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Consider Collaborating with a University

I teach professional and technical writing (www.umaine.edu/ptw) at the University of Maine, where I have a problem that small business owners and entrepreneurs could help me solve. Actually, it’s a problem many professional writing programs across the country share: we have student writers who want projects to do but we can’t connect with small businesses fast enough.

Student writers want the chance to write technical documentation, to create brochures and advertisements, to build websites, to design and write your annual reports, to prepare a business plan or a grant application.

Small business owners are so busy that brochures typically get shrugged off or never finished. The website hasn’t been updated in awhile. You still don’t have time (or the money) to create a logo you love.

While most universities have offices to forge relationships between research units and industry, those in support roles—technical writers and marketing specialists—are rarely part of that collaborative effort.

If you could benefit from some help from students, guided by experienced faculty, consider contacting your local university to see if they have opportunities for collaborations.

Use the university’s website to find out who directs programs in technical writing, professional writing, marketing, and public relations. Call faculty and ask about collaborative opportunities. You might:

• Ask to have a brainstorming meeting to figure out how your business and students could work together.

• Ask to sponsor workshops for students to introduce them to your business and allow them to discuss with you your needs for marketing, reporting, and writing.

• Set up a shadow program that allows students to observe your company before the student writes about it.

Discuss with the faculty member the parameters of every project. Some students have more abilities than others. Identify these limiters:

• How skilled is the student?
• What kind of mentoring and supervision will be needed? This type of supervision isn’t clock-punching supervision, but supervision in the sense that you can’t ask a student who has never written a business plan to write one all alone. Who will mentor the student through the process? Who will provide company information to the student and answer questions?)
• What does the project entail?
• And always, negotiate deadlines.

Last, remember that faculty want these relationships and will be willing to help with mentoring and finding resources for the students. The biggest benefit to your business is, of course, new materials you didn’t have before, and if the student adds tremendously to your organization, you will have had the opportunity to try out a potential employee.

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