Small Businesses Go to Summer School - TheStreet

CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- As the weather warms and schools start the countdown to June, it's tempting to ease into a summer state of mind. Unfortunately, small-business owners don't get three months off.

The midpoint of the year is a great time to take stock of your company's progress, though, and make plans for what you want to accomplish by the end of 2011. Taking summer classes at a local business school or college can help keep you on track with those goals -- or inspire you to set some new ones.

Taking summer classes at a local business school or college can help keep you on track with your goals -- or inspire new ones -- as well as providing a way for you to meet people outside your industry.

Besides learning tangible skills to improve your finances or marketing, college-level courses are a good way to expand your network. Whether it's a helpful professor or inspiring fellow entrepreneur, you'll meet people outside your industry and force yourself to think beyond your usual routines.

Almost every business school has an "executive MBA" program aimed at working professionals. The draw is that they allow students to keep their full-time jobs while fulfilling the requirements of an MBA degree; the downside is that they take years to complete and cost a lot of money. Students tend to be managers from large corporations (that foot the bill) rather than entrepreneurs.

But some business schools have more flexible "open enrollment" programs where you can pick and choose classes according to your needs. The focus is on learning-specific, actionable skills rather than working toward a degree.

Such programs give business owners access to business-school-caliber faculty -- at prices far below business-school tuition. And forget agonizing over a pages-long business school application; you can usually register for classes online in a few minutes.

Some of the country's most prestigious business schools will be offering classes this summer on topics relevant to small businesses. At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, for example, Executive Education classes being held in June and July include a workshop on strategic persuasion (subtitled "The Art and Science of Selling Ideas"); a course in competitive marketing strategy; and another on using strategic thinking and management for competitive advantage. Programs run one week and cost $8,000 to $9,000.

In June, the Stern School of Business at New York University offers a two-day program on Digital IQ, which focuses on driving value through social media, mobile applications and e-commerce ($2,500). Across the city, Columbia Business School has a busy slate of summer offerings, including a three-day course in negotiation and decision-making strategies ($5,250) and a two-day program in leadership essentials ($2,650).

State universities -- many of which have a community-focused approach -- are also a good place to scout out summer learning opportunities. At the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, June open-enrollment programs include a one-day session in business-to-business sales strategies and tools ($695), as well as a weeklong Lean Tool Awareness Certificate Program ($3,000), which takes students step-by-step through lean principles and how to implement them.

At the Wisconsin School of Business you can take a three-day course to get certified in Six Sigma ($1,795) or learn how to blend online advertising, search engine marketing,

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

web analytics and Google AdSense to improve your company's online messaging in the iMedia program ($1,895).

While business schools are great for leadership training and strategic-thinking courses, sometimes your needs are more down-to-earth. Community colleges are an excellent resource for more vocational-centered training, such as classes in accounting, website maintenance or specific software programs. They're also more affordable than business-school courses.

Even if you don't sign up for a business school course this summer, you can continue your education without even registering as a student. Many schools have speakers' series or lectures that are open to the public, where you can hear from industry thought leaders and influential executives firsthand.

Find out what's going on at your local business school campus, and you might just get inspired. After all, business is constantly changing -- shouldn't your skill set change, too?

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.