Especially for a small business that targets a hyper-specific market, it can be challenging to find employees who come already prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. For example, few people know the differences between types of dog hair, knowledge that’s crucial to being a dog groomer. On top of that, as a small business, your training team might be only you and minimal resources as compared to those of big companies.

However, instead of this being a fault, it can be one of your biggest training strengths. Unlike behemoth corporations, small organizations have the nimbleness to quickly adopt new strategies and processes into your training program.

With that in mind, this article looks at four effective ways to train your employees in the skills they actually need. You’ll learn why it’s essential to:

  1. Standardize hands-on practice.
  2. Build a mentoring program.
  3. Automate when you can.
  4. Be flexible.

You don’t need to revamp your entire training program from scratch. For each tip, consider where it can best fit into your existing processes and how it addresses the three “E’s” of learning:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Exposure

Ultimately, gearing your training toward these critical elements of learning will boost engagement, productivity and, as a result, your business’ profitability.

1.  Standardize Hands-on Practice.

Reading a guide to completing a task is wildly different from doing it yourself. In the abstract, an assigned activity might seem easy. But in practice, it’s a different beast. Especially when you’re training for skills that aren’t regularly known or practiced, it’s important to give employees hands-on experience.

Whether your training is in person or taking place remotely, a structured, hands on element also allows employees to:

  • Gain confidence and efficiency in their assigned tasks.
  • Ask practical questions that aren’t anticipated or answered in a handbook.
  • Learn how to respond to both common and uncommon scenarios.

When designing your hands-on training, start by focusing on the essential skills and tools your employees need and work backward to define your practice objectives, content, structure and timeline.

Moreover, standardized hands-on training saves you time and energy and ensures that everyone receives the proper support. Plus, it offers even experienced employees a chance to get to know one another better, take on mentorship and leadership roles and share existing knowledge.

2.  Build a Mentorship Program

You can’t throw employees into the water without any support and expect them to immediately swim on their own. That’s where an employee mentorship or coaching program can come in.

Especially since your employees on the ground know the roles and day-to-day operations best, mentorship programs support knowledge transfer from experienced employees to newer ones and help new employees adapt to their new positions.

However, an impactful mentor program won’t magically appear on your doorstep. For it to be successful, you also need to:

  • Select highly-motivated, trustworthy mentors.
  • Train and support your mentors.
  • Pair mentors and employees according to their skills, needs and interests.
  • Establish a regular mentoring schedule.

For a healthy program, make sure your mentors and coaches feel like they’re also getting something out of the experience. While this may be a financial incentive, it might also be the promise to help your mentors and coaches feel more connected to the business and develop leadership or managerial skills vital to their career growth.

3.  Automate When You Can.

Here’s a scenario: You own a dog grooming business and, for the health and safety of your clients, you require that every dog is up-to-date on its vaccinations before coming in. However, instead of sending automatic immunization confirmation reminders, your employees have to remember all relevant vaccines and vaccination schedules, call every client, and accurately record that information in an Excel sheet for each appointment.

When your employees have to do everything by hand, you’re likely wasting time training them on the wrong things. Instead, utilize industry-specific software to automate the parts of your business that would otherwise require additional expensive employee training (and retraining) in niche knowledge or skills.

In general, your software solutions should offer employees the following features to make their learning process easier and their jobs more productive:

  • Streamlined, intuitive interface.
  • Cloud-based storage.
  • Simple reporting features.
  • Customization options.
  • Automatic reminders.
  • 24/7 customer support.

However, even great software in the wrong hands can cause more problems than it solves. As you decide on the tools to use to automate your business operations, make sure they’re as user-friendly as possible and that you train your employees on how to use them.

4.  Be Flexible

Put aside your yoga mat: Being flexible in training your small business employees in niche skills has nothing to do with the plasticity of your muscles. Rather, flexibility in training refers to adapting to new industry practices, client feedback, and your employees’ self-identified needs and interests.

Ironically, even for a tip recommending flexibility, there are still clear, delineated steps you should take. These include:

  1. Stay up-to-date on industry best practices by reading relevant trade journals and talking to leaders at similar businesses.
  2. Measure your training impact and return on investment based on factors including changes in employee behavior, survey responses, and sales.
  3. Go beyond “watercooler” talk to ask employees for regular, formal feedback. Because you can’t be everywhere at once, your employees will often catch gaps and opportunities for growth that you miss.
  4. Show that you value employee feedback by offering relevant ongoing reskilling and upskilling as well as updating your onboarding program and employee handbook.

Even though you’re training on hyper-specific skills, your program shouldn’t be static. Over time, expect your training to change regularly in its format, content and goals. Because of these changes — not in spite of them — you can ensures it’s successful.

While these tips are crucial for training your employees in niche skills necessary for your business’ success, they also depend on a major pre-training activity: Hiring.

Hiring employees with little interest or aptitude for the jobs they’ll take on is akin to building a house on a cracked foundation. Although reskilling activities can significantly impact retention and profitability, hiring employees with a background (or even just an interest) in your niche business will make the training you implement all the more fun and impactful.