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Projects completed by Will McMullin & Kirsten MacLellan, article written by Kirsten MacLellan

The pervasive notion that there are no jobs in Atlantic Canada has been an ongoing conversation. The reality is that this notion could not be further from the truth, there are employers throughout the region having trouble filling their available positions.  What does exist, however, is a disconnect between graduating students and the job market. The veil of mystery about what employers are looking for in addition to the seemingly endless ‘entry level’ positions that require five years of experience is working against the growing possibilities in New Brunswick.

So how do we overcome these stereotypes and notions? By cultivating, supporting, hosting, engaging with experiential learning opportunities. It also cannot be only one link in the chain that is addressing this issue, we need the business, educational and public sector to work together to ensure the next generation are entering the workforce with useful and applicable skills that can take NB economy to the next level.

The New Brunswick Department of Post-Secondary Education took the lead to connect NB’s universities and the business community. Being at the centre of NB business communities, chambers of commerce were a natural fit to host interns. Across the province chambers have stepped up to host interns and facilitate this experiential learning experience.

In our university programs we learn how to write great essays, conduct research, write business plans and accounting for ‘perfect world’ scenarios. Experiential learning opportunities allow us as students to actually apply theoretical knowledge to real-life situations that do not happen in an ideal or ‘perfect world’ way. We have the knowledge but without the experience of applying it to real-life situations we enter the job market unprepared.

We do not let new drivers loose on NB roads after only passing written theoretical tests, we give them the opportunity to practice implementing rules of the road in a controlled and safe environment by having an experienced driver in the vehicle.

So why do we expect new graduates to be able to drive an F1 car upon graduation when they’ve only ever written about the theory of driving it?

This is where the Future Link program bridges the gap. Allowing students to implement their theoretical knowledge in a controlled and supportive environment like the chambers of commerce. This allows students to test drive their skills and learn the rules of the business road.                                                                                                  

If you and your business are interested in having Future Link interns work with your business, free of charge, you can sign up for the Fall session by completing the employer sign-up form linked below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeSaH_6sjAdZEh7_ekRQA8jLi2dFhmjR9FkMzYpyy0x6tRUrg/viewform

If you would like to learn more about how New Brunswick is leading the way in the development of experiential learning opportunities you can check out Magnet & En Point’s first Building Future Ready Communities: Virtual Tour seminar where Rachel Brown (Director of Post-Secondary Relations, Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, Government of New Brunswick), Stephane Sirois (Future Link Program Coordinator) and Kirsten MacLellan (Fredericton Chamber Future Link intern and St. Thomas University student) discuss the program.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeSaH_6sjAdZEh7_ekRQA8jLi2dFhmjR9FkMzYpyy0x6tRUrg/viewform

Franchise 

One of the initial projects of our internship involved jumping into the world of franchises. A local franchise owner who owns the regional franchisor rights to Atlantic Canada tasked us with developing a plan to attract, target, and position new franchisees in Atlantic Canada. The business of franchising has not come up in either of our studies thus far, therefore, this was an exciting opportunity to learn more about an industry that is responsible for 5% of Canada’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

The biggest obstacle we faced was how to effectively target our marketing efforts to potentially interested parties. In Atlantic Canada, the pool of potential franchisors is significantly smaller than if you were shopping a franchise in Ontario. Therefore, it was imperative to ascertain who exactly we were targeting before developing a marketing plan. The adage ‘time is money’ was at the forefront of our minds because the business owner we were working with would be marketing and implementing this action plan while running his own successful franchise here in Fredericton. As he told us in our initial meeting, he could have 100 conversations about the franchise but in reality, less than 10 would be seriously interested, and then maybe less than five would have the capital required to act on their interest. The 95 conversations that would go no further still expended the same amount of professional, mental, and emotional energy as the five conversations with real promise. Therefore, we set out to narrow the field so this business owner could ensure the conversations and effort put forth would have a higher ROI.

