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Running a business requires the understanding of a myriad of disciplines, including law, finance, marketing, human resources and more. Even for seasoned M.B.A.s, there’s always more to learn.
Now, for most entrepreneurs, it’s not practical to go back to school. There’s just not enough time. But there is another option: online learning. At a reasonable cost, you can take high-quality business courses from some of the leading universities in the United States. One of the leaders is Coursera, which was launched in 2012. What started as a modest operation—founded by two Stanford Computer Science professors—has become a rich platform. In April, Coursera raised $103 million from investors, including SEEK Group, Future Fund and NEA.
When searching for courses on Coursera, it can be a bit overwhelming since there are so many available. So to make it easier, here are seven courses that entrepreneurs need:
Since the late 1980s, Microsoft Excel has been a staple of business. But a typical person only uses a small fraction of the functions and capabilities. So if you want to boost your skills, check out the Problem Solving with Excel course. Just some of the topics include value cleansing, text manipulation, pivot tables and advanced formulas. The main focus is on how to better improve your business. The instructor is Alex Mannella, who is a founding member and Partner at PwC’s Information and Analytics Practice. His areas of expertise include customer-value management (CVM), response modeling, database marketing and data mining. Admittedly, these are unsexy topics—but they can make or break your business, so it’s best you master them early in the game.
Effective negotiation can be a game-changer for a business. This was certainly the case when Bill Gates struck a deal for his operating system with IBM. Many of Steve Jobs’ negotiation skills—including how he dealt with the recording industry—continue to shape the future of Apple long after his death. The good news is that negotiation skills are learnable. There are certain approaches and strategies that have proven to be quite effective. To see how, you can check out the Introduction to Negotiation. It’s about how to persuade as well as how to understand interests and conflicts. There are also a variety of helpful case studies. The instructor, Barry Nalebuff, is a professor at Yale and the coauthor of six books. But he is not a pure academic either. He is also a cofounder of Honest Tea, which was sold to Coca-Cola.
The online marketing industry is massive, as seen with companies like Google and Facebook. But many companies are falling short on capitalizing on this. But the Digital Marketing Specialization course will help out. You’ll learn about important topics like analytics, social media marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). The course is a part of the iMBA program from the University of Illinois, which includes three professors from the department. And there is also a guest lecture from Kevin Hartman, who is the head of analytics at Google.
Business strategy can often be fuzzy. Yet it is extremely important, especially in today’s world where technology is changing so quickly, forcing leaders to pivot strategy. To get an edge, you should check out Coursera’s Business Strategy course, which is taught by professors at the Darden School of Business. They clearly set forth frameworks and strategies that are based on the success of companies like Disney and Google. The professors also take a look at the global landscape, with case studies from companies like Tata Motors, Orascom Telecom Holding and Sony.
Granted, finance can often be a dry subject. But when it comes to running a business, you need to have a good handle on your cash flows as well as understanding trends in the financial statements. This is where the Understanding Financial Statements course comes in. It’s focused on understanding how the income statement works and ways to interpret the numbers and trends. There is also coverage of areas like financial ratios. The instructor is Kevin E. Jackson, who is an associate professor of accountancy and PwC Faculty Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The law pervades business. And while it’s critical to make sure you have qualified counsel, it’s also a good idea to have an understanding of the fundamentals. For this, you can check out Corporate & Commercial Law I. It’s actually focused on the CPA exam but still provides a solid grounding on the legal system. Some of the topics include: how to form enforceable contracts; the requirements for sales contracts; and how to deal with employment law. The course’s instructor is professor Michael R Fricke, who teaches at the The University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business.
A failed project can result in a big hit to the bottom line. In some cases, a business may even go bust. The good news is that there are proven project management techniques that can help reduce the risk. And yes, a course called Introduction to Project Management Principles and Practices Specialization provides the basics. With it, you’ll learn how to develop plans that get done within cost and on schedule. The course also has a capstone project that highlights all the key learnings. As for the instructor, she is Margaret Meloni—an M.B.A. and PMP (Project Management Professional)—with the University of California, Irvine Extension.