In today’s world, many business owners and managers find themselves wishing they could improve their skills to grow their business, or earn more money. But demands on their time made by work, family and other commitments make it seem almost impossible.
The good news is that both the Internet and distance learning education institutions have made many learning opportunities available, making it easier to gain a higher education, learn new skills, and become more marketable. The great thing about online and distance learning is that you can get an education according to your own schedule and you can do it from the comfort of your own home or office.
As technology progresses, online learning has gained popularity. Online classes are offered by a wide range of universities and learning institutions. The same applies to distance learning, much of which is Internet-based. Among the greatest benefits of this type of study is flexibility. Many courses are specifically designed to allow students to complete work at their own pace and in their own time. Aside from assignment due dates or the occasional online chat or lecture, there are few other time-based requirements, making online learning one of the better options for people who own their own business, work or have children.
Online or distance learning is also a great solution for people who have financial constraints, as both are generally more cost-effective than classroom-based courses. In addition, whether you choose to study online or at a distance learning institution, it will be possible to take a course that may not be offered in your area. This also allows businesses to have their employees enroll in seminars and classes without sending them to a remote location, saving time and money.
What you need to know before you enroll
But be warned, there are a few questions you should consider when deciding if an online course is for you:
- Do you have the discipline to set aside the time each day or week that will be required to complete the course?
- Do you have the right technology to enable you to do the work, such as a computer and reliable Internet access?
- Are you able to study on your own, without the benefits of interacting with other students?
- Can you get by without face-to-face interaction with your lecturers?
- Can you avoid interruptions if you are working from home?
Online and distance learning programmes can enable increased access to learning and encourage life-long learning, provided your approach is right.
Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal
Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.
I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.
The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.
I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.
All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.
So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?
1. Opens your mind to new concepts
We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.
2. Reinforces old concepts
We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.
3. Apply what works for you right now
The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.
4. Cheap learning curve
It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.
5. Great way to connect
Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.
Pulling it all together
Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.
“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”
A Business Lens For Learning And Development
This is a lens that Prof Ulrich has been challenging Human Resources to wear for years, and the lens that has seen him become an inspirational thought leader for those who dedicate their lives to the learning and development of people in the workplace.
In his 1998 Harvard Business Review article, Professor Dave Ulrich controversially called the business Human Resource function “ineffective, incompetent, and costly”, as well as “value sapping”. A few months earlier, in a Human Resource Management journal article, he accused HR professionals of being fearful of quantitative, measureable results and lacking knowledge or experience with empirical assessments. Prof Ulrich probably wasn’t exactly the most popular voice in HR circles back then.
Two decades later, however, this outspoken University of Michigan professor was ranked as the No. 1 Management Educator and Guru by BusinessWeek, as well as the most influential thinker of the decade by HR Magazine!
The Wits Plus Organisational Learning and Development short course drew much inspiration from Prof Ulrich’s views. As an important partner and role-player in the Human Resource camp, Organisational Learning and Development must guard against being ineffective, incompetent, costly, value sapping and fearful of quantitative, measureable results. In fact, with the increasing investment that companies are making in the learning and development of their people, L&D needs to provide business with quantitative, measureable results that prove their effectiveness, competence and the value they add to the organisation.
It’s a tricky situation for L&D practitioners. For years we’ve been reporting on activities: showing how effectively we’ve identified needs; the great L&D solutions we’ve found to meet learning needs; how many people have completed our learning and development programmes; and how well people experience and rate our interventions. Business remained unimpressed by our “warm and fuzzy” reporting, instead demanding facts and figures that demonstrate a clear return on the generous investment made in the learning and development of their people.
As predicted by Prof Ulrich two decades ago, Organisational Learning and Development need to earn the respect of business leadership and their spot at the boardroom table by talking numbers and proving their value. While a host of courses are available to teach L&D practitioners how to be effective facilitators, assessors, moderators, skills development facilitators or instructional designers, few opportunities exist for L&D people to upskill themselves on thinking business, partnering effectively with leadership, and proving in black and white how they add value.
Related: Become A Lifelong Learner
The Wits Plus Organisational Learning and Development short course has been tailored to provide the L&D professional with foundational knowledge about the L&D landscape, legal compliance, and how to identify and address learning needs. The course then delves into hard business reality – strategy, budgets, analysis, reporting and partnering with leadership. The focus is on objectives and results; Quantitative, measureable results that offer proof of the value L&D adds to the organisation.
It is not impossible to show the numerical, factual impact of Learning and Development on business success. It simply requires Organisational L&D practitioners to look at their function with a different lens – the same business efficiency and performance lens worn by organisational leadership at the boardroom table.
The Power Of Life-Long Learning with University of Pretoria
True success starts with how much you’re willing to do to achieve it. If you’re hungry to learn and develop, partnering with University of Pretoria can make the business world your oyster.
