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If you don’t have a program to strengthen and broaden your employees’ skills, you are leaving some serious benefits to your business on the table.

First and foremost, training has the potential to turn good employees into great ones and reduce worker churn. In the same vein, small businesses that offer training and education can attract first-rate talent.

Turnover is expensive. It takes time and money to get a new employee up to speed; even an outstanding hire comes with a built-in learning curve.

Clearly, it is much less expensive (and less stressful) to keep the great employees than replace them.

But retention is a two-way street. If you have a great employee who’s good with customers and helps puts profits in your pocket, then it’s important to invest in training and development. In fact, both of you win when added training expands skillsets, which brings in more business (you benefit), enabling you to increase wages (employees benefit.)

An investment in worker education does not mean a huge monetary commitment on your part. Here are several ideas to get the ball rolling.

Leverage relevant instructional videos on YouTube, Vimeo, TikTok, and other free online resources as the core of a training curriculum. You can even challenge your employees to organize the program, giving them ownership in it. Incentivize participation with a pay bump, bonus, gift certificate, paid day off, or other perk upon completion.

Your vendors and suppliers may also be a source. If they offer training, model a program on theirs. For services like credit card processing or inventory management, most of those companies provide at least some level of training.

Cross-training is another viable win-win option: You get a worker with additional capabilities and the employee gains another marketable skill. For instance, an employee who is a top-notch inventory manager may double as a back-up bookkeeper with a little training in money management. If you want to expand your service offerings, maybe your inventory manager would be interested in instrument repair courses. For example, Lisa’s Clarinet Shop offers comprehensive online woodwind repair courses. These courses do have a fee but the return on investment will more than make up for the modest investment. Additionally, for the brands you sell, contact your local representative, and find out if there are any repair training or workshops offered to their retail clients.

A big hit with employees is a chance to attend an industry conference or trade show. Send one on your dime to a conference related to your business. Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to network and learn from other professionals in your field. Pro tip: Review the conference’s breakout sessions with your employee and select the sessions that will be most beneficial.

Mentorship is an effective low-cost one-on-one training opportunity. Keep in mind, being a boss is not the same as being a mentor. Mentorship is about planning, executing, and cultivating a plan that encourages and trains the employee while also holding you as the employer or your designated mentor accountable. That means setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) goals for the mentorship program.

The curriculum doesn’t have to be fancy—forget about the Venn diagrams, historical analysis cross-referenced with profit & loss statements over the last five years, and sales projections correlative to the GDP. Start with a simple list of topics and jot down a few sub-topics, like this:

(Main Topic) Customer Service


  • Engaging new customers
  • Upselling
  • Following-up on purchases
  • Turning customer problems into opportunities

Such guidelines give your training and development structure as well as a beginning and endpoint. In other words, goals set, goals accomplished!

They say, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” If you have at least one employee, you are a team, so work like one to meet your business goals. For instance, say you want to raise annual sales by 10%. Collaborate with your employee or employees on how to make that happen. You may be very surprised that your floor person who’s great at selling saxophones may also have incredible ideas to boost overall sales. You never know where the next idea for solving a business problem might come from.

Team training is ideal for getting everyone pulling in the same direction, which can mean picking up a co-worker who needs some fine tuning. Take, for instance, the case of a staffer who is shy around people/customers. Teamwork is a great way for them to work on their people skills in a less intimidating environment. Encourage them as they communicate their ideas, findings, and challenges. As their confidence grows, so will their ability to be more effective in dealing with other people, including customers.

Come up with a plan of action together and provide incentives for accomplishing said goals. Remember that the sign of a good leader is one who can also be a good follower. You run the proverbial show but let someone else take care of the lighting and costumes.

Before you invest time and money in a training program, make sure your employee is interested and receptive. The best time to do this is during the interviewing process. Find out their goals and objectives and how working for you fits into their professional development plan. Maybe they just want to make a few bucks during summer vacation—nothing wrong with that, but that’s not going to be of great benefit to you and your business in the long run.

If you have a current employee who shows promise, discuss training with them. If they’re not interested, you have to think: who does that help the business thrive? Chances are though most good people are eager to learn new skills and apply them, especially when there are practical incentives to do so!

There are few shortcuts to implementing better business practices, including training and development—but you will be hard-pressed to find any business owner who didn’t benefit greatly from the investment. As the business owner, you are the “principal” of your training and development “school.” With planning, discipline, and engagement, you will quickly be able to cultivate an efficient and effective program that will benefit your business despite economic challenges.