From universities to leadership groups, there are plenty of outside resources available.
When a business is exploring a new market, refining its financial plan or planning strategic moves for the next decade, expert advice is essential — and available at a price that won’t break the bank.
UF’s GatorNest, led by Ted Astleford (R), worked with Grooveshark Vice President Andrew Wise on a marketing project. [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
University Business Schools
Small businesses looking for market analyses, competitive analyses, marketing plans, financial projections and other strategic guidance don’t have to hire a pricey consultant. A number of Florida business schools offer inexpensive — or even free — assistance from teams of graduate students.
When Gainesville’s Grooveshark, a web-based music-sharing business, needed market research to validate its hunches on how members viewed the service, it turned to University of Florida business students. The students worked on the project as part of a two-credit graduate class organized by GatorNest, an experiential learning program run by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UF’s Warrington College of Business.
Over a period of about six weeks, Grooveshark, which has about 40 employees, met with the GatorNest students several times, introducing them to the company and spelling out its needs. The GatorNest students, who are in master’s programs in entrepreneurship, finance, management, international business and real estate, surveyed several hundred potential Grooveshark users and reported their results in a PowerPoint presentation.
“It was more than I expected,” says James Davis, vice president for communication. “They did an excellent job.”
GatorNest doesn’t charge for its help, but it’s not exactly free. “What is customary is that we get a donation,” says Ted Astleford, assistant director for experiential learning in UF’s college of business. The University of Tampa’s Naimoli Institute for Business Strategy charges $300 or less for a long-term strategy report produced as part of its Strategic Analysis Program.
At Stetson University, the marketing assistance by MBA students is completely free. “I think that by the students doing it gratis, they really feel like they are part of the business,” says Becky Oliphant, associate professor of marketing at Stetson.
John Meyer, managing director of 14-year-old Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, worked with several groups of Stetson MBA students who analyzed his business’s website and a line of bath and body products. For the website, for example, the students recommended that Meyer make it easier for shoppers by reducing the number of clicks needed to make a purchase. That was something that Meyer hadn’t considered. “You get arms-length feedback about your business,” says Meyer. “Sometimes you’re surprised.”
For business owners looking for feedback on an ongoing basis, one option is a CEO peer group, or leadership group. Organizations such as TEC Florida (an affiliate of Vistage International), The Alternative Board, Renaissance Executive Forums, the Young Presidents’ Organization and others offer programs.
Local chapters set up the small, confidential peer groups, which typically have 10 to 20 members from diverse industries. Groups meet monthly for a half day to a full day and openly discuss members’ pressing problems, anything from the loss of an important customer to cash flow management to personnel concerns. Members give their views — which may be blunt — on solving the problems. Meetings may include a guest speaker or a visit to a member’s company. Annual membership fees range from about $1,500 to $8,500, depending on the organization.