If you’re a small employer, chances are you’re no stranger to being a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. In addition to managing inventory, winning over customers, and being the overall brains and brawn of your business, knowing how to develop a meaningful employee training program definitely falls within your purview.

If the thought of having to design a “program” for your staff makes your heart skip a beat, sit down and take a deep breath. To help you streamline this process, we’ve put together a quick plan for instituting a few employee training strategies. No, it won’t be something you’d see at say Facebook or Google, but that’s okay. As a small business owner, you’re inherently a creative and scrappy individual, so this framework will help you tailor your program to your company’s specific needs.

But before we dive into how to train your staff, let’s take a quick glance at why employee training strategies are so important.

Why it’s important to train your employees

Regardless of your vertical, staff training is an essential element of any successful venture. It’s integral to the health and success of your business that your staff is up to date on all of the products you carry, the services you provide, and any protocols you might have for dealing with situations such as special orders or disgruntled customers.

Here are a few more reasons why training your team is so critical:

It increases sales

It goes without saying that you want your employees to be well informed about your business. This includes everything from new products and sales techniques to how to best deal with a variety of customer personality types. Why does this matter? Because happy customers means higher sales, and well-trained employees are more likely to provide a welcoming atmosphere to nurture those relationships. Simply put, well-trained employees equal happy customers, and happy customers equal higher sales.

It positions you as an expert in your field

An employee training program not only indirectly produces happier customers, but it also conveys to your patrons (and the world) that you’re an experienced professional in your given field. When you teach your employees effectively, it means that your entire staff has a standard level of expertise as well. For example, let’s say you sell organic wine in your liquor store. When your staff is properly trained, your employees are able to not only ring up transactions and restock bottles, but also advise customers on the tasting notes of each varietal. With a little bit of training, you can turn your cashier into a personal sommelier ready to delight your customers.

It reduces employee turnover

It’s no secret that hiring new employees is both time consuming and expensive. In fact, lack of training is one of the top two reasons that employees quit their jobs. So if you concentrate on a few strategies for no other reason than to hang onto your employees, it will be worth your time, effort, and money. Plus, when you train your staff, it sends a message that you respect them as professionals. Even though it’s your business, employees want to feel that they are a part of, and are contributing to, something larger. Since an increase in morale also correlates to a decrease in turnover, it’s hard to ignore the benefits of an enriching staff training program.

Now that you’re a semi-expert on why creating a training and development program for employees is important, it’s time to talk about how to put these strategies in place.

How to develop a comprehensive training program

What exactly does an in-depth training strategy look like? Put simply, it’s a combination of awesome employee onboarding and education.  

Step 1: Get your team familiar with your products and services

Putting together a training plan doesn’t have to be difficult. Regardless of what your business vertical might be, a lot can be learned from looking at a well-rounded retail staff training plan. Even if you don’t own a retail store, much of what retail training focuses on is making employees feel comfortable with the products they’ll be selling. It doesn’t matter if your business doesn’t sell physical items. Regardless of what you do, getting your team up to speed with your company’s mission, business model, and offerings is the first step to staff training success.

Step 2: Make training formal (and not-so-formal)

If the heading of this section confuses you, bear with us for a moment. Creating a formal course for your employees to gradually work through is beneficial for everyone involved. It provides you with a structure to guide you, while your staff will be confident they’re receiving a comprehensive overview of your business — complete with the skills they’ll need to succeed.

With that said, designing your training so it’s both informative and fun will not only make the process less of a chore for your employees, but will also ensure that it’s memorable and that they retain more of the information covered. For example, you probably don’t remember what you learned in fifth-grade history class, but we bet you remember what you did that summer at sleepaway camp.

Step 3: Adapt to different learning styles

Not everyone learns in the same way or at the same speed. When you have a small business, it’s likely that you’ll have a few different learning styles among your ranks.

According to e-Learning Industry, there are four main types of learners.

  1. Aural learners: People who learn from listening
  2. Visual learners: People who learn from seeing
  3. Reading/writing learners: People who learn by reading and/or writing things down
  4. Kinesthetic learners: People who learn by doing

It’s important to identify what types of learners your employees are and then tailor your training program accordingly. If this sounds complicated, it’s really not. Often, it can just be the difference between providing additional reading material for your staff to reference and study on their own.

Step 4: Encourage, manage, and get the most out of your team

Empowering your team comes down to understanding what motivates them so they can get a better grasp of themselves and your customers. Then, you’ll be able to give them the tools they need to truly excel in their roles.

DISC is a behavioral tool that will help you get there. The model divides people into four personality types — D, I, S, and C. The “D” people are direct and motivated by results, while “I” people are outgoing and motivated more by recognition and incentives. “S” people are patient, calm, and value relationships above all else, while “C” people are detail-oriented and more reserved. By using the DISC model, you’ll be able to see where your team falls within the various definitions. And knowing what motivates each member of your staff can help you give them the incentives, encouragement, and information they need to do great things.

When it comes down to it, there are as many ways to train your staff as there are businesses on Main Street. What’s important is that you choose a combination of strategies that feel right for you. At the end of the day, you know your business better than anyone, so try a few different methods, see what works, then rinse and repeat. Your business is your dream. Protect that dream, and train your team so you can all make it a reality.

Sara Sugar As Managing Editor at ShopKeep, the #1-rated iPad Point of Sale System, Sara Sugar uses her distinguished journalism background to boil down small business and point of sale topics.
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