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Student Consultant Group...good idea?

 
#1 Student Consultant Group...good idea?
04/02/2011 21:00

James Cooper

As a final year student in Bristol I'm making a student consultant group to gain additional working experience before heading into a profession after graduation.

Feel free to tear this idea apart, or applaud it for the effort. The idea is to charge very low fees (£40-£50 for a 2 hour session) which would get a client face time with perhaps 2-3 students, plus an additional 1 hour of background work, such as market research. I may even cut the fees out altogether in order to get things going.

We are performing a consulting project in uni at the moment, and I worked for a year at a Defence Contractor, so us students aren't totally out of experience. My hope is that a few fledgling SMEs or non-profits will take the idea up.

Any advice on going forward, or should I just forget about it?! So far have a website and placed ads on gumtree plus a couple other sites.

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#2 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
05/02/2011 07:48

anon to James Cooper (#1)

Tricky to see the value proposition - at £20-25/hr SMEs can buy the time of managers with 10-20 years hands-on experience. Even offered for free, the opportunity cost of their time typically outweighs the perceived value of students' expertise.

You'd be best to pitch it as a CSR venture for local companies to give students work experience, with the additional benefit of raising their profile to recruit graduates. The more ambitious companies, looking for growth, may go for this as they struggle to compete with the obvious "Times Top 100 Graduate Employers" for students' attention.

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#3 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
05/02/2011 16:25

James to anon (#2)

Great feedback, thanks for the advice.

The university has found that local charity groups are more than willing to host student teams as IT/IS consultants, however much of this work is purely web development as these small organisations do not have the funds to hire web designers/developers...definitely not what we are looking for as it can only loosely be considered "consulting".

Focusing the pitch on CSR projects is a great idea, I'll revolve the marketing strategy around that next week and try contacting a few of the larger companies around Bristol who aren't top of The Times.

To tackle valuation of company time I have added a few targeted open ended questions to the Case Submission Form, giving us an idea of how the Case objectives relate to the Client's company objectives. Based on this we should be able to provide a framework of how we will be approaching the problem and, finger's crossed, save the client some face-time with us. Additionally I try to pitch the fact that clients are receiving services from the entire group, each from varying degrees, for each case, and that we have our university staff for extra guidance / advice.

In the end we obviously do not have the individual experience that proper consultants have, therefore the pitch focuses instead on our network, low costs, case didication, and now will include CSR / graduate hires

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, I'm just looking for people to find flaws in our approach!

James

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#4 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
07/02/2011 13:10

Bob to James (#3)

I definately applaud the idea, and taking the initiative to start building experience this early on.

You may already have addressed this on your marketing materials, but something that remains very vague in your description above is what your 'proposition' is. You refer to providing 'consulting' services and specifically exclude IT, but it's not clear what else you have to offer. So, will you offer:

- product pricing (e.g. what is right price for x)

- operating model (e.g. how to structure and organise the client organisation, with headcount volumes, etc.)

- marketing strategy

- market entry

- market survey (e.g. competitor analysis, customer survey)

- cost reduction

- 'people stuff' (e.g. employee recruitment and retention, training development, employee satisfaction and motivation)

- customer satisfaction improvement

- process re-engineering

- Supplier selection

- etc. etc.

From an 'operational' perspective you should have think about following:

- Contractuals: if you're getting payment for services the client may want to have a contract in place. This entail legal terms and conditions, and without a legal team to review your side of the contract you need to be careful not to end up liable for a bad outcome. Any lawyers on the forum who can advise on how to skirt around this?

- Invoicing: if you are charging for your services you will need to invoice your customer, which will mean their accounts department having to deal with the payment and you having to chase for payment after the due date. Worth the hassle?

On the plus side, having to work through these challenges all build experience and what doesn't kill....

Even if you try this, fail miserably, and learn from it, you'll have a great addition to your CV and interview discussions.

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#5 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
07/02/2011 13:10

Mars A Day to James (#3)

James this all sounds too influenced by the traditional hubris of undergraduates.

'...clients are receiving services from the entire group, each from varying degrees, for each case, and that we have our university staff for extra guidance / advice'

Sorry but I can't even begin to imagine what a group of well meaning undergrads with no commercial experience can bring which is evem worth the time, let alone an hourly fee. As for assuring them you have the guidance of your tutors, well why not just hire the tutors at £25 p/hr, which is not only cheaper but will cut out the unskilled middle men.

No one will care what you are taking your degrees in frankly.

The CSR approach is the right one. why dress it up? As for whether this would or would not be relevant to consultancy, well starting your consultancy group at an entrepreneurial level will be valuable for your CV, but trying to advise people with significant experience on the back of none of your own will just look arrogant.

Start the society as a CSR initiative. Then you can explain in interviews that you did this as a proactive approach to be able to spend time with business leaders, with the value adds of organisational skills, and of course helping your fellow students. I would be pleased to hear about that in an interview. Start telling me that you expected to advise business managers while still an undergrad and I'll have you chalked up as arrogant and likely will be hard to manage.

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#6 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
07/02/2011 14:10

anon to James Cooper (#1)

Hi James,

forget Mars a Day.

You have a great idea. Such consulting propositions are widely used in top French Business Schools. They call it "junior entreprises" (see for instance http://www.hec-junior-conseil.fr/en/). I don't see why it couldn't work in the UK.

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#7 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
07/02/2011 14:57

Bill to anon (#6)

Lots of business schools have consulting clubs that offer pro-bono services to local companies. However, I think there is quite a difference in what an undergrad can offer to a company and someone studying for an MBA at Harvard who will have several years work experience under their belt.

