When you’re trying to vault your company to the next level, it’s common to feel as though you’re braving the struggle by yourself. But successful small- and medium-sized businesses can tap the expertise of others, rather than going at it alone.
Here are five free or low-cost resources that could help you grow your business:
1. Business mentors
Bibby Gignilliat, founder of culinary events company Parties That Cook, attributes an 80% business growth directly to her work with a mentor who gave her a framework for focusing efforts on her most lucrative clients.
But don’t think you can only learn face-to-face. Distance mentoring allows you to connect with experts virtually through email, Skype or FaceTime.
Another option to consider is situational mentoring, where business owners tap various mentors for specific needs. For example, you might connect with a marketing whiz to discuss social media best practices, or an advisor who can share their experience in scaling a company.
2. Free consulting services
Need to talk to someone who’s been there, done that?
The organization SCORE pairs working and retired business people with small business owners to help them sort through thorny problems. SCORE surveys its clients each year, and recent results found that SCORE mentors were able to help 72% of their clients increase revenue.
Open for Service, a company that provides stickers for businesses to show they don’t discriminate, used SCORE’s services to help with sustainability and marketing strategies. The company says SCORE’s advice was crucial in helping with its expansion to more than 5,000 members in seven countries.
3. TED talks
While not every business owner can attend a TEDx event near them, anyone can access TED talks online. Business consultant Laura Wallis regularly suggests her small- and medium-sized business clients tune in to videos that address specific business issues.
A favorite recommendation is “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” by Simon Sinek. “I consistently hear that growing business owners have trouble finding and keeping great employees. This particular video provides strategic advice on how to be a leader people want to work for.”
The TED Talk library features more than 2,000 videos, which can be sorted by topic or by categories such as “informative” or “courageous.”
4. Online courses
Want something more formal?
Several companies, such as Lynda, Coursera and Udemy for Business, offer online courses that cover everything from operations to sales to strategy. Technology company ON24 has used the latter to transform its training process, says Yvonne Chen, head of marketing for Udemy.
“ON24 used to bring in software engineers for trainings or send team members to conferences, but that was expensive and time consuming,” she says. “The company has found their engineers prefer using the on-demand Udemy for Business platform, where they can learn anytime, anywhere.”
5. Peer mentoring groups
Sometimes only business owners in your exact situation can relate to the issues you’re facing, which is where a peer mentoring group can be invaluable. Wallis is a big believer in Mastermind groups, which she describes as a “brainstorming or problem-solving group.”
The key to success with a Mastermind group is accountability: each member leaves with a goal and reports progress at the next meeting. To find an in-person or online Mastermind group, check meetup.com or an industry LinkedIn group.
Another peer group consultant Susan Bender Phelps recommends is the Social Venture Network, an online resource designed for CEOs of businesses that have a minimum of $2 million in annual revenue and align with the group’s mission of corporate responsibility. Mentoring groups are organized by company size and meet via conference call on a regular basis.