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VOL. 123 | NO. 155 | Friday, August 08, 2008

Small Business Owners Have Many Learning Options

By JOYCE M. ROSENBERG | AP Business Writer

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NEW YORK (AP) - An entrepreneur who's mystified by accounting or putting a marketing plan together can get some help, and soon, with the arrival of the fall semester. Schools, colleges and universities around the country offer a variety of courses aimed at small business owners, and many cost little or nothing.

Some of the courses are given on campus, while others are online, and in most cases, they aren't part of a degree program. And there are plenty of learning opportunities beyond higher education - chambers of commerce and trade associations may also offer classes, and Web sites aimed at small business owners can help owners get at least a grounding in a variety of business topics.

Many who take courses became entrepreneurs after working for someone else for years. They have a great deal of knowledge about the services or products that are the heart of a business, but someone who spent 10 years in information technology often knows little about marketing, and someone who worked in a public relations agency usually finds accounting to be almost a foreign language.

How much money or time an owner wants to commit to learning depends on his or her educational needs, location, finances and schedule. Some decide to pursue MBAs on weekends, while others grab a quick three-hour class here or there to help them pick up the basics.

Dave Horsley had worked in the automotive industry before opening Horsley Hot Rods in Boise, Idaho, in early 2007, and found after starting the business that he needed marketing help. He was already working with a mentor through the Small Business Administration, learned about courses offered through the SBA-sponsored Small Business Development Center at Boise State University and decided to take a four-hour marketing class, "Six Steps to Massive Growth in Your Business." The tuition was $25.

"They talked a lot about different concepts in marketing, and a lot of what they talked about is what you envision your business to be going forward," Horsley said, adding that as a result of the course, "I've really seen that things weren't progressing or looking the way I'd envisioned them to be."

Small Business Development Centers often are operated out of colleges and universities and offer advice, training and assistance to small business owners. That includes courses on some of the essentials of running a business, and how-to courses on using business accounting software.

For example, the Georgia Small Business Development Center network has courses in a number of cities. Fees range from nothing to nearly $900. A 2½-hour class called "Starting Your Own Business" is $49, and "Writing an Effective Business Plan" runs two hours and costs the same.

The kinds of courses offered differ from one SBDC to another, but many do offer instruction on the basics of business finance and management as well as how to use accounting software such as QuickBooks.

SBDC locations can be found at the SBA Web site: www.sba.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/sbdc/index.html.

Many colleges and universities offer their own courses aimed at entrepreneurs and small business owners, either through special continuing education or extension programs, or by allowing non-degree students to take regular classes. These classes are likely to be more expensive, but they often last an entire semester.

New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, for example, has a variety of courses in marketing, accounting, finance and management. Community colleges also may offer courses for business owners.

Many schools make it possible for small business owners hundreds or thousands of miles away to take courses online. The University of California, Los Angeles has an extension division with classes on business topics, and several can be taken online.

Courses can also be taken in nonacademic settings. And learning doesn't have to be something structured - it certainly can take place one-on-one, when an owner finds a mentor or seeks help from a counselor at organizations like SCORE.

SCORE matches retired executives and company owners with small business owners who are in need of advice or help. At www.score.org, an owner can ask for help on a very wide range of business areas. Topics can be general, such as marketing or accounting, or can pertain to specific industries.

SCORE's Web site also offers online learning, as does the SBA's. Some of these are primers, offering very bare-bones treatment of topics, but they can offer some owners at least a foundation in a specific area.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 89 312 16,192
MORTGAGES 86 293 18,685
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 332 655 33,126
BANKRUPTCIES 50 237 10,737
BUSINESS LICENSES 26 112 5,198
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 127 11,344
MARRIAGE LICENSES 19 94 3,867

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