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The Complete Guide to Free Online Training Courses for Entrepreneurs

In an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) discussion on Reddit, serial entrepreneur (and founder of Tesla and SpaceX) Elon Musk said, “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.” Musk also said that he feels most people are capable of learning more than they think they can – they just sell themselves short on trying. Whether you’re working to launch a new business or to grow an existing one, it can be easy to only focus on what you know and stick with it.

Musk makes a valid point, though – you’re capable of learning a lot more. Even if you intend to delegate and outsource responsibilities within your business, it’s still beneficial to improve your skill set through education. Rather than head back to a traditional university, you can enroll in a number of free courses, or take advantage of free resources, to gain knowledge in various areas of business. Here are some of the best free courses available online, providing a broad education on effective leadership, marketing a new business, search optimization, growth strategy and planning, and getting a new business off the ground.  

Management and Leadership Courses

Effective leadership takes more than a title and a nice suit)
Effective leadership takes more than a title and a nice suit

Leadership, or lack thereof, can have a significant impact on the growth of a business. As a business owner, improving the way you manage an organization and how you lead your team should be a priority. Many of the skills and insights imparted by these courses aren’t typically things you come by naturally – they’re developed through experience and education.  

1. Master Class Management

Masterclassmanagement.com offers free access to a variety of courses on topics such as how to organize and manage departmental goals, hiring and retaining top talent, mediating and handling conflict, the art of communication, and much more. The courses are not scheduled, so you can work them into your agenda at your own pace. Testing is provided for each course segment. Get free access here  

2. Latitude U – Supervising Difficult Behaviors

You may not have challenging employees now, but as your business grows it can be helpful to understand how to work with different personality types. This free course can help you learn how to identify difficult behavior, as well as common triggers that can cause such behaviors to manifest in even exemplary employees. You’ll also learn effective and common strategies to manage difficult employees in the workplace. Get free access here  

3. Latitude U – Level 5 Leadership

This course is based on material provided in the Ann Arbor SPARK Entrepreneur boot camp program. It was originally designed to help business leaders and entrepreneurs improve their management style. The focus is on building personal humility and professionalism that elevate employee relations and drive employees to share the vision of leadership in order to maximize growth. Get free access here  

4. University of Michigan – Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills

Every business owner should learn to master the art of negotiation. It comes into play when dealing with suppliers, vendors, contracts for employees or property owners, distribution channels, and more. The course is offered through Coursera and was created by the University of Michigan. Led by George Siedel, Professor of Business Administration and Business Law, the course includes over eight hours of video lectures that provide a wealth of material on how to improve your negotiation skills. This is also a course that can and should be shared with department heads and sales staff who deal with outside parties and have the autonomy to negotiate. The full course is available for free; however, you have the option of paying for the course license if you want to receive a certificate upon completion. Get free access here  

5. University of Illinois – Foundation of Everyday Leadership

This course is designed to focus on helping business owners achieve harmony both inside and outside of the workplace. You’ll learn about the head and heart of everyday leadership, decision making as an individual and in a group, and how to manage motivation. The ultimate goal is to discover and understand how leadership skills are critical to the success of your business, and the foundations of effective leadership skills. This course, taught by Gregory Northcraft, Professor of Business Administration, and Harry J. Gray, Professor of Executive Leadership, in conjunction with the University of Illinois and Coursera, can be taken for free and offers paid options for completion with a certification. Get free access here  

6. HP LIFE – Effective Leadership

HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) offers a free course on becoming a more effective leader, which focuses on examining how different leadership approaches impact the workplace. Leveraging different leadership styles, including when and how to use them, will make you a far more effective leader in all aspects of business. Get free access here  

New Business Launch Courses

There are a lot of moving parts involved in making a startup launch and soar
There are a lot of moving parts involved in making a startup launch and soar

These courses are best suited for freelancers, contractors, and solopreneurs who want to take their ideas to a new level, launching and scaling a startup from the core idea or concept. It’s a complex task, and these courses will help you navigate common trouble areas for founders working to launch their businesses.  

1. University of California – Essentials of Entrepreneurship

If you’re ready to take the next step and launch a new business concept, then this course from the University of California, Irvine is where you should start. The course materials cover the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, including skills, feasibility studies, strategies for launch, and the basics of a startup. Material is delivered in both readable format as well as through videos, and will empower you with the tools and skills to move forward with prepping your business for launch. The course is available for free without testing material, but is also offered in a paid version that includes testing and certification with Coursera. Get free access here  

2. University of Maryland – Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies

This course, taught by Dr. James V. Green, Director of Entrepreneurship Education at Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, is perfect for any aspiring entrepreneur looking to turn a sound idea into a growing business. The included materials cover analyzing opportunities, improving strategic decision making, and building an innovative business model to help you launch. It’s a sound introduction to entrepreneurship, industry, and to understanding the markets you’ll operate in. The course is available for free without testing material, but is also offered in a paid version that includes testing and certification with Coursera. Get free access here  

