By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Small businesses often face tough challenges and at times, they don’t know where to seek help. Or they are so bogged down with the daily operations, they rarely have the time to articulate what they need, such as growing their business or dealing with a crisis.
What if someone assembles a dream team specifically to find solutions and strategies for your struggling or successful business, at a cost so low, you can’t afford not to use it?
The proven success of these consulting dream teams got a bow from underserved businesses recently at the University of Washington (UW).
Bryan Myers, sales manager of Uli’s Famous Sausage, told the crowd at the UW Foster School of Business on May 15 that sales have almost doubled, and its net profit has doubled, since the company received help from the team in developing its marketing plan and branding strategies two years ago.
Just what team was Myers referring to?
The Consulting & Business Development Center (CBDC), part of Foster School, has organized several of those teams annually to help many ethnic- and women-owned businesses and nonprofit organizations to satisfy their needs.
This is the second time Uli’s has signed up for the program to help the company expand.
Hiring a consultant could cost as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars. The CBDC charges only $500 for almost 400 hours of work.
The “dream” team
CBDC realizes that it takes a village of talents, experts, and relentless hard workers with as many as 12 to 15 members to focus on one business — studying it and its competition, knowing its strengths and weaknesses, using critical techniques through research and data, and then designing solutions and strategies to solve its problems.
Each team consists of three to five professional advisers mentoring a group of business school students under the supervision of a faculty member. It is an actual course held every winter quarter for students to serve as real consultants in the real world.
The advisers were made up of Foster’s alumni who are now successful entrepreneurs and professionals, and Rotary club members who are business and community leaders.
Several ethnic and women business owners and leaders who participated in the program raved about how the team has impacted their business.
David Jones of Gorilla Graphics said the students pointed him in the right direction, helped with his website and finances, and challenged him to do a better job.
Donna Moodie of Marjorie Restaurant said the students gave her recommendations on how to target millennials.
Students showed Jamie Fender and Jen Norton of Sister’s Baking Company new ways to find customers.
Karen Johnston of The Lighthouse for the Blind said the students provided strategies for her organization to get to the next level.
Odette D’Aniello of Celebrity Gourmet Ventures said she learned how to rebrand her company and products. She was impressed the students interviewed 200 people to identity where the company should go.
And Jae So of Palace Korean BBQ said the students showed him how to sustain and grow his business and brand through social media.
What students got out of the experience
The students received credits toward graduation. But their reward was far more substantial.
Some students got hired to do freelance work. Others got job offers from the advisers.
It is an “invaluable experience,” said Anna Sabarots, a senior, who took the class.
Unlike her other courses focusing on theories, she said this is “a real-life opportunity, meeting clients in different environments. The students get to see the planning and execution of a project.”
What’s important is the students “learn how to ask why, and how to identify problems and come up with solutions,” she said. And there are “different ways to finding solutions and experiencing growth for small businesses.”
In the process, the students witnessed the growth of a business, in addition to getting academic credit, as part of the course requirement for Management 449. This course is popular at the Foster School.
Students who exhibit strong leadership or go the extra mile for a client might even receive CBDC cash scholarships. Sabarots is one of the scholarship recipients.
The surprising recommendation
Whatever a business needs, students work hard to achieve their client’s goal. I have been one of the students’ mentors for more than a decade.
A few times, the students surprised me when they didn’t agree with the client. It takes a lot of guts to tell the client that he or she is wrong.
One such client wanted to expand to another location, while losing a great deal of money in his current site. The assumption was that the new location would be able to earn enough money to cover the loss of his first shop. Armed with several figures and data, they convinced the organization that their first step was to clean up its finances by cutting the waste to improve its bottom line and efficiencies, before any expansion plans. And the students showed how the clients could achieve those goals. I couldn’t agree more with the students. And they did it with much diplomacy and tact, I was so proud of them during their final presentation.
It is common for the student team to put in as much as 400 hours from doing the research (including talking to competitors in similar businesses) to brainstorming ideas and analysis to writing papers in order to give the business practical plans and solutions for implementation. I have seen students redesigning business websites, product labels, packaging to make it look sharp, restaurant menus, and re-thinking pricing strategies. One company asked the students to give them tips on retaining employees due to high turnover. The team came up with an effective plan, including fun games during employee outings with gifts to reward them.
Founded in 1995, CBDC is led by Director Michael Verchot and Associate Director Wilfredo T. Tutol.
The CBDC serves as a connector for small businesses, students and alumni, faculty members, communities, and Rotary clubs in Washington state. It also has other programs, such as connecting small businesses to loans and other resources. This unique partnership is a model for many other colleges in other parts of the country.
For more information, email Michael Verchot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.