily or weekly to read, practice techniques, reflect upon what you read, review additional resources, and test yourself. Set aside time when you are at your best and have no interruptions. If you can’t focus in your office (or home), go to a quiet room, coffee shop, or library to study.
Attend a Conference. From the basics to new techniques, methods, ideas, and products — conferences can be a fountain of information. If you only attend one conference a year, find one that offers substantial learning opportunities through informative class sessions or round tables. Evaluate session information and presenter biographies. Once you have selected a conference, plan your conference day around those sessions that are most valuable to you, and use your extra time to check out new products or services and to talk with vendors. You can learn much from other professionals attending the conference, so be sure to network and share experiences.
Attend an Association Meeting. There are hundreds of industry, profession, and trade associations out there. Check out the ones in your area. Many offer no- or low-cost educational meetings and seminars. Some offer certification training. You might want to join or get on a mailing list to watch for topics of interest to you.
Hire a Consultant. Consultants are available to do more than solve problems. They can also provide training in an area in which you feel your skills are lagging. If you need to brush up on sales skills, public speaking, budgeting ability, hiring methods, computer skills, or more, consider hiring a consultant to provide you with an honest assessment, train you, and show you how to continue to improve your skills.
Take an Adult Education Class. If you need a little training in a specific area or you want to explore a new interest, you may benefit most from an adult education class at your local high school or college. Costs are generally low and the time commitment might range from one or two sessions to once a week for five to ten weeks.
Pack Your Bookbag. You might consider a return to college to take several courses, earn a certificate, or earn that degree you always wanted. Since higher education requires more of an investment in terms of time and finances, ask yourself what additional education will more quickly help you to reach your business and personal goals or learn new theories or practices in your current area of expertise. How much money can you spend and how much time can you allot away from the business and still keep it viable? What family concessions may need to be made? Colleges are offering many different paths to achieve the same end (online, weekend, nights, and part-time learning); choose a path that works for you and your family and to which you can safely commit.