3. Degreed – Entrepreneurship Learning Pathway

This curated selection of course materials, articles, and videos includes 12 self-paced lessons that begin with the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and the process for developing a business. The material moves from basic through advanced content that covers everything from economics to social entrepreneurship, risk assessment, tools, and real-life case studies. Get free access here  

4. Carnegie Mellon – Entrepreneurship and Business Planning

This course from Carnegie Mellon is taught by Renaissance Consulting’s Mark Juliano. It’s a comprehensive course designed to provide active or aspiring entrepreneurs with all the information they need to get a new business concept off the ground. Topics covered include building a team, finding financing, building a competitive strategy, writing a business plan, sales and marketing, legal issues, and much more. Even if you own an established business, the course is a strong fit as it includes Carnegie Mellon’s Masters in Information Systems Management program. Get free access here  

Growth Strategy and Project Planning/Management Courses

Every business starts small, but it takes skill and strategy to grow in the right way
Every business starts small, but it takes skill and strategy to grow in the right way

Growth doesn’t really occur by luck or happenstance. The odds are slim that a campaign or activity will go viral and generate a large volume of consistent business and growth. The most successful businesses achieve their growth through strategic deployment and careful planning and execution of campaigns. These free courses will help you improve your approach to strategy, development, planning, and execution for more sustainable growth.  

1. Northwestern University – Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution

This 5-week course from Northwestern University, taught by professors Gad Allon and Jan Van Mieghem, will teach you how to build a more stable and scalable business. The course includes material on sustainable frameworks, marketing, outsourcing strategies, and the development of scalable workflows to improve operational efficiency. Get free access here  

2. Udacity – How to Build a Startup

One of the best ways to learn how to scale a business from launch is to learn from an entrepreneur who has achieved success on multiple occasions. The course is taught by Steve Blank, who has launched and grown eight Silicon Valley startups and authored multiple books on entrepreneurship. This course focuses on growing a startup by understanding the needs of the customer, and following a Customer Development Process. With this information, you’ll be able to develop, test, and validate any new ideas you have using data from actual customers. This greatly reduces waste from ineffective deployments, and improves the success of future product launches. Get free access here  

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – How to Develop Breakthrough Products and Services

This is another graduate-level course available for free through MIT’s Sloan School of Management. This work-at-your-own-pace course focuses on developing major innovations by concentrating on the needs of the individual customer and end-user. Those kinds of innovations are the most likely to contribute to long-term, sustainable growth in your business. The course includes a variety of reading material, assignments, and video lectures from the actual course taught at MIT. Get free access here  

4. University of California – Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management

Even seasoned business owners and entrepreneurs have the occasional struggle with keeping up on projects and tasks and getting things executed. You can minimize a lot of those bottlenecks by improving the planning. This course combines the most critical elements of project management along with team leadership to help you take better control of project planning. By better leveraging the teams you have in place, you can lead every project through milestones and critical deadlines for more successful deployment. The course is available for free without testing material, but is also offered in a paid version that includes testing and certification with Coursera. Get free access here  

Marketing Courses

Learn marketing on every channel, from paid and owned media to earned media from your fans

You don’t have to manage your own marketing as your business grows. Many SMBs outsource to marketing agencies or work with independent consultants or contractors to come up with creative campaigns for growing a business. With that said, you can save a lot of time and money by learning the fundamentals of digital marketing, and managing more projects in-house. With even a basic understanding of startup marketing and strategy development, you can be more involved, guiding campaign strategy to achieve the results you’re looking for.  

1. Wordstream – PPC University

Wordstream provides a one-stop shop for learning the fundamentals of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. This PPC 101 course provides information on keyword development, different types of ads, understanding cost per click and cost per action, how to optimize for conversions, and improving your results with Google Adwords. The PPC 101 course is available as a complete free download. Additional resources are available for advanced learning. Get free access here  

2. Google – Online Marketing Challenge

You would be hard-pressed to find a better source to learn about online marketing and search marketing than from the people who hold the largest market share in search. This Online Marketing Challenge course from Google is packed with a wealth of video content that covers everything from search engine marketing, to mobile strategy, social marketing, AdWords, and more. Get free access here  

3. Constant Contact – Social Media Quickstarter

Constant Contact has made a name for itself in the world of email marketing, but it integrates with social channels, as well, to help promote the content you send. It offers some insight into what works best for various social channels, which it has compiled into a course to help you get the most out of your social media efforts. The Social Media Quickstarter offers the step-by-step instructions you need to start building your social media presence across all of the top social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even Snapchat. Get free access here  

