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Training budgets get cut in challenging times. Yet it's critical to continue growing and developing. If training budget dollars aren't available for traditional training though, what can you do personally? Here are 10 ways to continue expanding your expertise when many others aren't:

  • Select a topic and develop a presentation you can deliver at conferences. You'll typically get a reduced rate or free registration as a presenter. Contact conferences you're interested in attending and pitch your presentation well in advance.
  • Find out if your company has online training. This is a great way to improve your understanding of business basics in-house with minimal investment.
  • Participate in free webinars. One upside of today's economy is the large number of companies offering free webinars. I've participated in several this year and haven't come across a clunker yet.
  • Take a community college course. Our local college has an unbelievable array of business and professional development courses. They're affordable, often feature multiple sessions, and scheduled for people who work.
  • Attend local association seminars. In a city of any size, there are likely multiple daily options for professional learning opportunities at breakfasts, lunches, or dinner meetings. These professional training sessions may be sponsored by associations, Chambers of Commerce, or even private businesses. For a nominal personal investment, these types of sessions are a way to learn and network cost effectively without travel.
  • Ask if outside partners will open their training to you. A consultant had its in-house presentation designer do a session for us on constructing a presentation's logic flow. It was fantastically valuable and something we couldn't have paid to attend. This could be a value-added opportunity for both: you get education and usually, a more educated client is a better client.
  • Get on Twitter - develop a network involved in your field, participate in chat groups, and network for new ideas. Twitter is the richest, most diverse interaction opportunity I've come across. In a short time, it's exposed me to many smart people around the world eager to share information, perspectives, and links.
  • Share your own expertise. Whether it's presenting, writing, or answering questions on LinkedIn, you always learn by teaching. Sharing knowledge forces you to be on top of your game, plus trading perspectives with your students exposes you to new learning also.
  • Agree to a sales call. I'm emphatic about not spending time with salespeople when there's no real opportunity for them. Recently, I've started to relax that. After an admonition that a meeting implies no near-term buying intent, I've invested time with potential vendors eager to share new techniques. The downside is dealing with follow-on calls.
  • Learn from others through effective networking. With any of the previous ideas where you're interacting with people, it's an opportunity to offer value, share expertise, and build a reputation for helping others.

Give any one or a combination of these a try, and you'll definitely realize some of the most cost-effective learning benefits available.