Among the reasons top performers quit is the lack of training opportunities and clear paths to advancement.

And the cost of replacing a productive worker is substantial—up to 30% of the new worker’s annual salary.

Clearly, it is much more cost effective (and less stressful) to keep the great employees you have. But the employer/employee relationship is just that—a relationship. Investing in a great employee benefits both sides of the relationship: a trained and skillful employee is a happy employee who will generate more revenue and provide a decent return on the investment.

And that investment doesn’t have to come with a big dollar sign attached. Here are several ideas to get the ball rolling.

Put together a curriculum of relevant employee education using online resources such as YouTube, Vimeo, TikTok, and other online assets. Incentivize participation by offering a pay increase, bonus, gift certificate, paid day off, or other perk upon completion and evaluation.

Another source of employee education may be your vendors and suppliers. Find out what training they offer their workers for service activities such as credit card processing or inventory management.

Cross-training is another viable option. For instance, offer your inventory manager a shot at learning bookkeeping or accounting. That’s a two-way value-add: Your employee gains a marketable skill, and you get a back-up bookkeeper. Instrument repair courses are ideal for cross training music store employees. Lisa’s Clarinet Shop offers comprehensive online woodwind repair courses. These courses do have a fee but the return on investment will more than make up for the modest investment. Additionally, for the brands you sell, contact your local representative, and find out if there are any repair training or workshops offered to their retail clients.

Industry conferences and trade shows are another training opportunity that employees love! Sponsor your employees’ attendance and review the conference agenda with your employee to select break-out sessions that are most relevant to your business. Of course, the employee can present to the rest of the staff upon return, which is another one of those two-way benefits: It opens new insights for the staff and gets them thinking about what they can do to attend a conference.

Mentoring is a no- or low-cost way to provide one-on-one training. Keep in mind, mentoring is much more than top-down management. It involves planning, executing, and cultivating a plan that encourages and trains the employee while also holding you as the employer accountable to deliver. If it’s a senior employee doing the mentoring, hold them accountable, which means there are tangible deliverables which in turn keeps you actively involved in the training and development process.

The curriculum doesn’t have to be fancy. Start with a simple list of topics and jot down a few sub-topics, like this:

(Main Topic) Customer Service


  • Engaging new customers
  • Upselling
  • Following-up on purchases
  • Turning customer problems into opportunities

Such guidelines give your training and development structure as well as a beginning and endpoint. In other words: goals set; goals accomplished!

You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Even if it’s just you and one employee, you have a team. If you have goals for your business, why not work together as a team to accomplish them? Collaboration is the key, whether with one worker or many. If you want to boost sales by 10% next year, work it out together. You may be very surprised that your floor person who’s great at selling saxophones may also have incredible ideas to boost overall sales or is able to point out areas that may be pulling your business down.

Teamwork is also a great channel for developing soft skills. For instance, encourage an employee who is a top performer in the back shop but shy with customers to talk about ideas, findings, and challenges with the team. As their confidence grows, so will their ability to be more effective deal with other people, a.k.a. customers.

Come up with a plan of action together and provide incentives for accomplishing said goals. Remember that the sign of a good leader is one who can also be a good follower. You run the proverbial show but let someone else take care of the lighting and costumes.

Before you invest sweat equity and money into a program, make sure your employee is interested and receptive. The best time to do this is during the interviewing process. Find out their goals and objectives and how working for you fits into their professional development plan. Maybe they just want to make a few bucks during summer vacation—nothing wrong with that, but that’s not going to be of great benefit to you and your business in the long run.

If you have a current employee who shows promise, talk about training and advancement. If they’re really not interested, you may have to make the difficult decision of replacing them with someone whose work objectives better align with your own business objectives. Chances are though that most good people are eager to learn new skills and apply them, especially when there are practical incentives to do so!

There are few shortcuts to implementing better business practices, including training and development—but you will be hard-pressed to find any business owner who didn’t benefit greatly from the investment. As the business owner, you are the “principal” of your training and development “school.” With planning, discipline, and engagement, you will quickly be able to cultivate an efficient and effective program that will benefit your business despite economic challenges.