A Pullman High School class this year will offer its services to help local entrepreneurs market their small businesses online.

The Washington Small Business Development Center is spearheading the project called the "Small Business Digital Marketing Assessment Initiative." Aziz Makhani, a business adviser with SBDC, said it is the first initiative of its kind in the nation.

He was inspired to help create the initiative after beings invited to a bookstore in Ritzville, Wash., to give a presentation about reviving rural businesses. That day, he went online to see how much information he could find on Google about the local businesses in the Ritzville area.

He found the information was often inaccurate, missing or no longer current.

"Small businesses are being short-changed by not doing these things right," Makhani said.

In addition to not marketing their product on social media adequately, some businesses also do not take the first step of getting listed on a search engine like Google or Bing with the correct information about addresses, hours of operation, contact information and any other details relevant to customers.

Makhani said he thought these tasks could be handled by local students.

Those students will be in Melissa Mayer's class. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship and said the initiative appealed to her because the school is always looking for real world applications of the skills they are teaching - skills like social media marketing and engagement with small businesses in the community.

"Social media marketing is one of the fastest growing and high-need areas of marketing," she said.

To aid the class, she said Makhani gave her a checklist a business can follow to ensure its website and social media page is user-friendly. The checklist includes questions like, "Do you know what the company does at first glance?" "Is Google Analytics installed" and "Does Google Maps point close to the location?" It also has a checklist for mobile versions of websites such as, "Are the buttons big enough to tap?" "Is the text legible?" and "Is the content wider than the screen?"

She said the initiative, which will likely be a yearlong project, will not only teach students valuable skills, but will pay off in other ways as well.

"I believe this will give them a leg up even when they apply at small businesses around the community," Mayer said.

Francis Benjamin, who co-leads the Palouse Knowledge Corridor and the Be The Entrepreneur Bootcamp every summer, is not involved in the initiative, but is a supporter.

He, too, sees the same problems Mahkani identified when consulting local businesses, and he said these makes businesses less likely to attract certain demographics of shoppers.

Benjamin said places historically have a process by which they recruit customers. These days, millenials go online first to decide where to shop, meaning businesses must adjust accordingly.

"This (initiative) taps into those potential customers," he said.

He said this project not only teaches students technology skills, but will help them understand how business works.

"It will really bring up the next generation of people that will be our leaders and business leaders within our community," he said.

Some of those future business leaders have already started their journey. Mayer said several of their students already own their own business, sell products at the farmers market and have participated in a business plan competition at Washington State University.


Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to business@dnews.com.

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