What are you doing to improve your skill set?

In order to thrive in business, one thing we have to do is keep learning and improving. Luckily, there are more ways than ever to take in added knowledge, and some of them don’t require a significant time commitment.

The first step to improve your skill set is to identify the specifics of what you want to learn. How does having that added skill set benefit your business, or benefit you personally in the future? The knowledge is better retained when there’s a practical use.

I’ll give you a recent example out of my personal life. I’ve been learning a lot about dog training.

It always goes better when I intermittently put the knowledge to use by working with my dog. The same is true with any new information. Practical use helps you retain.

We adopted our dog Captain about a year and a half ago. He came very well trained, but I’ve been able to teach him a few new things, and reinforce some behaviors in our home. For instance, I taught him to drop it while playing fetch. I taught him to shake. And I’ve also taught him to stay sitting until I release him – which is extremely helpful after walks in the messiness of winter.

Back to how to improve your skill set.

3 Ways to Improve Your Skill Set in the New Year:

Ask someone who knows – Sometimes the most direct ways to improve your skill set are the best. It might be time to find a mentor or a coach to help guide you through new experiences. A mentor can guide you from a place of experience – especially if it’s someone who has done exactly what you set out to do. A coach can serve as a guide, and make sure you’ve considered all angles.

Another way to find the people who can help you is to join a networking group, or social media group focused on your industry. Some networking groups might be lead focused, and some might be more industry specific. Talking with others in your industry is a good way to expand your knowledge base. Meetup.com can help you find more in-person opportunities. Facebook and LinkedIn both have an expansive selection of industry opportunities.

Take a Course – There are a variety of options available for courses as well. You can go the more traditional route, and find a related course or attain a certificate from a local college. I did this years ago to learn more about website development. I’m glad I did. Now I have a much deeper understanding of the whole digital marketing process.

There are also a variety of college courses and lectures online. iTunes U, Udemy and Coursera offer courses in about any subject you can imagine.

There may be independent people in your industry offering courses on a variety of subjects as well. These courses can be structured in a variety of ways. There may be YouTube videos, emails, webinars, or an online textbook to convey information.

A word of caution, however: It’s a good idea to have a basic concept for the structure of the course, an overview of the information that will be covered, and know whether there will be any interaction with a teacher, or others in the course. You have to have the self-discipline to be able to learn the material and finish the course on your own. Many people buy these courses and never complete them, since it’s harder to build up an incentive.

The DIY method – When I set out to learn more about web development, I began creating the html code to turn a blank page blue. Or to bold, underline, or italicize text. I progressed from there by reading blog posts, and books. I found the w3schools tutorials. This gave me a strong base before I started taking classes.

When I looked to make the transition from journalism to copywriting, I started reading every book, magazine article, or blog post I could find on copywriting. I figured out what the similarities were between the two fields, and how my background could serve as the foundation for the future. I learned who the influencers and legends are.

My bookshelf (physical and Kindle) is filled with advertising and copywriting legends such as David Ogilvy, Robert Bly, and David Garfinkel. I round out with contemporaries such as Chris Brogan, James Altucher, and Tim Ferriss.

With the DIY method, it’s important to find the authors, bloggers and podcasters who can deliver the information in a way you find useful and interesting – in order to stick with it.

Depending on your goal and your schedule, it doesn’t have to be hugely time consuming to improve your skill set. Podcasts can be listened to on your commute, or during your down time. Most blog posts take less than a few minutes to read.

What are you doing to continue your learning?