I agree with Mars a day in starting the group as a CSR initiative. I think companies will be more willing to get involved and it will still look good on the CV. Also means you don't have to worry about the contractual stuff Bob mentioned.

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#8 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
07/02/2011 15:11

Fury to Bill (#7)

De Kleine Consultant (The Little Consultant) does exactly this in the Netherlands. Maybe you can contact them to find out how they got things up and running. They pulled it off with backup from the well-known Strategy Consultant who also consider participating students to be recruitment targets. Contact info at:

http://www.dekleineconsultant.nl/contact

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#9 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
08/02/2011 00:13

James to Fury (#8)

Great points everyone. Based on what you've said I am going to get rid of the fees altogether, apart from travel expenses.

The other key point made is finding a focus, a topic that I am in several different minds with. On the one hand I know that successful businesses clearly define the products or services they offer, but on the other hand I want the students to get as much variety in their work experiences as possible.

The Little Consultants mentioned by Fury seem to be well structured, with Industry support from Kearney and a few others for training and case monitoring, which helps them justify their service, charging fees, etc. They've broadly identified their services as Strategy Consulting without really digging into specific competencies apart from a few past success stories, which I suppose hits all the marks for what we're looking for albeit different people will be after different challenges, hence my hesitance.

Following on from anon and Mars' comments, anyone have advice about example CSR projects a company would be willing to work on with students? Assuming our degree subjects aren't relevant to the CSR project then I am not sure at the moment what message to send out, ex. Sounds like I need to focus entirely on how "working on a CSR with students will look good for your company because of X,Y,Z, provide the students with invaluable experience for their future careers, mention the associated potential spread of their grad scheme (in reference to the Times 100 comment)"...as opposed to "We are good at X,Y,Z and can help you in a CSR project to accomplish A,B,C"

Back to our actual ability proposition. With our lack of experience it is very hard to pinpoint because I know most students won't truly understand what they're good at, or what they're bad at...if taking degrees into account I would say "Developing a sustainable link between IS/IT strategies and overall Business objectives / strategy". That, in woolly wording, covers IS/IT along with Strategy without making it sound like we have zero service focus, at least from my student point of view. Perhaps you see through it as sounding like BS!?

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#10 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
08/02/2011 09:25

Dave to James (#9)

Frankly, I think you should focus less on selling advice and recommendations, and more on selling old hard research.

Nobody really wants to take recommendations and advice from students with no experience, if they're honest about it. It looks bad, and the advice probably IS bad.

BUT... they will happily farm out tidy little research projects that the students will beaver away at and produce a nice thick analysis document filled with useful facts and statistics they have collected. People love relevant data. And students are good at doing research. Plus people generally don't want to do it themselves - all the more reason to outsource it. Plus the students can do it in their own time! THAT sounds like a winner to me. They would probably even pay a half decent rate for it, too. After all, look how much they pay for Ovum/Datamonitor reports and the like.

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#11 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
08/02/2011 14:46

Mini Dave to Dave (#10)

Agree with Dave.

Side note, if you're worried about not having the ability to get sources and resources together for compelling external and empirical research, then note the fact that many large companies don't even nearly fully exploit all the data and sources they already have at their internal disposal.

=> You could propose a service that exploits existing data for those companies who feel like they could do more with all the info they have. i.e. turning info into insight kind of thing; building models/analytical frameworks that can be updated easily, quickly and periodically for the company to use going fwd, etc.

Have a concrete "extra resource" proposition that addresses a real need. Don't offer "strategy consulting". You're in no position to do so, and it puts you in the company of ppl you don't wana be competing with.

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#12 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
09/02/2011 17:44

Mars A Day to James Cooper (#1)

In all honesty James my biggest reservation about this whole idea is that not only will you struggle to make it work but also that in trying to get it off the ground you will neglect the most important thing - your studies. As a final year student you probably don't have the time for this - it would have made a good 2nd year project. If you don't come out with a good 2.1 at least all the 'student consulting' you could dream of won't land you a job in MC. You should be focusing on applying for grad schemes both in MC and industry and studying hard to get the best possible grade.

I applaud your gumption, always great to see, and I do like the idea alot. But don't screw up the main gig for the support act.

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#13 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
09/02/2011 18:48

Dave to Mars A Day (#12)

The other thing you could do, James, if you're after some CV points is to make up some new society and call yourself the president of it.

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#14 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
10/02/2011 22:41

We do it but... to Dave (#13)

Currently doing it as part of MBA (but have 6 years industry experience)....my b-shool sell it as 'consulting' but as far as getting a financial return I.e. salary, it's not a money making machine....the experience though is priceless....I'd definitely see it as a CV building scheme over a money making one!

Good on you! Wish I'd had the 'get up and go' when I was at uni.....ah, the days!

Good luck, keep us posted.

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#15 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
20/01/2013 09:30

daniel jameson to James Cooper (#1)

Hi James,

Out of interest how has the development of your idea gone? did you go down the CSR route and manage to get any clients?

Kind regards,

Daniel

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#16 RE: Student Consultant Group...good idea?
19/02/2013 12:50

Poseidon to daniel jameson (#15)

Hi James,

I strongly encourage you to proceed with this idea. This kind of student-led consultancies are very common among the top Nordic universities (SSE, Chalmers, Lund Uni, KTH, Gothenburg Uni). However, it is important that you decide what the main objective is - to make a profit or to gain experience? I would recommend you to go with the second part and only charge your clients for your expenses such as rent, travel costs and similar. Some of these organisations have managed to developed really strong alumni networks, which today often is highlighted as a main benefit of joining these groups.

Poseidon

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