Identifying and contacting business owners in your area

Project Assignment – Identifying a client:
You must begin at once to identify a good client to work with for the semester. It may take several tries, so do this right away. You will do this by contacting business owners in your area.
We have found over the past ten years that most business owners are pleased to participate in this type of project if they understand clearly what is expected of them and what they will get in return. It is your first job to find likely participants and to contact the business owner to request their participation.
Criteria For Choosing Participating Companies
1. We are looking for willing organizations that have at least two years of operating experience, and a good likelihood of continuing through the end of the semester. This requirement is important because start-ups do not have actual financial records for you to analyze. Over the years we have had firms cease operations during the course of the semester and this leaves you in a difficult spot.
2. Secondly, the best clients have at least a couple of employees. By best here we mean a client that will provide you with the best learning experience. In the State of Washington the average firm has 4-6 employees and this pattern is typical across the US and in many foreign countries as well.
3. Finally, you cannot choose a firm that you work for or is owned by you or a family member. As consultants we offer an objective analysis of our client. We are usually too close to our own firm to be able to exercise this objectivity.

4. Please do not choose a non-profit company as a client as they have different management and profit goals. Please do not choose a franchise business as a client as they lack the ability to make strategic decisions without permission of their franchisor.
What the small business owner must agree to be considered a good client.
1. The owner of the business must agree to meet with you at least 3 times during the semester to allow you to gather information and deliver a final report.
2. The owner must allow you to conduct a management audit, which will involve asking detailed questions about the operation of the firm.
3. The owner must allow you to have access to company financial information. While this may be a sticking point with the owner, assure them that you will sign a confidentiality agreement that nobody but you will see this information. You need the financial information to calculate financial ratios, which will be compared to industry standards to help determine the financial health of the business. If the owner will not agree to give an income statement and balance sheet, ask if they would be willing to just provide the financial ratios that are asked for in Lessons folder of Lesson Modules, Week 8.3, item 5.

How does the small business owner benefit from your project?
1. As a student, you will be acting as a consultant to the small business owner. Your job is to identify company strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You will then help the owner take advantage of the strengths and opportunities and make suggestions for improving the weaknesses threats. In past classes, the business owner has implemented many of the student suggestions.
2. The owner will receive a written report documenting the student’s work. This will serve as a guideline for making company improvements.
Initial Contact:
In the process of determining your preferences for industry you have considered the availability of firms in your local area. Now that the industry is chosen, you should make a list of several likely firms. This list may come from your own trade experience, personal relationships, or recommendations from others. Or you may simply go to the yellow pages of your phone book.
We recommend that you make your first contact by telephone. Call the business and ask to speak to the owner. It is important that the owner or CEO of the firm agree to participate in your project. If you have only a manager, or other employee, that is interested, it is highly unlikely that you will have access to complete information on the firm. We have had experiences where a faction in a firm has engaged our student team hoping to get results to use against another faction in the business. Avoid this by talking to the top person in the firm.
In the phone call, introduce yourself by name as a Washington State University student conducting a class project as part of a required class for your bachelor’s degree, and describe the project.
Key points to make are these:
You are looking for a firm to participate in a consulting project. You are not looking for a job or an internship.
You will be conducting a strategic analysis of the business and making recommendations in consultation with the client. A strategic analysis involves identifying external opportunities and threats to the firm and internal strengths and weaknesses. The result of the analysis and recommendations will take the form of a written strategic plan presented at the end of the semester, in about 15 weeks.
All information about the project will be treated with complete confidentiality and the plan will be developed at no cost to the client.
We ask only that the client agree to meet with you three or four times over the course of the semester and provide you with the information you need to complete your analysis. This includes financial information.
If the owner says this sounds like something they might benefit from, thank the owner with some words of encouragement and ask the owner to tell you a little bit about the business and its challenges and successes. This is only for purpose of letting the owner know you are interested and to see if the owner qualifies by having been in business for two or more years and by having an employee or two.
If you are not sure if this is the firm you want to work with, tell the owner that you would like to place them on the list of firms under consideration for the project, and give a date when you will get back to them with a final determination. Be sure to thank the owner for his or her time.
If the owner does not qualify, let the owner know that you appreciate their time and interest, but that we are looking for firms with a different profile. Be sure to thank the owner for his or her time.
In searching for a client, you should remain flexible. Do not set in your mind what business you want to work with, because you may lose time waiting for a specific business owner, or trying to find the same type of businesses before you find one that will agree to work with you.
Because this process may take time, you must begin immediately. Do not under any circumstances postpone identifying a client.
Confidentiality Agreement:
A requirement of the course is that you read, agree to and sign a confidentiality statement. By signing this form you acknowledge that you will receive no financial benefit from participating in this project. This is good business practice and also a requirement of state law since you are a representative of Washington State University in this project. When you meet with your client you should leave a copy of the signed confidentiality agreement for their records.

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