March 26, 2021

Cultivating Relationships with Small Businesses

Cultivating Relationships with Small Businesses

Maryland’s agricultural businesses are great at what they do – catching seafood, cultivating crops and raising livestock. But on the business side, growing is a trickier thing, and Maryland Smith students know just how to help with that.

This semester, undergraduate students in BMGT 484’s Electronic Marketing are helping small businesses and nonprofits across the state enhance their digital marketing offering.

The collaboration between students and Maryland businesses benefits everyone involved, says professor Mary Harms. Businesses receive the assistance they need to elevate their online presence, while students learn how to interact with real businesses and put theory into practice, even during a time when they can’t be physically in the classroom, she says.

“The great thing about the internet is that you erase geographical boundaries. And on top of that, one of the positives about the pandemic is that not only faculty, but students have learned how to conduct business online,” says Harms, associate clinical professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “I feel that having this experience with clients who are not always that comfortable with digital, especially social media, will really help the students."

As part of the curriculum, students across the course’s three sections are divided up into teams of four or five. Over the duration of the semester, teams do primary research and produce a 30-page paper, which includes a competitive analysis, goals for the company's enhanced digital presence, sample blog posts, emails, social media posts and a new or revised website. At the end of the semester, the teams present their findings to the businesses in a 15- to 20-minute pitch.

In previous years, Harms says, students typically have chosen family businesses or College Park businesses as their clients. This year, finding clients proved to be somewhat trickier with students scattered across the country and small businesses facing new challenges because of the pandemic, she says.

To be in a position to help small business owners is a privilege, Harms says. As a small business owner back in Iowa, Harms experienced the Midwestern flooding crisis and understands what it means to apply for loans and come back from adversity.

“After experiencing the Midwestern floods which had wiped out my own businesses, I understand what it's like to go through a crisis. I find it really gratifying to be able to help these small businesses,” says Harms.

Harms has taught three digital marketing webinars in the past year for Maryland Smith’s Maryland Business: Rebooted program, which helped jumpstart the search for willing participants. With the help of Talbot County Extension director Shannon Dill, who offered suggestions and contacted businesses, Harms says four new businesses signed on – Grateful Pizza Baltimore, Serenity Grove Farm, Kaizen Parks Care Farm and Frederick Fresh Online.

The students have embraced the experience, working hard to satisfy their clients' needs, Harms says. In coming semesters, there will be more students to bring into the project, she says, and more businesses to assist.

“We certainly have a long list of businesses that we’ll be reaching out to, including women-led businesses,” says Harms. “It’s why we feel so strongly about this project, because it’s about uplifting others and helping people grow their businesses.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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