As a business owner, lacking the basic business know-how your typical MBA grad enjoys means that learning things from management to leadership to strategy comes largely by trial and error.
Though many things in business are best learned by experience, there are some areas where having a few basics down first really raises your stock in the business world.
The good news: There are free sources that allow you to pick up the skills you need to kickstart your business or take it to the next level, including graduate-level classes that are often reserved for those admitted to an MBA program.
A typical MBA program will include coursework in the following broad areas:
- Operational management
- Organizational behavior
- Human resources
- Business strategy
- Information systems
In the absence of an MBA, here six free courses you might want to take to refine your business skills.
1. Operations Management via Coursera
This class focuses on strategic operational decision-making in manufacturing- and service-focused companies. It is offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as part of its iMBA program (flexible, online MBA program). The tuition for the whole program is less than $22,000 — most online MBA programs cost upwards of $35,000, so the U of I iMBA program comes at a killer cost.
This class in particular is offered on Coursera as part of the Value Chain Management Specialization course series. Like most Coursera programs, you can take the class and series for free but if you want the certificate you will pay a fee.
Example of what you’ll learn: Learn how to make the decision between ordering larger quantities and ordering smaller quantities more frequently.
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2. Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies via Harvard edX
Harvard offers free online courses through the edX program, a joint learning program created by Harvard and MIT. One such class is Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, a Harvard Business School class on how individual agencies can address complex social problems in growing markets. As a new market grows, there are institutional voids that make it hard to get a products or services into the hands of consumers. Those voids present opportunities for entrepreneurs.
What you’ll learn: Develop your own creative entrepreneurial solution to address social concerns in a growing economy.
3. Marketing in a Digital World via edX
This is a five-course program offered through edX.org as one of its “MicroMasters” programs. Courses in this series include Online Marketing Strategies, Strategic Brand Management, Buyer Behavior and Analysis, and more. You’ll learn common marketing metrics and different digital marketing channels. The classes are free to try but if the credential is what you’re seeking that will be $795.
Example of what you’ll learn: Apply the fundamentals of consumer behavior to an effective marketing campaign that converts.
4. Organizational Leadership & Change via MIT OpenCourseWare
Organizational Leadership and Change is an MIT graduate-level course that uses the same material taught in a Summer 2009 MIT class. This is one of more than 100 courses offered through MIT Sloan School of Management OpenCourseWare (see all the courses here).
What you’ll learn: Reflect on prior leadership experience and apply lessons learned in class to become better leaders.
5. Introduction to Managerial Economics via edX
Managerial economics focuses on an organization’s financial goals and how managers can make formulate the right decisions to achieve them. It’s a six-week course offered through edX.org, and it’s free unless you want the verified certificate for $25. This particular class focuses on microeconomic decision-making, so you’ll learn how markets work and how make the right decisions for a firm based on factors influencing the market.
Example of what you’ll learn: How to price and sell your goods or services based on competitive pressures.
6. Smartly MBA Degree
Created by former employees from the language learning company Rosetta Stone, Smartly advertises itself as the first free MBA program. It offers 600 lessons in nine business subjects, including accounting, economics, statistics, leading organizations, marketing and pricing, and more.
This isn’t a typical online MBA program in the sense that it’s extremely selective, with an acceptance rate under 7% (for reference, the Harvard Business School acceptance rate is 12%.) Additionally it is not yet an accredited program, meaning it hasn’t been officially verified by one of the bodies governing accredited business schools.
It’s still in the works, but they plan to offer free business courses to individuals not interested in the degree program that will be available for anyone to enroll.
More Free Business Resources
Small Business Development Centers
Rather than taking a multi-week online course, you can have free, one-on-one consulting in person from your local small business development center (SBDC) or Small Business Technology and Development Center (SBTDCs). Many SBDC offices offer trainings and workshops as well as one-on-one advising from business experts. It’s an often-overlooked resource that can provide assistance no matter what stage of business you’re in. Subjects that SBDCs can assist with include business planning, market research, leadership training, business financing guidance and more.
Free SBA Mini Courses
If you can’t commit to a full course but are into the idea of online learning, you’re in luck. The SBA offers a number of 30-minute courses covering subjects like accounting, human resources, customer behavior and pricing. They also offer courses in subjects that wouldn’t be part of your mainstream business education, like franchising, buying a business, and cybersecurity.
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This article was originally written on June 8, 2017 and updated on January 27, 2021.
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