Maria Rini, a Realtor in Oradell, had always wondered how her business could improve its presence online to better connect with potential clients.
When Bergen Community College reached out to her about the Business Resource Network being launched by the county to provide free business advice and data, one offering immediately caught her eye: help with social media.
“We have been having trouble with this for a long time,” said Rini, a broker at RE/MAX Real Estate. “We’ve had false starts with different companies. Everyone has different theories about social media and what’s the right thing to do.”
Soon after, Rini started having weekly meetings with 20-year-old BCC student Adela Mancka, a business support specialist for this new program who began helping Rini create a “sensible game plan” for social media.
“The stress that she has lifted is amazing,” Rini said. “It’s amazing in such a short period of time that she’s been able to help us turn the aircraft carrier around.”
The idea behind the Bergen County Business Resource Network, which launched this month, evolved during the pandemic as the county brainstormed ways to help small businesses survive after it had provided funding to them through an outreach program, said Bergen County Executive James Tedesco.
“We wanted to be able to give them information that would help them make business decisions, help them look at what their competitors are doing and give them free business consulting, free data and free help, Tedesco said.
The benefits include a program called Size Up, which provides market research and business intelligence.
Size Up lets small business owners see how they compare to other businesses around them, assess how to invest their advertising dollars, and learn how to apply for grants and identify where local customers, suppliers and competitors are located.
The county partnered with BCC to train students as business support specialists, said Eric Friedman, BCC president. For the students, it is similar to a work-study program, and they are compensated for their time.
About 16 students are working as business support specialists and have helped their small businesses create new websites, track sales information, and balance the checkbook and financial aspect of the business, said Friedman.
“This is one of the best examples I’ve seen of students getting out of the classroom, working directly with businesses and experiencing success, as well as a wide range of challenges related to operating a business or a non-profit entity,” Friedman said. “They are learning beyond the textbook and pulling all of their learning and skills to solve problems and help move businesses forward.”
Mancka said she noticed that many of the businesses she worked with were not familiar with social media or needed help applying for grants. She said the relationship between the businesses and students provides for new learning and experiences for both sides.
“This whole program is giving me a real-life experience where we are learning about new tools we can use in the future,” said Mancka. “We’re creating connection and giving ourselves the opportunity to meet new people and setting ourselves for a future job.”
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Michael Tisellano, a 23-year-old BCC student, has helped businesses with everything from search engine optimization to marketing. He’s enjoyed being able to create testimonial videos for a career coach and help with graphic design for an upcoming seafood restaurant in Teaneck.
Not only are the students in the program able to provide local businesses with support, but they themselves are gaining insight into what it would be like to start up a small business.
“If I want to start a business in Bergen County, I’ll know all the little tips and tricks,” said Tisellano.
The diversity of the students involved with the program has helped with outreach to businesses, since students who speak Spanish or Korean can better explain to some owners how the program might help them, Tedesco said.
“It’s a win-win,” he said. “Students get a real-world experience and we have small business owners that get the help that they wouldn’t have had before.”
To learn more, visit bergenforbusiness.com/#gathergaingrow.
Stephanie Noda is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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