We identified three main characteristics a potential franchisor would need have to be a successful owner of this franchise. First, to be a franchisee one must have dual qualities; they must have the drive and independence to succeed as a business owner, but they also need the ability to align with the goals of a greater organization and community. Secondly, the financial element is also something to be considered, franchise brands want certain assurances that you have what it takes to not only open, but also be able to financially support a business until it can become profitable. Lastly, this type of franchise needs an owner who wants to be involved in the day-to-day running of the business. Finding an interested individual who possesses all those qualities can be a daunting task, especially in a smaller market like Atlantic Canada.

With those parameters in mind, we identified two target groups that embodied the characteristics outlined above. We contacted various organizations (private, nonprofit, and government) to start the networking process and outlined various strategies for this business owner to reach and connect with these groups. We also outlined a general plan that identified who and where this business owner should connect and/or advertise with to spread the word. An example of this is the Halifax Franchise Expo that will be held this coming January. Not only will this allow the business owner to interact with individuals who are already searching for a franchise to buy, but also allows him the opportunity to speak to them in person and judge whether their temperament would fit the franchise.

Lastly, we outlined low cost and passive ways for this business owner to spread the word and attract potential franchise owners. One of the low-cost methods was to host their own Zoom seminar about the franchise. This would allow them to have the potential to reach many people at once with the same amount of effort. A passive way to promote the franchise is by promoting his own successful franchise on his website through blog posts about the franchise industry, and its benefits. Developing engaging, informative, and shareable content on a platform that you control and own allows the information to be shared on various platforms.

Healthcare Business Expansion

The healthcare industry has been center stage since last year, and the glare of the spotlight only draws attention to its weak points. It is moments like this where the need for change is great that innovation thrives. This spring, one of our chamber members expanded their existing businesses into the homecare industry to not only meet the need, but to also do it better. She sought our aid in completing various tasks to help to set up the new branch of her business. This was a fantastic learning opportunity as we were able to see firsthand all the steps and angles one must address when starting a new venture. The takes we completed for this project included creating sales forecasts at varying levels of operation, recruitment strategies for specific healthcare professionals, ascertain which federal and provincial government programs and funding they were eligible for, seeking out grants for not only for a female-owned business but also for their homecare clients, job description outlines, converting documents to fillable pdfs, and market research about the homecare industry which included SWOT analysis and industry pricing data. 

The scope of this project provided a great applied learning opportunity for both of us to engage with the theoretical knowledge we have learned in school. An example of this was our search for available federal and provincial funding and programs. To determine what upcoming programs the business would be eligible for we combed through many government announcements, documents and read all 725 pages of the 2021 Federal Budget. We also had to determine what the status of the 2021 Federal Budget (Bill C-30) was in the House of Commons; was it on the first, second or third reading? Or was it stuck in committee? Once we determined what stage it was at then we needed to estimate how long it would take until it passed fully, and then research how long until the programs promised were implemented. This task provided us the opportunity to not just study and read about the Canadian political process but work with it in real time in a real-world context which is the foundation of all applied learning experiences.

This project also allowed us to build on the networking skills we used in our franchise project. We were afforded the opportunity to meet with a Workforce Consultant of Working NB (PETL) to learn how the NB government is supporting businesses and entrepreneurs. Back in 2019 when NB’s main wage subsidy program for businesses ended, the government sought to find alternative methods and avenues to support entrepreneurs and small businesses; The Human Resource Support Services is now one of those programs. Some of their services include, but are not limited to, one-on-one HR coaching, HR policy development, recruitment support, training support (can help fund up to $40,000 in training costs per fiscal year) and performance management strategies. Once a business is registered with PETL they are eligible for 5 hours (per year) of free access to all the services mentioned above. 

This project also opened our eyes to the challenges facing healthcare businesses in the recruitment of various specialties. A sobering statistic we came across while researching psychologist recruitment strategies is that between “2019-2028, the expected new job openings for psychologists (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) is 15,700, while only 13,700 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected” (Government of Canada). Not only does this pose a seemingly insurmountable recruitment challenge for small healthcare businesses but also poses a risk to the growing trend in mental health initiatives by private sector companies. Committing to mental health initiatives is a great intention; however, if there are not healthcare professions to aid in these initiatives then they will go no further than a well-intended memo or document.

