Tools

One of the best parts of working for yourself is being able to learn on the job. This is especially true for people who run online businesses, where your website can serve as your very own hands-on business school, web development class or marketing crash course. That said, while a reasonable amount of “on the job” learning is healthy, relying too heavily on your business to teach you the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of entrepreneurship can make you feel like you’re always one step behind. Avoid pitfalls and set yourself up for success by learning the basics first!

Whether you prefer structured, detailed weekly classes or easily digestible blog posts, there’s a wealth of free learning material available to suit your needs. Below are five of our favorite learning resources and some “starter” suggestions for maximizing the benefits of each one.

1. CodeAcademy
There are numerous ways to learn to code for free, but for us, CodeAcademy is second to none. These beginner-friendly, interactive training modules make coding a breeze. If you’re at your best when learning is “gamified,” CodeAcademy offers a social component that you can take advantage of, so sign up with a couple friends or compete with strangers. Are you more of a lone ranger? You can still enjoy all of CodeAcademy’s fun, structured classes on your own. We’re putting this one at the top of our list because having a basic knowledge of code really is essential in operating an ecommerce business, as you’ll easily be able to troubleshoot issues, control your own designs, and even develop a more intuitive understanding of SEO.

Start With:
• HTML, the fundamentals of which you can learn in a weekend. Then move onto CSS for styling, followed by Javascript, for learning how interactive web elements work. These three languages comprise the backbone of most websites, and will give you full confidence in working with your own. You’ll never have to rely on tech support again!

2. EdX
There are a few websites out there that give you access to classes from some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and we dig how democratized education is becoming. For working professionals, our favorite of the bunch is EdX. The self-paced classes are pre-recorded, so you can take them in a way that fits your timeline best; or you can follow a particular schedule along with thousands of other “classmates” so that you can ask questions, collaborate and interact with others. Unlike Coursera classes, most EdX classes are free. You can pay for a “Verified Certificate” that you’ll be awarded upon successful completion of the class, but those are by and large unnecessary. If you think that paying for a verified certificate ahead of time will keep you more accountable, though, go for it!

Start With:
User Innovation: a Path to Entrepreneurship from MIT
Introduction to Marketing from the University of British Columbia
Digital Marketing, Social Media and e-Commerce for Your Business from the University of Pennsylvania – This one starts in September, so enroll now to take it in “real time.”

Bonus: many of the business classes can also be used for networking and partnership-building, so seek out and interact with classmates who are working on complimentary businesses, and keep in touch with them!

3. Khan Academy
An oldie but a goodie, Khan Academy was one of the first organizations on the open courseware scene. When they started, the target audience was anyone who wanted to brush up on educational basics, enhance their understanding of a particular subject or develop the sort of well-rounded education that can make people competitive in the job market. The classes are still geared primarily to both teachers and traditional students, and thus lean heavily toward subjects like math, social studies and test prep. However, they’ve also expanded their initial offerings to include classes on entrepreneurship, finance and computer programming. The classes are heavily video-based, taught by compelling and interesting teachers and 100% free.

Start With:
Interviews with Entrepreneurs, featuring fascinating figures ranging from Elon Musk to the founder of LinkedIn.

4. YouTube
Speaking of video tutorials, what could be more fun and educational than falling down a YouTube rabbit hole? Um…that depends on where you land. Save yourself the trouble (and potential trauma) of landing in one of the dark corners of YouTube by hanging out in the Education channel. These well-curated videos will teach you anything you want to know about a range of subjects, including business, marketing, the psychology of buying and decision-making, and design.

Start With:
YouTube’s business playlist
• A fantastic series called You Suck at Photoshop, with 30 tutorials that will have you perfecting product photographs, designing your logo, creating hero images and more in no time.

5. Entrepreneurship Podcasts
If you’re always on-the-go and can’t stomach the idea of sitting through videos or classes, then podcasts are for you. Listen to them during your morning commute, while you’re cooking dinner or even while you’re working out, you multi-tasking pro. Many podcasts were designed specifically for entrepreneurs and they make the perfect food for thought or supplemental learning tools as you begin working on your own business.

Start With:
Mixergy, featuring insights from some of the world’s top startup founders
Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield, featuring user-friendly advice about all things marketing, ranging from SEO to Facebook ads.

Did we miss any of your favorite tools? Let us know in the comments!