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Real world is the best marketing classroom

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By Pat Sisneros and Lynne Munoz
Published:
Teaching marketing from a textbook is important to understanding the fundamentals. But nothing compares to working directly with real businesses.
This quarter at Everett Community College, we're pairing our entrepreneurial students with real business clients and business mentors to develop professional marketing plans.
We believe that hands-on learning combined with first-hand experience is a winning combination for our students to learn how to apply their new business skills. It's also a bonus to business clients in our local business community.
Every business is different, and every quarter we learn something new. We hope you'll benefit from some of the steps our students take to create effective marketing plans.
Hands-on marketing
This quarter, teams of students are working with a local coffee shop in Lake Stevens, Abaya's Ballroom in Everett, JW Photography in Monroe and EvCC Food Services.
The one thing each team has in common is their instructor from EvCC and a newly added business mentor, Brooks Gekler, director of the University of Washington's Bothell Business Development Center.
This is the third year of Everett Community College's School of Business Design has worked with UW Bothell's Business Development Center by sharing clients and mentoring students throughout the academic quarter.
Know your business
Students begin the quarter by meeting with their team and marketing client. Students learn through client meetings and visits to the business locations more about the various businesses for which they are working to develop a professional marketing plan.
We think small business owners would benefit from this step, too. Take an hour and assess your business from a customer perspective. What are your strengths? What areas would you like to enhance?
Research
At a time when most businesses are cutting back expenses, this is the marketing step we see missed most often. Failing to spend the time (and sometimes investing the dollars) to do research often results in ineffective marketing.
At this point in the quarter, our business students are working with their clients to determine what kind of research is needed to build an effective marketing plan.
There are many different kinds of research that you can conduct about your current and potential markets, and much of it is free.
For example, researching the number of competitors in a particular city or zip code. Consider visiting those sites. Our cafeteria team is visiting other community colleges to find out how they deliver food services.
Your research allows you to better target your marketing, a much more cost-effective strategy than attempting to reach a very large audience with the hope that some people in those audiences are the customers that are seeking what your business offers.
Marketing plan evaluation
By the end of the quarter--10 short weeks -- students are prepared to deliver the final version of the marketing plan in front of their peers, instructor, mentor; and most importantly, their client.
But the work isn't done yet. The client businesses implementing those plans not only need to execute each step of the plan, but also to set benchmarks to evaluate if their marketing efforts are working.
Just like any area of your business, you want to know if the dollars you are investing are returning value. Set a specific time to review your marketing plan, such as every month, to consider the outcome of your efforts.
Your evaluation tools can include asking new customers how they learned about your business, tracking hits on your Web site or assessing the number of inquires you receive per week about your company.
Want to be a client?
EvCC and UW Bothell's Business Development Center partner to serve organizations in the Sno-King region, have fewer than 20 employees, have been in business at least two years, are searching for and ready to pursue revenue and/or profit growth opportunities.
The University of Washington, Bothell Business Development Center also offers one-on-one business counseling, workshops, seminars and events, access to a network of service providers and more.
For more information, contact R. Brooks Gekler, director of the Business Development Center, at rbgekler@u.washington.edu. Or contact Lynne Munoz at EvCC at lmunoz@everettcc.edu.
Learn more
If you're interested in learning more about strategies to market during challenging economic times, we suggest checking out Andrew Ballard's marketing class through EvCC's Continuing Education program.
The class, "Thriving in Tough Times: Proven Marketing Strategies for a Down Economy," includes an eight-step system to differentiate your business and generate more sales revenue. Participants will finish the class with a completed marketing plan.
The class meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, on Feb. 12, Feb. 19 and March 5, at Everett Community College's Continuing Education program Applied Technology Training Center, 2333 Seaway Blvd. in Everett. The fee is $189, which includes a workbook.
For more information or to register, call 425-267-0150 or e-mail attcreg@everettcc.edu.

Pat Sisneros is the Associate Vice President of Administrative Services at Everett Community College. Lynne Munoz is Director for the School of Business Design. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu
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