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Being a small business owner is tough. Many days are cycles of reviewing and adjusting your company budget to account for every cent so operations can run smoothly. It can be a tedious and thankless task, but it’s an important one. To put it simply, when you don’t have enough cash flow to pay employees, you’re not in business anymore. I know from personal experience that is a really bad day.

Just as stressful as maintaining consistent cash flow — and integral to achieving that cash flow — is finding and keeping good employees. What you may not know is that pay and benefits aren’t the only way to make people stay. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s “2019 Workplace Learning Report,” 94 percent of employees would stick around longer if an employer invested in their learning and development.

When you’re pinching pennies, however, training can seem like a huge request. Sure, it sounds good on paper: Training improves your employees’ skills and gives them more confidence, leading to higher productivity, increased loyalty to your company, and a bottom-line boost. The biggest issue is cost. Popular training programs can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and many require travel to complete. When you’re tirelessly working to keep your budget in check, that may not seem realistic.

But the thing is, your employees really do want that training. Most people want to achieve more at work. They want satisfaction in their jobs. They are looking for purpose, for ways to be of value to the company.

Think about it like this: Professional athletes don’t stop working on themselves once they’ve been drafted. Instead, their teams give them access to gyms, physical therapists, sports medical experts, and other resources to maximize their performance. The owners who invested in them would not be too happy if they stopped being their best after the contract was signed.

Your employees are the same way. To stay on top of their games, they need to refresh their skills and continuously learn new things. How can you make that happen without breaking the bank?

4 Cost-Free Ways to Train Employees

It’s more possible than you might think. Below are four ways to train your employees for little or no cost. I have personally used all of these suggestions, so I know they are really powerful:

1. YouTube

Seriously? Yes!

YouTube isn’t all adorable puppy compilations and ridiculous attention-seeking antics; it also hosts a lot of very helpful training videos in a lot of different fields. Many experts maintain free YouTube channels and regularly update them. On YouTube, you can learn everything from how to master certain software platforms to how to be a better leader — and more. It takes a little digging to find the gems, but the valuable videos are there.

2. Vendor Training

Most software vendors offer training services as part of their standard packages. Don’t hesitate to use this to your advantage. You can ask a representative to teach on a specific topic or give a thorough introduction to the whole software — whatever your team needs most. Many vendors are amenable to either in-person or webinar-based training, so you have convenient options.

3. Coursera

One of my favorite training resources is Coursera, where thousands of courses are available through reputable universities. If you don’t need a formal certificate upon course completion, the free audit option is a great way to get training. When you audit a course, you do not participate in the quizzes and tests, but you still gain plenty of knowledge.

4. Podcasts

There’s a podcast for practically everything you could ever want to know about business. If you’re not subscribed to at least one podcast, you should change that now. You may need a little extra concentration to absorb the audio-only information, but by taking notes and referring to them later, you can get really good training.

For more innovative HR insights, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:

Create Your Own Training

Depending on your industry, you may also have the option to start from scratch and create your own training programs. Videos are a particularly good option — and they’re affordable. All you need is a phone and a decent microphone. You can go really fancy and do them off-site with visuals, but even simply shooting at your desk works.

If you do decide you want to create your own training videos, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Be aware of your background. Before you record, take a look at what people will see. You don’t want viewers to pay more attention to the background than to you.
  2. Get the lighting right. If you have florescent lights in the area where you’re recording, think about bringing in some natural light. For best results, the natural light should face you. Lighting from behind makes you look like a shadow. I’ve done videos with a piece of paper taped over a desk light and wrapping paper tacked on the wall as a backdrop. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just effective.
  3. Have an outline or a script. Improvising is great if you can do that, but if you’re uncomfortable working on the fly, create a script. You can write it on cue cards/poster board or download a teleprompter app. I tend to get more nervous reading a script, so I stick to an outline, which generally includes key topics and notes about examples to cover during the video.
  4. Overthinking it can destroy your video. You are your own worst critic, so ease up on yourself. People like it when you’re relatable, so don’t try to be perfect. I’ve found that the more times I record something to make it better, the less energy and enthusiasm I have and the more mistakes I make. You can always reshoot segments or edit your video after the fact, so don’t get too hung up on getting it right.
  5. When in doubt, KISS (keep it simple, silly)! You could spend days perfecting your video, but remember why you’re doing this in the first place: to train your employees. You don’t always need transitions, music, and other frills. Some of the best videos I’ve shot are just me, a good background, and my little paper-covered desk light.

When it comes to training, there are more affordable opportunities available than you might realize. Free training can be extremely effective for your employees and your business. Not only will your employees appreciate the initiative and feel more valuable, but they will also perform at a higher level and boost your business overall.

Jen Teague teaches startups and business owners how to minimize the headaches of bad hiring decisions. Her podcast on recruiting and hiring for small businesses and startups, #BeAHiringHero, is available on all popular podcast platforms.

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