5 tips for building a best in class training program for your small business

Anyone who’s been in the professional world for a while knows that a business is only as good as its employees. Without talented people in management and on the front lines of your small business, it’s unlikely you’ll be able compete with other small businesses, let alone try to take on the big guys. It’s true: One of the best marketing strategies for small business is to have top-shelf employees that can outperform and outmaneuver the competition.

To this end, employee training is absolutely critical, and yet, as the Small Business Administration pointed out, it’s usually one of the first things to go when budgets get cut. But without a systematic means through which you can bring new employees up to speed, your business will suffer in the long term in terms of retaining people and helping your employees grow to be the best they can be.

Make no mistake, a training program costs money. But you need to look at it like an investment and not an expense. In this article, we’ll look at five ways to train and develop your workforce without totally breaking the bank in the process.

1. Know what you need to train your employees on
This is probably the biggest step you can take to building out a solid employee training program. Like anything you do in business, you need to have a reason why you’re spending time and money on something, as well as a clear plan to achieve success. Your employee training program should be no different.

A blog post by Intuit noted that you should start by assessing where your staff’s skills are currently and where you need them to be. Here is a list of points you should consider while you’re developing a training program:

  • Your company’s goals, mission, strengths and weaknesses.
  • What each employee’s role is.
  • Information on each employee’s performance gathered during reviews.
  • Any regulatory requirements that call for specialized training, such as OSHA compliance.

Having a deep understanding of these points will help you identify key gaps in your employees’ performance and how it affects the business as a whole. From there, you’ll be able to create a training program that suits your needs specifically, rather than relying on some generic program that may not meet cover all of the smaller details.

2. Automate your training materials
Whenever you have a new employee, he or she will have to run the gamut of training sessions to get caught up on what is expected from the position. In addition to requiring a larger HR department, it simply takes up a lot of time when you have to train everyone from scratch.

With video- and Web-based training materials, you only need to record your lessons once. From there, they can be used over and over again without having to pay someone to come in to aid in the training. Again, this may take some time and money to create upfront, but the payoff can be worth it over the long haul.

3. Tap your existing employees for mentors and trainers
If you have some veteran employees in the fold, then you’ve already got a great resource. These employees will have a wealth of practical experience, as well as an inside knowledge of your company and customers. If you’re not taking advantage of this fact, you and your new workers will be missing out on some amazing training opportunities.

Sure, everyone is busy. But it’s worth allowing your top employees to carve out some time in their days to conduct training sessions or one-on-one mentorship meetings for the novices on board. Identify which of your employees has the technical chops and communication skills to be a teacher and let them have the podium.

Another possibility is to simply have employees shadow one another across departments. In a small business, everyone needs to wear multiple hats and handle responsibilities that may not necessarily fall into their department. Rather than set up a formal training session for this cross-department mixing, you could let employees learn from each other for a day or two so they can get a firsthand look at what they need to do. This is the best kind of training because it’s directly connected to real-world scenarios.

4. Look for third-party associations for generic trainings
As the Small Business Association explained, there are countless associations and trade groups that offer training courses for small business employees. For the most part, memberships are required to gain access to these seminars, but they’re usually worth the price of admission. Granted, these won’t be tailored to your exact needs, but if you find that your employees need a more basic grounding in certain practices, this can be a good alternative to trying to go it alone.

Small Business Trends wrote that for things like EEOC, OSHA, Sexual Harassment and Diversity and other critical areas of regulatory importance, training is not an option – it’s a requirement. Failing to train your employees on these topics can cause some serious headaches in terms of potential legal issues and liabilities. Getting these buttoned up as soon as possible will free you and your team up to tackle other challenges without worrying about a possible legal quagmire.

5. Use employee feedback and metrics and iterate
As with anything else, you need some sort of standard against which you can judge the success of your training programs. Intuit recommended setting some metrics that will help you judge how much each employee’s performance improved from his or her pre-training levels. For example, if you send your sales team to a coaching session, you can track their sales numbers afterward to gauge the impact of the coaching.

Additionally, it helps to use surveys or one-on-one meetings to ask employees how they felt about the training. Did they feel it was connected to what they do on a day-to-day basis, or was it a lot of superfluous material? Knowing this will help you hone your program to the point where it provides huge benefits in a short timeframe.

Don’t wait to start developing a codified training program. By finding a quick, well-defined way to improve your employees’ performance, you’ll be making an investment that will pay itself off over and over again.

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