The management at the Cannon House needed help planning the development of a new assisted-living center. The problem was they couldn’t afford to pay the astronomical fees commanded by outside consultants. So the Seattle-based business turned to local college students for expertise — at no charge.
The Business and Economic Development Center in the business school at the University of Washington links students with area businesses to help them expand. Raychael Jensen, a senior business administration major with a finance concentration, was part of a team that spearheaded marketing research for the Cannon House. She and her classmates presented a report last winter that showed an assisted-living center care for the surrounding neighborhoods was feasible; their proof consisted of surveys, a competitive analysis, and marketing plan.
“It’s more experience than what I’ve received at any of the business courses because it is hands-on experience in the real world. It’s not as easy as it’s laid out in your text book,” said Jensen, who after graduation wants to enter the workforce before earning an M.B.A. Around the country, business schools at colleges and universities are providing small businesses with student expertise to boost their operations. For little or no cost, small businesses can benefit from advice ranging from marketing to simple bookkeeping. The arrangements offer students hands-on experience and give businesses a chance to grow without busting their budgets.
GIVING STUDENTS HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE
Getting a little student aid is as easy as 1-2-3. Here’s how to tap into the student resources at a local business school:
1. Pick up the phone and call. Contact the dean’s office at the business school of a local college or university. Explain who you are and what you want to accomplish for your business. Ask the dean’s office if you can take advantage of any work-study programs that will meet your company’s needs, or find out if any students are available for internships.
2. Pay a fee or work for free? Some colleges may require that businesses pay students a stipend or fee for services, while others expect their students to perform pro bono work to contribute to the local business community. At Columbia Business School in New York City, first- and second-year students take part in the university’s Small Business Consulting Program. The program helps students apply practical business skills through pro bono consulting services, such as accounting, finance, marketing, operations, and e-commerce.
3. Quality of service. Remember, these are students whose level of expertise should be taken into account when you assign projects. Don’t expect students to perform at the level of an experienced market researcher or seasoned sales professional who can make effective cold calls. Assign work or projects to your student workers that are commensurate with their level of expertise.