11 Helpful Resources for Improving Your Business Skills

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Whether or not business school is worth the investment is a hot topic these days. But regardless of where you stand, you don't have to go to business school to gain a better understanding of how businesses work.

"Business" is quite a versatile topic with many components. There's a lot that goes into becoming more business-savvy, whether it's learning the "softer" skills (like people management and public speaking) or mastering the "hard" skills (like accounting and finance).

Aside from studying for a formal degree, where can you go to learn about and practice these important business skills?

Turns out, there are a whole lot of resources, both online and offline, where you can hone your business skills, learn new strategies, and make sure you're staying on top of the ever-evolving business world. Here are 11 of the best resources out there to help you become more business-savvy.

1) A Mentor With Business Experience

Having a career mentor (or a few career mentors) with business experience is a crucial part of your professional development. Opportunities are attached to people. Your mentor can provide you with support and advice when you need it -- and, if you choose wisely, they'll learn how to deliver that support in a way that makes sense to you.

One key to finding a great mentor is to have some clear goals in mind for the type of experience you want your mentor to have. Are you looking for someone who works in an industry you're interested in learning more about? Someone with experience in raising capital for a new business? Someone who's senior to you at your current company?

Once you have a goal or two in mind, there are many ways to actually find a mentor. Don't just go straight for the most visible and well-known (and probably busiest) people. Instead, take a look at your own network and keep an eye out for folks you respect with relevant experience. You can search your network on LinkedIn -- which means you'll first want to update and clean up your own LinkedIn profile. If you find someone who isn't a direct connection, send a personal message with your connection request, or ask for an introduction from a mutual connection.

But sometimes, it's as simple as asking your friends and peers who they think would be great for you to talk to. Then, you can ask for an email introduction.

My last tip here? Keep it local. While online mentorship is great, relationships grounded in quality time in-person time are usually a lot more effective. Even better, get out of the office and into an environment that's more conducive to relaxing and candid conversation, like a coffee shop or a lunch place.

(If you're on the other side of the mentor-mentee relationship, read this blog post to learn how to be an amazing mentor.)

2) Harvard Business School's Reading List

While content is getting more and more snackable these days, there's still a whole lot of power in a great book. The research and writing and editing required to publish a book -- especially a best-seller -- is far more impressive than what goes in to an article or podcast. 

But, of course, there's an overwhelming number of business books out there for choose from. And given how much time it actually takes it read a book from cover to cover, you'll want to make sure you're making the most of your time.

So ... where better to go for the best books on business than the plethora of syllabi from Harvard Business School? To help you narrow down your search, my colleague Lauren Hintz combed through these syllabi for the 11 most intriguing books on HBS students' required reading lists. I've listed a few of these books below, but read her roundup for the full list with summaries.

3) TED talks, Graduation Speeches & Other Recorded Speakers

One way to learn from experienced business leaders and innovators who have first-hand knowledge of the business world is to find and watch recordings of their talks online.

TED, for instance, has some really compelling talks about business strategy you can watch for free. Here's one from Bill Gross, a man who's founded many startups and incubated many others, on why some fail and others succeeded based on data from hundreds of companies:

There's also a lot you can learn about business from graduation speeches, from Michael Lewis' speech at Princeton about the profound connection between success and luck, to Marissa Meyers' speech at Illinois Institute of Technology about the importance of asking the right questions, surrounding yourself with the right people, and finding the courage to do things that are uncomfortable. Here's a list of eight inspiring graduation speeches with valuable business lessons you should definitely watch.

Finally, we have recorded lectures series from graduate business schools, featuring top business and government leaders from around the world. These may not be as exciting or glamorous as TED talks or graduation speeches, but many of them get into the nitty-gritty details of business strategy -- the hard skills that the other types of talks don't tend to get into.

While most of the live lectures are closed to non-students, many of them are posted online later. Here are a few speaker series to get you started:

4) Toastmasters

Let's not beat around the bush here: Public speaking is a required business skill. There's a critical value in being willing and able to communicate effectively with your team, investors, customers, and so on. A research study showed that 70% of employed Americans who give presentations agree that presentation and public speaking skills are critical to their success at work. Some say the other 30% just don't know it yet.

You can start by reading about public speaking, like in this helpful guide of public speaking tips, or this uneasy speaker's guide to confident public speaking. But this is one skill where practice is crucial -- which is why you should join some sort of public speaking club or group if you're serious about making measurable improvements.

Toastmasters is probably the best public speaking club out there. When you join, you're put on a track where you can regularly deliver speeches, get feedback, lead teams, and participate in improvisational speaking games in a super supportive atmosphere. Plus, these clubs are all over the world -- more than 15,400 different Toastmasters clubs in 135 countries worldwide, to be more precise -- and you can use their "Find a Club" tool to find the one closest to you.

5) Improv Classes

If you're willing to step out of your comfort zone, there's actually a lot you can learn from improv about business. It can teach you how to react and adapt to new situations, how to become a better listener -- perhaps most importantly -- how to stop fearing failure.

Improv classes are offered in cities and towns all over the world. Try searching on Google for "improv classes" + the name of your city, like "improv classes Boston." (Here are some more Google search tips to help you narrow it down.)

If you need some more inspiration, check out the INBOUND15 Bold Talk below by Dave Delaney, a seasoned improv performer and author of New Business Networking. In it, he talks all about how improvisation can improve your networking, creativity, communication, teamwork, and leadership skills.

6) Khan Academy

There are a lot of resources for soft skills in here. But what about the hard skills that are so critical to business knowledge, like finance, accounting, marketing, and operations? For these skills, which require absorption of new information, repetition, and practice, we recommend taking more formal approach.

There are plenty of places you can pay to take online business classes. Coursera, for example, has a four-class specialization package called "Wharton Business Foundations," which includes four online classes from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business in accounting, finance, operations, and marketing.

But if you're looking for a high-quality resource for online courses that's free, well ... Khan Academy is the easy winner. Their whole mantra is that you can learn anything for free -- and, like Facebook, they claim their services will always be free.

Their courses are a myriad of lectures, interactive exercises. And their businesses courses include, but are not limited to, courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, finance and capital markets, and entrepreneurship. Simply go their homepage and click "Subjects" from the top navigation bar, choose "Economics and finance," and then click the topic you want to study.

But their business-related courses aren't limited to the ones in these categories. Use the search bar to find specific course topics -- from the fluffier stuff, like "Turning a Hobby Into a Bright Business," to the more complex, like "Derivative and Marginal Cost."

Interested in reading more? Check out the original article over on HubSpot.

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