4. CopyBlogger – Internet Marketing for Smart People

The team at CopyBlogger is well respected for its knowledge of how to use the right words to get the right response from an audience. This is a 20-installment course packed with 16 eBooks, and covers everything you need to know about copywriting, content marketing, keyword research, and more. The lessons are sent via email, so it’s easy to digest the content as you see fit. Get free access here  

5. HubSpot – Inbound Marketing Training

The inbound marketing training program from HubSpot is completely free and is packed with over 15 classes and additional materials. All the content, direct from HubSpot, will help you master inbound marketing and all the channels used for those efforts. Through the courses, you’ll learn about blogging, SEO, email marketing, building effective calls to action, and more. Once you’ve finished, you can take the certification exam and become Hubspot certified, totally free of charge. Get free access here  

6. University of California – Conducting a Thorough Market Assessment

Through its OpenCourseWare program, the University of California provides access to courses and lectures for free. This one-hour lecture from Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, entrepreneurs and co-authors of The Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development: a Cheat Sheet to the Four Steps to Epiphany, will help guide you through determining who your ideal customers are, and understanding the strategies and tactics to make a strong connection with them based on your market. Many startups fail because of a lack of interest from the audience they were targeting – this quick lecture can help you avoid that failure and build a stronger relationship with your target audience. Get free access here  

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Entrepreneurial Marketing

The MIT OpenCourseWare project offers free access to a number of courses, including the Entrepreneurial Marketing course. This course is part of its graduate program and is taught by professor Jin Gyo Kim. While it’s a graduate-level course, it focuses specifically on marketing concepts, methods, and strategies for startups and entrepreneurs in the early stages of business development post-launch. It’s a great course for those who are working with limited resources and could benefit from a deeper understanding of marketing. Get free access here  

8. HP LIFE – Build a Business Through Social Marketing

This course, offered by HP LIFE, is designed to help entrepreneurs and small business owners identify the range of opportunity in social media marketing, and how to create social media campaigns that provide more reach among specific target audiences. Get free access here  

9. Open2Study – Write for the Web

A lot of digital marketing efforts revolve around copy and content, and a lot of what you do to engage an audience will be based around writing online. If you don’t feel you’re a strong writer, and you don’t have the resources to outsource this aspect of marketing, then this is a course we recommend. It covers the differences between writing for print and the web, effective formatting, maintaining content online, and how to engage your audience through content. Get free access here  

Search Engine Optimization Courses

Learn SEO tactics that put you in front of customers, whether globally or in your neighborhood
Learn SEO tactics that put you in front of customers, whether globally or in your neighborhood

Paid marketing can be an effective way to get your brand in front of your target audience, but it comes with a cost. SEO helps improve the visibility of your content and your online presence, consistently and progressively bringing you more organic traffic that is highly-targeted and costs you far less to build and maintain. These courses help cover the basics so you have a better understanding of how to build your organic visibility.  

1. Udacity – Website Performance

This one was developed by Google and, through a simple one-week course, teaches you how to optimize any website you own to improve speed and performance. Since site performance affects the user experience and can impact conversions, and site speed can directly impact your search rankings, this is a smart choice to ensure that your website works as intended and doesn’t inhibit your business growth. Get free access here  

2. Open2Study – User Experience

This is an online course that every business owner should take, even if you don’t directly work with or manage your own website. It examines how users interact with a website. The course provides an overview of the general principles of UX. Course materials also include information on the techniques and tools professionals use to improve user experience and keep visitors from leaving a site due to poor experience and performance problems. You’ll learn best practices for a user-centric design process that provides improved conversions and greater trust development among your audience. Get free access here  

3. Distilled – Technical SEO

Most of the SEO done by brands and marketers can be achieved through on-page optimization and simple tweaks. Still, you can’t ignore the more technical elements that can impact your organic search visibility. This course lays out the aspects of technical SEO you need to pay attention to when building and improving any website. You’ll learn how the search algorithms crawl, see, and interpret the content of your site to make it easier to diagnose and fix problems. Get free access here  

4. Lynda – SEO Training Tutorials

Lynda.com is a network full of lots of courses on various aspects of SEO. Many feature short video lectures that are easy to get through in a single sitting. While Lynda is a paid service, it does offer a 10-day free trial. This will let you jump in and check out a course or two that look really attractive without having to pay the premium initially. Get free access here  

5. SEOBook – Comprehensive Training

SEOBook’s free training center has a wealth of information on social interaction, link building, on-page optimization, keyword research, and offsite optimization. There’s even course material on copywriting, PR, and content marketing for effective SEO. Get free access here     Have you taken any courses online that provided substantial value and helped you grow your business? Share your story with us and tell us about your courses in the comments below. Image Sources: Shutterstock, Harpoon Brewery, Shutterstock, Shutterstock, Shutterstock  


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