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Small Business Centers Employ the Power of Online Learning to Support Local Entrepreneurs

Posted By Jeanne Yocum, Thursday, March 27, 2014

Part 3 in a series of blogs about how entrepreneurial mindset, small business growth and technology are fueling a local economy. Click here to see video.

 

Across the nation, networks of centers serving small businesses, many located on community college campuses, provide invaluable assistance to entrepreneurs as they seek to get their businesses off the ground or to pursue business growth. Increasingly, counselors at these centers are using online business learning programs, such as HP LIFE e-Learning, to help educate their clients about key business building topics. This online content is used to supplement in-person counseling or as the basis for one-to-many training.

 

Given the large number of small business center directors in our membership and the integral role they play in the community college ecosystem and our partnership with HP LIFE, we at the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship wanted to learn more about how and why small business centers co-located at member colleges are employing online learning. We spoke about their experience with online learning with George Millsaps, state director of North Carolina’s Small Business Center Network; David Copeland Norcross, acting director, Maricopa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Phoenix, Arizona; and Robert Sainz, general manager of City of Los Angeles’ Economic & Workforce Development Department, which operates nine BusinessSource Centers across the city. 

Here’s what these directors had to say about the value online learning in their centers.

Online learning supplements counseling

Directors each pointed to how online learning can be adaptable and relevant to counselling work, citing a few examples.

 

“One of the great things about online courses such as HP LIFE is that the SBC counselor can employ them in a variety of ways,” says George Millsaps. “Some counselors use online courses to give the entrepreneur a jump start before one-on-one counseling begins. Others use online learning to continue providing entrepreneurs needed knowledge between counseling sessions.”

 

“Online resources are examples of how technology can assist entrepreneurs in doing research for their business idea,” says David Copeland Norcross. “It also provides opportunities for them to see other businesses in real time and how those businesses use a specific business model that has succeeded. Using online resources for market research is invaluable for entrepreneurs and small business owners.”

“I can’t tell you how invaluable it is to have a technology platform like HP LIFE that is free for people to use,” said Robert Sainz. “Also having the HP brand behind it that people are familiar with takes away any skepticism. It is hugely important for us to reach small businesses in our many ethnic communities. So having an online learning platform that offers the training in Spanish and various Asian languages is very valuable to us.”

Convenience of online learning is highly appealing for entrepreneurs.

In addition to relevance to counselors, directors also noted the value of online resources from entrepreneur perspective, focusing on convenience, adaptability and personalization.

 

According to Norcross, online learning appeals to clients because it highly convenient. “Clients are able to use the tools at their own pace and with their own timetable, and at their own locations without having to travel,” he says. “This is definitely one of the benefits to the online training courses. Online learning is particularly effective if it can be followed up with one-on-one counseling sessions to specifically address areas of interest and concern.”

 

Millsaps believes online learning is beneficial because not everyone learns the same way. “Some people have had some exposure to small business concepts and can whiz through the parts they know,” he says. “Other people are contemplative and like to review material more than once to get that deeper meaning. Online training allows the potential entrepreneur to learn when they want to and how they want to.”

Small business owners are working from morning to night and they often don’t have time to sit in classrooms,” says Sainz. “With online learning they have the ability to do it on their own time. Also, they can access any of the 22 subject modules in HP LIFE whenever they need to know more about a specific topic rather than waiting for when a college is running a course on that topic. And they’re using it in a safe environment, which is important to older people, who may not be comfortable asking questions in a classroom environment.”

Mastery of technology is essential to small business success.

Finally, the small business thought leaders we talked with all agree that technology plays a very important role in supporting business start-ups, business growth and overall community development - online learning helps walk the walk.

 

“This SBDC strongly believes in the use of technology in startup businesses, particularly in the area of social media as a marketing tool,” said Norcross. “We also provide online tools to assist in financial projections and the development of business plans. We use technology to counsel clients online as well as in person through email and other tools available through our website.”

 

Few businesses can survive today without technology and even fewer that can flourish without technology,” said Millsaps. “Most people can't take years to get a degree in business to supplement the expertise they already have in their craft. Technology provides access to quick knowledge. Nor can a small business owner pour over mounds of paperwork each day. Technology provides the platform for programs that make quick work of bookkeeping, inventory, security, and most importantly can help increase customer satisfaction. All of these lead to increased profitability and survivability of a small business. To me technology is the great equalizer for small businesses. Show me a tech savvy small business and I'll show you a small business that can compete, and beat, the big box stores.”

 

For more information on how George Millsaps uses online learning to provide services to entrepreneurs and small business owners, we invite you to view this video.

 

For more about HP LIFE e-Learning and how it supports both business and ICT skills for the aspiring and nascent small business see here.

Tags:  HP LIFE  NACCE  Small Business Centers 

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