Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

Students conduct groundbreaking survey of local small businesses

Students conduct groundbreaking survey of local small businesses

By Emilio Bermeo | Student reporter 

When the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce wanted to conduct market research for its members last fall, it turned to a unique source: graduate marketing students at the Quinlan School of Business.

It was a way for the Chamber to learn more about the issues that small businesses face—and at the same time, a way for students to gain valuable hands-on experience. It was also groundbreaking work.

“This is the first small business economic outlook survey in this area,” said Professor Joan Phillips, who chairs the marketing department at Quinlan and also supervised the Chamber project.

Twenty-eight graduate marketing students worked with a handful of graduate statistics students to develop, distribute, and process responses to an Internet survey sent to more than 30,000 small business managers. The goal of the survey was to identify how to help small businesses improve their bottom lines.

The project started when a delegate from the Chamber visited Phillips’s Research Methods in Marketing class (MARK 461) to explain the organization’s needs and goals. Students translated that information into researchable questions and then designed a study, which included creating a questionnaire, finding participants, and soliciting responses.

Working together

After the surveys were returned, the marketing students teamed up with their peers in the M.S. in Applied Statistics program from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who helped them wade through the data.

“It allowed the marketing students, who have strong analytical skills, to ask and answer even more rigorous questions,” Phillips said.

Quinlan student Nicole Lobo said she and her classmates enjoyed working with students from another Loyola department.

“Having the statistics students was very helpful to understand the statistical analysis software we were using,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to complete it without them. And it was a great opportunity to work with other departments, just like it is outside of the University.” 

The survey results were released at a Chamber event held at Loyola in February. At the unveiling, Katie Hamilton, Director of Small Business for the Chamber, stressed how important small businesses are to the Chicagoland economy.

“They comprise 99 percent of the businesses, and they employ half of the workforce here,” Hamilton said. “So their success has an enormous impact on Chicago’s success.”

Key findings from the survey

From their work, the Loyola students produced pages of valuable information. Among the highlights of their 2015 Chicagoland Small Business Outlook Survey: 

Small businesses are most concerned about revenues, the economy and taxes:

  • 87 percent are concerned with revenue/sales growth       
  • 84 percent are concerned about uncertainty of economic conditions   
  • 81 percent are concerned with taxes

Small businesses most need additional assistance in marketing and technology:

  • 53 percent would benefit from additional help/training in conducting marketing research and developing marketing plans
  • 45 percent would benefit from additional help/training in using technology

And it’s information that the Chamber plans to use going forward.

“We learned a lot from the survey, and we’re trying to use that information to become a better organization and better serve small businesses,” Hamilton said.

The research findings also validate the goal of better understanding the small business community: to know their concerns, needs, and ambitions.

“More than 95 percent of startup businesses fail,” Phillips, the marketing professor, said. “So this project enables the Chamber to protect them and assist them to make better business decisions.”

A win-win for all

The project, everyone agreed, was a great collaboration that helped all sides.

“The Chamber was very impressed by the quality of the work that was done,” Phillips said. “We learn about concepts and theories in the classroom, but where the real learning takes place is in practice and applying it.”

Lobo, the marketing student, agreed.

“This is an authentic need that a real organization faced,” she said. “It was a real market research atmosphere. I definitely learned a lot.”

As for the Chamber, Hamilton hopes the organization will continue to work with Quinlan students.

“It was a wonderful experience, and we couldn’t have afforded to do this without Loyola,” she said. “On the other side, the students had a real-world experience, because they really did treat the Chamber like a client, so it was a win-win for both organizations.

“This is our first partnership of this kind and on this scale. We are thrilled with the results and we hope to continue this on an annual basis.”

>> See a copy of the survey on the Chamber’s website.