Professor Melodi Botha is an associate professor and researcher at the Department of Business Management in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria. She is the Programme Lead for the MPhil degree in Entrepreneurship.
Her research focuses on training, educating and supporting entrepreneurs at different stages of preparing, starting and managing a business.
Why is it important for entrepreneurs to focus on personal development and education, even after they are no longer a start-up?
Research in South Africa has revealed that 80% of SMEs fail within the first two years of starting a business. So, if an entrepreneur makes it beyond this stage, it’s worth investing time, money and effort to make sure that they succeed by seeking entrepreneurial education, training and development to improve their business offerings.
New competitors are constantly entering the market and established entrepreneurs should make sure that they maintain their competitive advantage by educating themselves in areas such as the most current trends in their industries, changes in the market, offering more and better innovative products and services, staying close to their target market to determine the most effective marketing strategies and providing a stronger value proposition.
For established entrepreneurs, there is also the risk of growing too fast or not being able to manage their growth.
These entrepreneurs should then educate themselves on the most effective growth strategies suited for their business. Personal development is crucial, as entrepreneurs progress through the entrepreneurial process because they learn as they go.
An example is when established entrepreneurs conduct a personality profile to determine how to cognitively adapt to their current entrepreneurial environment. Weaknesses or areas of improvement, such as poor financial planning for example, are highlighted and entrepreneurs can then work on these areas.
What advice would you offer entrepreneurs who stop researching due to time restrictions?
Time is a problem for all entrepreneurs; there is never enough of it. It’s a matter of how effectively you use your time and how you plan the activities that should happen within a specific time period.
A big problem with entrepreneurs is also a lack of delegation, as they want to be involved in every area of the business. Entrepreneurs need to determine which activities can be delegated to an employee or partner and focus on the core skills that they are competent in and which help the business to grow.
What skills should entrepreneurs be developing while they are starting and then managing a business?
We recently conducted research on the skills that entrepreneurs need as they progress through the various stages of the entrepreneurial process. We identified two sets of skills, namely functional competencies and enterprising competencies.
The findings further revealed that established entrepreneurs viewed functional competencies such as marketing, financial, operational, legal, human resource, networking, technical, communcation and planning skills as important skills to have during the established stage.
Both start-up and established entrepreneurs viewed enterprising competencies such as creativity, innovation, role model interpretation, opportunity recognition, risk taking, need for achievement and the ability to gather and control resources as important during both stages.
More specifically, financial and legal skills should receive more attention when starting a business. In a similar study, we found that potential entrepreneurs should focus on opportunity recognition, opportunity assessment and creative problem solving during the potential entrepreneur stage.
At the same time, start-up entrepreneurs should focus on opportunity recognition, building networks and resilience, while established entrepreneurs should focus on risk management/mitigation, building and using networks as well as resilience.
Are there any tips and tricks you can offer to people who want to study, but still need the time to run their businesses?
Studying or learning should be a life-long journey that should not necessarly have an expiry date. I am talking about gaining life skills and developing entrepreneurial abilities through everyday learning. Most professional qualifications require continued professional education and I see no reason why entrepreneurs should not adopt the same approach.
Therefore, my first tip would be to plan to study. It should be part of a daily routine to study or learn more about an area where weaknesses arise. Many univeristies offer short courses such as three-day programmes in different speciality areas, which you can attend and not be away from your business for too long.
In early stages of formal tertiary education, my advice would be to focus on your studies first and thereafter focus on the business. This does not mean that you don’t have to start planning and aquiring resources while still studying. For example, our second year students, studying towards a BCom in Entrepreneurship, prepare their own feasiblity studies and compile business plans as part of the curricula.
What startling facts and figures has your research revealed that many entrepreneurs don’t realise?
In a recent study we determined that many potential entrepreneurs (students) show a strong entrepreneurial intention to start a business in future but rarely go over into action and the rate of actual start-ups, in South Africa, remains low.
This is also the case for entrepreneurship education graduates. However, prior entrepreneurial exposure, such as having entrepreneurial parents or entrepreneurial role models during the course of their studies, increased the start-up rate.
Another interesting study we conducted on women entrepreneurs revealed that women are in desperate need of entrepeneurial training and education. The Women Entrepreneurship Programme (WEP) at the Univeristy of Pretoria measured 180 women who completed the programme.
These women were measured on their skills level before the programme, directly after the programme, six months after the programme and ten years after the programme took place.
They were measured on eight different levels and the WEP proved to be effective in not only transferring entrepreneurial and business skills to women, but also improving their business performance indicators (turnover, employees, sales and profit). Some of the women (35%) started multiple businesses six months after they attended the WEP.
Ten years after the programme, the results of the study confirmed that these women’s businesses made a significant difference in their communities and the economy of South Africa as a whole.
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