In these tough times, when every penny counts, small-business owners may be reluctant to spend money to train employees beyond the basics of doing the job. But the money you invest in employee training now quickly reappears on your bottom line, according to training experts.
"Training is a morale and a performance booster," said Curtis Plott, executive vice president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American Society for Training and Development.
It's not surprising that companies with 500 or more employees provide three times the amount of training small companies do, but being small doesn't mean you can't provide access to high-quality training programs.
And small companies, which traditionally employ younger, less experienced workers, can reap real benefits from encouraging every employee to do a better job.
Here's how you can provide valuable training opportunities without spending a lot of money:
* Call a local community college or vocational school and ask if they teach any classes that fit your needs. If none exists, ask them to create classes applicable to your field and make yourself or a staff member available to teach the class.
* Find out if any of your employees qualify for state training programs or reimbursements. Determine whether your state offers any incentives to train workers. For example, Mississippi offers tax credits to businesses that offer training in basic skills.
* Ask the president of any big companies you do business with to consider allowing your employees to participate in their training programs or classes. The bigger company's incentive to help: Your business becomes more attractive to deal with if your workers are smarter and more efficient.
* Offer to reimburse your employees for tuition if they attend affordable community college or adult education courses on their own time.
* Join with other non-competing small businesses in your area to hire a trainer or consultant to conduct classes for groups of employees. Splitting the expense among several business owners makes it easier for everyone to afford.
Hundreds of thousands of small businesses rely on affordable workbooks and videotapes to help train their workers. Some of the better training materials are published and produced by Crisp Publications Inc. in Los Altos, Calif.
Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, a franchised restaurant chain, has been using Crisp books for years.
For example, a Crisp book about having a positive attitude at work is required reading for every new employee. Books about hiring and counseling employees are also popular with Applebee's staff.
"You can always go out and buy another pound of potatoes, but the human resources part of our business is probably the hardest element to deal with," said Maggie Alston, manager of special projects and a co-owner of the company which owns 13 Applebee's restaurants in North Carolina.
Small businesses make up about two-thirds of Crisp's customers.
"We offer a trainer in a box," said Michael Crisp, who founded the company after working as an executive at IBM's college and professional book division. "Our books help small businesses that don't have a training department or a training expert on the staff."
Crisp's "Fifty Minute" series has about 150 titles. The easy-to-read books, which are written by experts in each field, are illustrated with cartoons and designed to be read in less than an hour.
Crisp also produces a variety of training videos. For a free Crisp catalog call (800) 442-7477.
The American Society for Training and Development is offering a free resource guide for small business owners. For a copy, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to ASTD, 1640 King St., Alexandria, Va. 22313. For additional information, call the society's customer service line at (703) 683-8129.