A group of Lake Forest College students created comprehensive marketing plans and strategies for three local businesses to help them grow.
"I don't think you realize until you've opened a business what's really involved and these students are getting a taste of that, which is a wonderful experience," said Darlene Jaffke, assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Business.
The semester-long real-world project was part of her entrepreneurial marketing course and the first time that the City of Lake Forest and Lake Forest College worked together through the college's curriculum and the city's Business Accelerator, an incubator that started in October 2012.
"It started because I personally just wanted to pull the students and integrate and involve them with the city," Jaffke said. "Why not put individuals and businesses that are struggling to become a profitable success along with these students who are trying to basically learn about how to run a business and the whole operations of a business."
Jaffke said she began working with Lake Forest Economic Development Coordinator Susan Kelsey about a year ago. Kelsey said the city selected businesses that they thought would work well with students and could offer different types of marketing campaigns: retail, brand and technology.
The businesses chosen were The Zen of Slow Cooking, a website and blog started by two moms that helps individuals learn how to use a slow cooker and advocates whole foods and mindfulness as ingredients; Cloud Business Partners, which provides educational services for retailers of cloud services from IBM; and Kidsmarter, a self-funded and single-employee company that designs educational apps for preteens.
"I think that all these students really picked up on the little nuances of each business. I think this is the epitome of local business, developing an ecosystem for local business to work with local resources," Kelsey said.
Nine students were split into groups of three and paired with a business. Students researched the businesses' market competitors, unique missions and identities, key benefits and weaknesses and current marketing strategies.
"Typically the business owners aren't 22 years old, so pairing them up with these students that have all these things at their disposal and no fear, it's a win-win. It's a very cool matchup. The students have tremendous amounts of respect for these business owners," Jaffke said.
Students brainstormed and outlined a variety of marketing strategies for print and online, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, email blasts, trifold brochures and pamphlets, postcard mail pieces, youtube videos and much more.
The groups also helped each company better express its individual missions and messages by reworking slogans and graphics.
"They were really nice and really easy to work with," student Abby Fliss said about the owners of The Zen of Slow Cooking. "We hoped to really kind of get them a good overall theme that they can use that would be versatile and create a lot of buzz and help them reposition different target markets by doing things with their website, social media and print marketing strategies as well."
Fliss also said she found the project to be a great hands-on experience and something that every student pursuing business should do.
"It will definitely help me when I go into the job search and whole interviewing process," Fliss said.
The business owners also said they found it to be rewarding and fun to work with the students and learn things from a different perspective.
"The students have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and they put a lot of effort into their work," said Alejandra Peres, founder of Kidsmarter. "As a solo business owner, you get to open your mind to all their ideas and I especially like to work with students because they're innovators, open-minded, creative and not afraid to suggest something that I have not considered."
Meg Barnhart and Jane McKay, co-creators of The Zen of Slow Cooking, said the students' research about the market and competitors was helpful.
"My interest in really working with them was to get their swat analysis. I thought the work they did in giving us information about the business in general where we sell was useful, and I think it's really important in any young business to really understand how you can work intentionally with technology," Barnhart said.
Jaffke's class presented its comprehensive marketing reports last week to parents, friends and members of the community.
"I think it's a great vehicle to active a partnership between the college and the business community," resident Joe Paulsen said.
"I think it's a great opportunity for allowing students to connect with local businesses and gain the practical experience which I think a lot of the students are looking for," said Lauren Sanford, a junior at the college.
Jaffke plans to expand the course in the fall 2014 to include a minimum of 18 students and six businesses. She also hopes to have an entrepreneurship minor approved by then.
"It's on the books for next fall. There's nothing but positive things to say about the relationships that the students developed and all the wonderful things they learned from the business owners. The project opened their eyes to what it takes to run a business and all of the intricacies," Jaffke said.
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