Overall, this project had the widest scope of all our assignments, combining entrepreneurship, healthcare, politics, accounting, and human resources. Though the scope was overwhelming at times, it was a fantastic learning experience that will define our work going forward.

Social Media Marketing Plan for Local Fitness Company

Social Media is every business owner’s favorite aspect of their business… said not a single business we worked with this summer.

Throughout our internship being able to attend various virtual NB Chamber seminars and seminars provided great learning experiences. One of these webinars we were able to attend was the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton’s ‘Road to Recovery Series: how to tell you a story in a COVID recovery world’ (see link to online seminar below). One line from that online seminar that has stayed with us throughout this internship is that ‘after 2020 an online presence is no longer optional; it is an expectation’.

Love it or hate it, social media is the most cost-effective way to start building an online presence for your business and our project with a local fitness company was no different. This project was not just a simple one-brand social media marketing plan because they currently have three different brands under their umbrella. All three brands are at various stages of development, with some already operating for many years in the Fredericton community and others about to launch. We therefore had to tailor a social media strategy for each brand to not only account for what stage it was in but also to target the brand specific goals.

One of the brands operates exclusively in the Fredericton community, therefore, having a large following of individuals not based in Fredericton is not of value. This contrasts with one of the other brands that does pop up classes in cities across Canada. This brand needs to focus on building national brand awareness within their niche fitness industry. Ideally cultivating an online following in any given city before announcing classes there.

Social media can take up a significant amount of time and energy but there are tools available to make it more efficient. Employing software like Hootsuite, or other account aggregators is a great way to organize social media posts in one place. Also, remembering not to make it too difficult, unless you are a full time Instagram influencer you do not need to reinvent the wheel for every post. Social media is cyclical and depending on the industry and following you can recycle content on a 6 month or yearly basis. Lastly, ensuring your target audience is actively engaged on any given platform is one way to ensure an ROI for your time investment. For example, for one of the brands on this project Facebook and Instagram are great for their current clientele base and for their target demographic (25-55). One of their other brands is focusing on a different demographic; a large city based and younger (18-25) demographic therefore, having Tiktok & Instagram accounts is a better way to reach them.

This project challenged us to really understand the importance of a brand’s goals and target audience in regard to developing a social media strategy. Without a comprehensive understanding of those aspects, social media can quickly become a detractor to your business and not an asset. Social media is what you make of it and approaching it as a tool and planning accordingly will help a business avoid the unnecessary aspect that detract from the over goal.

Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton’s ‘Road to Recovery Series: how to tell you a story in a COVID recovery world’


Outside Take for Service Based Company

Employee upskilling, recruitment, online presence, increased efficiency, and future outlooks are main concerns for many businesses, but especially for service-based industries, post-2020. For one of our projects the business owner did not have a particular project or idea they wanted us to research and pursue, but they just wanted help tweaking their current methods of the areas mentioned above.

Post-2020, many frontline, service-based industries are reporting employment shortages, therefore holding on to great employees is a priority. This business owner wants to promote from within and build their employees up but is aware that an employee’s lack of education and experience in some areas may detract from their natural ability. Therefore, we researched various educational options that can be completed while in the workforce. Upskilling or reskilling employees has been a trend as of late and this trend will continue as technology continues to evolve at an ever-expedited rate. We found diverse options for this business owner at a variety of prices, including UNB College of Extended Learning and LinkedIn Learning. The offering through UNB’s CEL offers many flexible learning opportunities in various formats. When LinkedIn acquired Lynda.com in 2015, now known as LinkedIn Learning, we doubt anyone foresaw that it would become a competitor to traditional learning institutions. However, in 2021 it not only has 27 million users, but 78 Fortune 100 companies actively promote and use the platform to keep their employees up to date. It is also used by the Canadian federal government, NB government, universities, nonprofits and other private companies to upskill and reskill workers already in the workforce. The low entry barrier allows for faster and easier access to education than traditional education streams, in addition to being a significantly cheaper option.

