Monthly Archives: October 2009

Why Colleges and Businesses Don’t Work Together.

You would think that if any two organizations were made for one another, it would be academic institutions and businesses. They have completely symmetrical goals after all. Colleges/Universities prepare their students to graduate as well-rounded people who are ready to dive into the workforce and achieve outstanding results immediately. Businesses are always looking for talented, well trained pools of qualified candidates to join their organization and make an immediate, pronounced positive impact on their organization’s success.

So why don’t these two organizations work more effectively together…especially in these turbulent times?

Granted some colleges have a fairly well developed network of contacts in business & industry that utilize their students on internship or co-operative education basis. Some schools can even claim that employers are hiring their students on a full-time basis in these trying times. But the relationship is built upon an underdeveloped, sporadic and non-continuous basis. Both fail miserably at developing any kind of a strategic partnership.

Most colleges seek organizations in their immediate market area, to serve as a pipeline for placing their students. Few schools bother to take the time or make the effort required to nurture a relationships with key businesses as a truly valued partner. Schools fail to become strategic partners of business and industry, when they fail to provide a significant level of service to the key businesses and organizations (trade associations, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, business solutions centers, etc.) They often do not invest he time and effort required to learn a business’s key products/services, the accounts that business manages, their business challenges, competitors, management team, etc.

A key issue in the approach that schools take in soliciting businesses is the nature in which they engage businesses in such a “decentralized” fashion. A university has many disparate departments all with differing goals and motivations that are soliciting businesses. The efforts made by these departments to reach out to business are often poorly coordinated and compete with each other.

A college may have its co-operative education department, alumni relations, career development center, business school, fundraising department, entrepreneurial center, and even different engineering departments solicit a business SEPERATELY. Rarely does the college or University target key businesses at the highest level. In fact, they hardly ever are aware how much at odds these departments are and the damaging mixed messages that this approach sends to the businesses they are attempting to partner with.

Even worse, colleges are myopically focused on applying poor metrics to determine their success in serving business & industry. They point to the graduation rates of their students in the aggregate as a measure of their success. Many academic institutions still subscribe to the outdated and erroneous belief that it is not their job to assist students in finding employment.

They hold to the outdated notion that their mandate is merely to deliver a “well-rounded” education for their students. Colleges and universities would be well served to perform a critical self-assessment as to their placement levels of students upon graduation in key timeframes within each field/major and concentration area of study.

Businesses also fail to leverage the relationship with academic institutions at the highest levels of strategic partnerships. They seek out college students as a source for cheap labor. They often fail to consider that schools can serve their long-term recruiting and staffing needs by providing excellent talent as a trial ground for making hiring decisions. They often provide poorly developed job descriptions, and bring in college students for highly glorified clerical work.

They see college students as a great source for labor to accomplish repetitive, administrative, and tactical work, but often fail to utilize student talent to help their grow their businesses. They fail to utilize the growing presence of entrepreneurial think tanks and business start up centers that many colleges and universities are now building, to serve small land mid-sized businesses in their launch efforts.

To overcome this tremendous lost opportunity, colleges should develop cross functional teams comprised of members from all the departments listed above. These cross-functional teams must be empowered to solicit long-term strategic relationship with businesses and trade associations. Businesses should view colleges and Universities as a tremendous resource for their strategic planning and new business development efforts. Open up their business plans, and engage the college across multiple levels to gain the maximum benefit of the relationship. They should have a strategic recruiting plan with a wide range of local area academic institutions that they strive to build strategic working relationships with.

How to "Unstick" Your Business in Turbulent Times

If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, chances are you are struggling right now with ways to move your business forward. Clients have probably stopped buying your products and services, or drastically cut back on the business they were sending your way. You might be struggling to find new clients. You’re probably pulling out all the stops, to come up with creative ways to get your employees re-engaged and keep them motivated that things will turn around some time soon. Most likely, you yourself have doubts if things will turn around, in time to keep your business afloat.

Fear not! There are proactive steps you can take to move your business forward.

Take a cold, hard look at your client list. Identify those clients that are your most profitable. Build a “Best Customer Profile.” Be sure to write it down. That will become your target for identifying highly qualified SIMILAR contacts at organizations for you to aggressively target. Be as specific as possible to build a complete picture of your most profitable client.

While you’re at it, think about these clients that are your most profitable. Chances are, they are your most loyal customers. They always refer new business your way, speak well about the service you provide, and have provided you with testimonials. They are your “Apostles.” Now’s the perfect time to go on an apostle appreciation tour. Take these clients out to lunch. Let them know that in these trying times, you are here for them. DON’T ask for referrals. It’s a way for you to thank them for their support, and NOT a shakedown.

Next up…change your approach! When you do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome, it’s called “INSANITY.” Re-evaluate ALL of our systems, processes, and procedures. If the answer to why you are doing something a certain way is “that’s how we’ve always done it” then it’s probably time to tear that down and find a new approach. There are no SACRED cows…everything is fair game.

Create a networking plan. When you created a profile of your most profitable client you should have captured information on where these types of individuals met in professional Associations, clubs, organizations. You must identify these events and make a point of attending as many as you can.

Write! Write! Write! Become a subject matter expert on any and all topics that are near and dear to the hearts of your apostles and ideal customer profiles. Start by authoring blogs, articles, white papers, anything you can do to get your name in front of your ideal client profiles. While you’re at it…SHAKE THINGS UP! If you spend a lot of time in your office, GET OUT! Schedule as many meetings out of the (home) office as you possibly can. While you’re out, spoil yourself. Buy yourself something nice. Go to an afternoon matinee. Do something you wouldn’t normally do, just to say thank you to YOU!

Revisit your partner strategy. Which people that you know in your professional network have complementary products and services that fit nicely with your offerings. If you already have partners and there is no synergy then cut those relationships loose. While we on the subject of products and services.

Now is a great time to rethink your product and service offerings. Is there something you can offer that you aren’t? Ask your apostles on your appreciation tour.

Take an END-OF-YEAR look back NOW. Don’t wait for the holidays. You’ll be drowning in eggnog, Depression, and holiday distractions. Volunteer what little spare time you have to charitable organizations, not-for-profits, your local church, synagogue, homeless shelter, senior citizen center. Go back to school! Take a class, learn a new skill, or attend a Webinar. You should always find time to develop new skills.

Re-engage your industry trade Association, local Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Toastmasters…whatever! Get involved on a Committee to plan for their end-of-year gala.
Now is NOT the time to stick your head in the ground and hope the tornado blows past. Stay focused, re-evaluate your business, keep active but working aggressively. Channel your efforts towards re-discovering your clients and the reasons you started your business.