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Best Online Business Courses for Small Business Owners

If you want to start a business but didn’t go to business school, you could piece together a business education and do so without spending a penny — or at least at a fraction of the cost of a Master of Business Administration. Many online educational platforms offer free or relatively inexpensive courses for business owners who are starting out and need general guidance, as well as those seeking information in a specific area.

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, provide classes and seminars for anyone who wants to enroll and has an internet connection. Many universities and businesses offer MOOCs through online platforms such as edX or Skillshare. If you want to continue your education beyond a single class, you may be able to earn a certificate to go with your newfound knowledge.

It’s worth noting that such certificates may be quite different from a degree conferred by an accredited college or university. But if you’ve been looking for free courses to extend your business expertise, we’ve compiled a list of educational platforms where you could find courses that fit your needs. Here are a few basic online business courses to get you started.

12 online business courses to consider


Perhaps the best-known MOOC provider with 35 million users, Coursera offers courses for as little as $29. It also offers university-recognized degrees for up to $25,000, including an iMBA through the University of Illinois. Auditing certain courses for free may be possible.

Course name: Finance for Non-Finance Professionals

Course description: The class offered by Rice University covers many of the same topics as a semester-long MBA class in less than a month. By the end of the course, you will learn the basics of capital budgeting, measuring cash flow and evaluating the cost of capital. It’s possible to audit this class for free, but you will have to pay if you want the course certificate.

Developed by: Rice University

Course name: Business Strategy

Course description: This course, part of the online iMBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, can be earned as a separate certificate. Learn how to predict industry profitability and gain competitive advantage using your company’s strengths. The certificate costs, but you may audit the video lectures and some course content for free.

Developed by: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


EdX offers classes ranging from free courses to online master’s degrees for credit from Georgia Tech, the University of Texas at Austin, UC San Diego, the University of Queensland (Australia), Indiana University and Curtin University (Australia). The Georgia Tech online master’s in cybersecurity, which costs $20,000 for in-state students on campus, costs less than $10,000 on edX.

Course name: Entrepreneurial Leadership Toolbox

Course description: You’ll learn how to be an effective leader of your organization through analysis of your strengths and skills. The self-paced course takes four weeks to finish with a commitment level of four to six hours a week. The course is free, but you can get a verified certificate of completion for $99.

Developed by: Babson College

Course name: Business Foundations

Course description: This course will teach you general terminology and concepts needed to run your own business, including basic accounting literacy and the main components of a company. The self-paced course is six to seven weeks, with three to five hours of effort expected a week. The course is free, but you can add a verified certificate for $150.

Developed by: University of British Columbia


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With 5 million users, Skillshare is geared toward freelancers who may not have access to the same training as traditional workers. Students can choose from free classes with trial access or, like competitor Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning), pay a monthly subscription fee. Skillshare charges $15 a month or $99 annually for unlimited access to its classes. LinkedIn Learning classes are available through monthly or annual plans.

Course name: The Staples of Branding: Building a Company from Purpose to Product

Course description: Apparel and branding expert Jeff Staple will teach you how to refine your brand name, slogan, logo and mission statement to create an effective brand image for your company. The one-hour video course is free.

Developed by: Staple, founder of Staple Design

Course name: Bookkeeping Boot Camp: Identifying Business Expenses

Course description: This course will teach you to recognize various business costs and how to track those expenses. The free 40-minute course includes a class project requiring participants to create a list of accounts they can use to keep track of their business expenses.

Developed by: Former certified public accountant Michelle Cornish

Small Business Administration

The government agency provides advice to small businesses and helps them get loans. The SBA also provides dozens of free online courses ranging from financing options to crime prevention.

Course name: Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

Course description: This 30-minute class is an introduction to securing information in a small business, including best practices. There are options for small businesses to follow up afterward using additional tools or with a counselor or small-business development specialist.

Developed by: SBA


These online courses are designed for small-business owners. While several are free, most have a fee — about $30 each. Classes are divided into three categories: money, marketing and management.

Course name: Finding and Attracting an Investor

Course description: This course will help you understand the different kinds of investors and how you can secure various funding, including seed capital, angel capital and venture capital. You will also learn about the federal and state laws regulating the investing process. The free course is about two-and-a-half hours. Course content can be downloaded and accessed offline.

Developed by: SmallBizU


This for-profit business ended 2017 with more than 8 million students across its free and paid classes. Udacity is perhaps best known for its “nanodegrees” and partnerships with large companies such as IBM and AT&T (though employment isn’t guaranteed). While many nanodegrees are focused on technology, business nanodegrees are available in analytics, digital marketing and Google ads starting at $600 and running up to almost $1,000.

Course name: Get Your Startup Started

Course description: In this course, you’ll learn the steps to launch a new company, from pitching your business to investors to setting quarterly and annual goals. The course will help you navigate several funding models, including bootstrapping, crowdsourcing and accelerator programs. You’ll finish the course by creating a pitch deck to use to secure investments. The free course takes about three weeks to complete.

Developed by: Google

Course name: App Marketing

Course description: You’ll learn to create a marketing plan targeting specific users to grow your app’s user base. The course also includes an introduction to social media marketing and email marketing. The free course lasts about two weeks.

Developed by: Google


With 80,000 classes, Udemy has one of the largest catalogs on this list. Udemy offers a mix of free and paid classes.

Course name: Introduction to Business Ownership

Course description: This course will teach you the first steps to take when starting a business, such as choosing a legal entity, obtaining the necessary permits and marketing your business. The free class comes with a course booklet and seven video lectures that last about an hour and a half altogether.

Developed by: West Texas A&M University Small Business Development Center

Course name: Copyright Easily Explained

Course description: You’ll learn to register a copyright for any creative work, such as web content, video, photographs or blogs, and learn the difference between copyright, trademark and patent. With a full understanding of copyright law, you would also know how to avoid copyright infringement when using someone else’s work. The free course includes 35 minutes of video lessons and a certificate of completion.

Developed by: Business lawyer Sam Mollaei for Udemy

The bottom line

The variety of courses available online allows you to study general topics or focus on a specific aspect of business ownership. You could take a class in leadership, accounting or branding, depending on your needs.

Reputable colleges and universities have developed many of these online courses, so you can feel confident that you’d be receiving quality information. Other platforms partner with professionals who are experts in their field to create valuable learning materials.

Whether you’re a new business owner or a seasoned entrepreneur, there’s no shortage of learning opportunities. Free online courses give you the opportunity to broaden your business knowledge at your pace and within your budget.

Fees mentioned in this article are accurate as of the date of publishing.


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