For this project we also aided in assessing the viability and possibilities for their future plans. When looking at these it was important to determine whether they would provide a significant ROI to the business within a time frame unique to this business. This company has found it difficult to find intake software off the shelf that fits all the needs of their business. They currently rely on various programs that are compatible, however, they are aware that if one of the programs makes a change it could risk this compatibility. Initially we researched and priced out a custom website that would fit all their needs, unfortunately, the prices we were quoted would make the ROI initial investment many years down the line. We found an alternative off the shelf software that checked more boxes than their current system,

The non-monetary ROI for these decisions played a large factor in our recommendations. While a business owner might like the idea of a customer intake system, is it worth the investment? Do clients choose your service-based business because it is easy to get an appointment, or do they choose you because of the quality of your work? For this business we could not see how spending a significant amount of money on a customer system would sway a potential client’s opinions. It is also not something you could market on social media as a factor to set yourself apart from the competition, unlike a line-up of EV company cars. That is an investment that not only has a use to bring employees to client’s homes, but it also is a driving billboard, and can promote how the company is taking steps to lower their emissions. The Fredericton area that this business serves is well known for leading the way in environmental action in Atlantic Canada. Therefore, it is not a stretch to think a customer may be persuaded to employ the company advertising their environment ally friendly efforts when the competition is not. This is what we are determined to be a non-monetary ROI, the company vehicle itself is not generating money, it is most likely losing money, but it does promote your brand identity to the community you serve.

The current challenges in the job market have been there for years but have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Finding alternative ways to upskill your employees, investing in great talent and being strategic about how you invest in your company will be hallmarks of the business world for many years to come.


Local Media Company

Our last project was working with a media company based out of Fredericton. We were tasked with developing a plan to attract more local advertisers. Even though Fredericton is a small city the business community is vibrant and engaged. Local businesses know the value in advertising locally and there are a lot of options for them to do so. After researching and developing a plan we reached out to local businesses who advertise and market their business regularly on various local platforms to determine what it is that they look for. Their feedback provided us with confirmation that our plan was in line with the local industry norms and standards. Our action plan for this project was built around three phases: clarify & define the value proposition, grow social media presence & follower number, and start marketing directly to advertisers.

Phase one was focused on defining a simple and clear value proposition that can easily be communicated to potential advertisers. Why should someone do business with you instead of another company? It’s a simple question that often gets muddled by detailed and extraneous information. Taking the time to define your value proposition will not only provide direction for the company but can highlight areas that need work.

Phase two was focused on the importance that the value proposition was backed up with real numbers/data otherwise it is just words. In the past year terms like SEO analytics have entered mainstream business conversations and are now easily available online. Websites like SemRush,

Traffic Checker, and Similar Web can easily be accessed by potential advertisers as a way to verify traffic counts. In addition, growing a media company’s following on social media like Facebook & Instagram can be indicative of the potential exposure an ad will have on the company’s website. One of the marketing managers, who is in charge of a large locally focused advertising budget, said that if a media company’s follower count on socials was significantly lower than their own it would deter an ad buy/investment. While a large social media is not the endgame for this media company it is also where the people aka potential traffic is. Social media is many things but it remains as one of the most affordable traffic drivers, and message spreading platforms on the internet in 2021.

Lastly, phase three was the results of phase one and two where this media company would have a strong value proposition with data and numbers to back it up and would be ready to compete with other local advertising avenues. Having an established user base and reach to easily promote the advertising opportunities will also attract potential advertisers through word of mouth and general exposure.

Advertising in Fredericton can appear to be a small market from the outside but once you get involved there are many avenues one can take advantage of. Supporting local does not just mean shopping or dining locally; it also means investing in advertising opportunities with local media companies.

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