During the spring 2016 semester, students in Dr. Anna McNab’s MGT 308 E-Commerce Essentials class were challenged to start an online business or help an existing business create an online presence. The emphasis of the course is to understand the opportunities, challenges and initial steps required to establish an entrepreneurial, web-based business.
Twenty-two students took small steps each week and, in the end, shared their projects with the class. Dr. McNab was quite impressed with the students’ projects and especially with the transformative learning and the confidence-building that several students commented on.
“The projects were varied, creative, informative, heartbreaking and funny,” Dr. McNab said. “I cried and I laughed when I was reading through their projects, presentations and reflections on learning. Several of the students put their souls into their work and the results were beautiful. Students were able to express their passions and realize there were others out there who shared their views or were impacted by their work. I am grateful for being able to witness their transformation as a result of this course.”
The projects spanned everything from a craft beer startup, to a blog helping people with Type 1 Diabetes, to a blog featuring cruelty-free products and a storefront for beautiful handmade pieces. Throughout the course, students had an opportunity to learn to work with multiple different tools and website providers, allowing them to understand the entire process of designing a website from start to finish – and even the reality of how difficult it is to promote what you are doing in an effort to get a sale. Many chose to work with one of the website template providers such as Squarespace , WordPress, Blogger, or Wix, which allowed them to design beautiful websites with limited coding experience. Students also learned about Google Analytics, MailChimp, Canva, bit.ly and sampled other tools that allowed them to monitor the interaction their audience had with their websites. Many students were shocked with the reach of their work as the analytics would tell them that people were finding their websites from all over the world.
During the course, Dr. McNab asked the students to reflect on what success meant to them and how this class helped everyone get closer to their personal success.
“There were many excellent responses but one of them will stay with me forever,” Dr. McNab reflected. “This student changed me.”
Management major Jamie Whiting had an idea to create a site for an online counseling service for addiction.
“Throughout my life, I have had many people tell me that I will never amount to anything and that I will never find success in my life,” he said. “I have, admittedly, never been a straight-A student. As far as this class goes, it has allowed me to express myself and complete my best work without the fear of being judged or doubted.
“The topic of my project is one that I sometimes find hard to talk about, and could potentially be an uncomfortable subject in a public setting. But we have been encouraged since day one to put out our best work, and to be genuine with our ideas. Now that I have completed my project, I can say that I am so proud of myself for working with a topic that means so much to me personally. This class has taught me that my best work comes out when I am truly genuine and when I am working with something that means the most to me. I have learned that I can do anything that I want when I work hard and put maximum effort and care into it, and that my results reflect all of this. I will always remember the things I learned in this class because it is the first course I have taken in my life that has allowed me to be myself and take things at my own pace. After a long and stressful semester on many different fronts, I can honestly say that I am proud of what I have accomplished in this course and I will definitely seek out more opportunities to expand my ideas into a real company in the not-so-distant future.”
Courtney Hillman is another student who took the course and she offered some additional insights about her journey through this project and class. She worked on a website for an established business (her family’s business) and will be able to continue working on her website, www.hillmanautocollision.com.
Courtney, what was the motivation to work on your specific project? What drew you to that particular idea?
For this course, I chose to create a website for my family’s collision shop, Hillman Automotive Collision. I was really unsure in the beginning and so I took the idea and ran with it. My family’s automotive business had an existing website, but my motivation was to make one that just focused on the collision aspect of the business, which I thought was really important and beneficial. I really wanted to create something worthwhile and something that I could continue beyond this course, using the tools and information learned in this class to do so!
What did you find to be the most difficult/enjoyable/rewarding/meaningful in this course?
Overall, the process of creating my own website was very enjoyable, at times quite challenging, but extremely rewarding. The initial process of choosing a site to host my website, (I chose SqauareSpace.com) and then filling in all of my content and really creating my webpage was the biggest challenge. Once everything was all set up, it was just a matter of designing everything to my liking and then I began to test the market through the use of my friends, family, and classmates as they viewed my website and provided feedback. Now, it is just a matter of keeping up to date with photos and other content and continue tracking the traffic and success through Google Analytics!
What are your future plans with this website?
I plan to continue operating and updating my website into the future! I have seen some great results so far and am eager to see what I am able to accomplish with my website in the coming months.
If you were to give some advice to a student taking this course in the future, what would you tell them?
This class is a must take! I was so skeptical at first and really did not know what to expect. I never thought I would be able to create my own fully functioning website! This experience was incredibly rewarding and I will be able to take the things that I learned about creating the actual webpage, adding and updating content, reaching an audience, and tracking the traffic through use of Google Analytics to my benefit far beyond my college years and maybe even into my future careers. To my classmates that may consider taking this course in the upcoming semesters, definitely take E-Commerce and do not think twice about it, you will not regret it!
Dr. McNab asked a lot of her students but she did not ask of them anything she was not willing to do herself. During the semester, she embarked on a similar project and helped Michael Beam, curator of collection and exhibitions at the Castellani Art Museum, and his business partner, Duke Adams, with the website design for their business Vagabond Bowties LLC.