If you ask 20 people what makes a great entrepreneur or leader, you’ll probably get 20 different answers. For me, the answer is this: it’s someone who never stops learning. We don’t live in a business era that easily forgives complacency or stagnation; think about how quickly technology changes, how trends shift, how fickle audiences become, and how many new social media platforms seem to pop up daily.

Everything is a moving target when you own a business, and it's usually moving fast. So the best entrepreneurs, as I see it, are the ones who run as fast as (or faster than) than the target. This means learning all you can – about business, about marketing, about technology, and about human behavior – to stay ahead of the curve. Below are a few Meg-tested, Meg-approved ways to do just that.

Code Academy

free online learning tool - codeacademy

Have you heard of these newfangled “website” things? Well, you read it here first: I don’t think they’re going away. So do yourself a favor and learn about them. While you should go to the professionals for major web development projects, it’s in your best interest to know enough code to be able to troubleshoot basic problems. For this, I can’t talk Code Academy up enough. I learned basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript through Code Academy, and I really and truly had a blast doing it. Their user interface is fun, friendly, and even entertaining. Honestly, I felt more like I was playing a game than taking coding classes. But I also don’t get out much.

SEOBook Learning Modules

While there’s no shortage of SEO advice out there, I don’t ever tend to stray far from SEOMoz and SEOBook. People write tons of SEO and marketing-related content, so it’s important to have a couple of go-to sources you can trust. If we’re going to make vast generalizations (which I love!), I’d say I find SEOMoz to be a better resource for the “pros,” or at least people with an intermediate/advanced knowledge of SEO, while SEOBook has the proud distinction of housing the training modules that I cut my teeth on. You can also pay either website for more advanced training resources and access to forums, tools, and support. For the average business owner, I’d recommend at least going through the basics.

The Google AdWords Learning Center

PPC is the other half of SEO. They are like high school rivals who fell in love in a hilarious romantic comedy-style twist. And if you want to ordain a perfect marriage between the two, then Google AdWords Certification will basically be your mail-order license to do so. The certification itself costs money, but the training is all free. I find that PPC is a comforting mainstay as compared to the ever-shifting world of SEO, and it’s definitely worth learning. By the time you’re done, you’ll be able to run PPC campaigns with the best of ‘em.

Coursera

free online learning tool - coursera

I love Coursera so much I want to take it home and feed it dog treats all day (sorry, I just adopted a dog). Coursera is one of the newer websites to jump on the democratized education movement (made popular by MIT Open Courseware), and they’ve done so with gusto. Classes include a syllabus, weekly or bi-weekly lectures, discussion forums, quizzes, interactive exercises, and more. Thanks to Coursera, I’ve taken classes in neuroscience, ethics, logic, and global issues. Yes, there are business and management classes too. But I think to be a real entrepreneur, you have to draw your inspiration from unlikely places. I don’t say this lightly: the neuroscience courses I’ve had the pleasure of taking have had a far bigger impact on my leadership and marketing philosophy than any business or management class ever has.

Skillshare

Skillshare is kind of like Coursera-light. The classes are short, small, often quirky, and – here’s the main difference – they can be taught by anyone. Skillshare isn’t really the place to go for in-depth education; think of it more like going to a neighbor’s house for an afternoon of learning a skill they’ve mastered.

Skillshare is on my list for one reason: if you’re an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t be going there to learn, but to teach. I realized this by mistake after I took a craft class on Skillshare, from a woman whose website sells pre-assembled craft kits. After taking her class, I bought a kit. I still visit her website to shop. That’s some pretty powerful marketing.

TED Talks

free online learning tool - ted talks

Oh my goodness. I think I could happily spend an entire week with nothing to do except watch TED Talks. Hopefully you’ve heard of these by now and have already watched a bunch. But it never hurts to have a reminder, so here it is: drop what you’re doing and go watch a TED Talk. Wait, I take that back. Finish reading this blog post, then drop what you’re doing and go watch a TED Talk. Similar to Coursera, you can draw your business inspiration from any topic: art, movement-building, philosophy, science, design, human development, etc. Unlike Coursera, however, the business talks must not be skipped. Remember the point at the beginning of this post, about how entrepreneurs need to learn to run? These people are Olympic sprinters. Watch them. Learn from them. Be them someday.

iTunes

And when all else fails, try iTunes. I’ve had mixed results from iTunes U – the audio quality alone is sometimes enough to make me completely disinterested in the lecture – but podcasts are a staple. There are a number of business-related podcasts out there. The ones I can vouch for are Freakonomics, NPR’s Planet Money, the Stanford Social Innovation podcasts, and the Harvard Business IdeaCast. And on an unrelated note, This American Life and Radiolab are national treasures. Podcasts are a great way to learn because you can multitask. I usually play them when I’m making dinner or taking a walk. Sometimes I listen to them while I’m lying on my bed and breathing. I like to call that multitasking, too.

So take advantage of these resources. Be curious. Be thirsty. Learn.


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Meg Nanson works on Clarity's marketing team. Her strengths are in copywriting, relationship-building, SEO, and strategic thinking. She loves infusing personality into brands by adapting her writing style to match the needs and philosophy of her audience. She rarely sits in a chair and can often be found sitting on her office floor or lying on the lobby couch while she works, or standing behind one of the web developers while they're trying to work. 

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