Business Development Clinic (BDC) – Leveraging Profit Growth in SMEs

Case Studies | Featured


Deakin University



Model/s of WIL activity:

Case studies, Industry/community based placement

Level activity is delivered:

Individual unit/course of study

Development Clinic (BDC) – Leveraging Profit Growth in SMEs

Students consult with small business owners and build SME-manageable strategic plans for profit growth.

Small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are recruited by the Partnerships coordinator and each entity is helped to prepare a case-study of their current business circumstances. Student groups are each assigned an SME business/case to analyse and owner/managers with whom to consult. The objective is to present their client with a strategic plan that will enable them to grow their profit in a sustainable and time-efficient method. In preparation for the consulting experience, students learn how to apply the ‘7 Levers of SME Profit’ framework. Each group undertakes a “Business Health Check”, before producing and presenting their SME-manageable strategic plan.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

Since 2018.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

The program applies an innovative new framework designed especially for use by SMEs to undertake strategic planning in a concise manner that minimises effort required by time-starved owner/managers. It is based in theory and provides students opportunities to apply theory in a real-world consulting experience. Students take a hands-on approach, working with businesses and mentored by faculty. Students learn good client management practice applying an innovative methodology with measurable outcomes.

Each client receives a well-documented seven-part strategic plan that, when followed, will enable them to systematically grow their business profit. Students present their plans to each client at the end of the program and answer any questions that arise.

Typically, university programs of this nature purchase case studies from sources such as Harvard Business Publishing. This program generates new small-business-focused case studies every semester. Each one comprises a unique set of business circumstances to challenge the students and a new client with which to work. The entire cohort of students is exposed to the details of the business challenges each group is working on and so are not constrained to one employer as they would be in a typical WIL placement.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Learn how to apply an innovative business framework to solve real business problems while gaining experience in client management practices. Student satisfaction scores, measured in Qualtrics Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, consistently exceed +83.13 NPS.

Small to Medium Enterprises
Receive practical strategic planning advice that could help increases their profits and work closely with potential future employees – some clients have been so impressed with the outcome of their participation in the clinic that that have employed their student consultants.

University Alumni
Many alumni have benefited as clients of the clinic receiving actionable commercial quality business advice without the commercial fees.

Deakin Business School
Finding businesses to participate in the program requires regular communication and connecting with SMEs which helps build the profile of the school and our capabilities with industry stakeholders.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Students are evaluated on several assessment items:

  • Written report
  • Presentation to client
  • Supervisor & Client evaluations
  • Skills reflection

The assessments and marking rubrics are structured to deliver the Unit Learning Outcomes (ULO):

  • ULO1 Interpret a client’s needs, develop strategies for addressing those needs and evaluate and justify solutions and contingencies.
  • ULO2 Plan, monitor, evaluate and reflect on professional learning and skill development.
  • ULO3 Communicate in professional settings with a diverse range of others for professional and academic purposes.
  • ULO4 Evaluate and evidence skills in working with others in professional settings, e.g., negotiation, interpersonal skills, working with a diversity of others, resolving conflicts.

The ultimate evaluation comes from the client and the extent to which they embrace the framework and implement the strategies recommended by o62% of clients when surveyed, report having implemented the ideas and/or recommendations provided by their student consultants.

This program isn’t just about giving students experience in the real world of business working with owner/managers, it also provides a very clear and definitive set of actions for the SME client, designed to help them grow their profit – client satisfaction scores give the program a very high rating of +87.5 NPS.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders? 

    By implementing the seven-part framework developed with them by our students, SME owner/managers work ON their business, not just in their business. Such strategic planning activity is typically difficult to do for time-starved small business operators. The framework provides a ‘simple’ model to follow. In fact a recent client grew so much they landed on the AFR Fast Starters List; and credit the clinic as the catalyst.
    The business school connects with a wide pool of industry stakeholders and builds an ever-growing collection of SME case studies.

    How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation, and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

    A unit credit is earned as the Business Development Clinic runs in the elective MWL316-716
    Students are assisted to draft an initial client brief/ case study.
    Background research, learning and application of the 7 Levers framework and delivery of a strategic profit-growth plan.
    Reflection/debriefing of the WIL experience
    A reflection requirement is built into the program’s assessment items.
    De-briefing is undertaken:

    • With the client providing feedback after the presentation of the strategic plan,
    • via supervisor mentoring during the program, and
    • Through verbal feedback given by three academics after the presentations and detailed in the written evaluation of the submissions.

    Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship. Include relevant references.

    The design was informed by WIL research.
    a) Positioned as a corporate development project, students’ influence/own the project scope and learning process due to the inherent uncertainty that prevails in entrepreneurship.
    b) Clients do not present a problem to solve but participate with the express understanding that it’s the student’s responsibility to set the project objectives and that they find and recommend the best strategies to grow profits.
    c) That the skills and knowledge associated with being entrepreneurial in a corporate setting can be developed by having the students working with cases, providing students with tools to analyse companies.

    What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

    To scale the program and broaden our scope by including SMEs and students globally. Having to run the program online during the recent Covid pandemic has confirmed that we can successfully run the program remotely, and that students and their clients can still gain maximum benefit, if need be, through tele-communicating.


    • Kay, J., Ferns, S., Russell, L., Smith, J. & Winchester-Seeto, T. (2019) The Emerging Future: Innovative Models of Work-Integrated Learning. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, v20 n4 p401-413 2019
    • Xia, J., Caulfield, C. & Ferns, S. (2015) Work-integrated learning: linking research and teaching for a win-win situation, Studies in Higher Education, 40:9, 1560-1572
    • Kuratko, D.F. & Morris, M.H. (2018) Corporate Entrepreneurship: A Critical Challenge for Educators and Researchers. Entrepreneurship Education and Pedagogy. 1(1):42-60

    Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

    Professor of Practice Pete Williams

    Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

    Dr Wade Halvorson