College is often referred to as the best time of your life, but it should also be considered the busiest. Early morning classes, ultimate frisbee on the lawn, "Greek life", improv, and late night cram sessions—that’s just a regular Tuesday. But now you’ve decided to add one more thing to your plate—you want to start your own small business.
Starting your own business can seem scary. Starting your own business in college can seem even scarier. You may find yourself asking questions such as what’s my target customer base? How should I advertise my service? Or which is better for marketers to learn WordPress or Drupal?
Whether you want to teach pilates, take your pet sitting to the next level, or produce a podcast, here are a few tips on how to start your small business while in college.
The Big Idea
Every business starts with an idea, a product, a service. But some of the best businesses are the ones where an idea for a startup isn’t sought out, but happened upon.
Searching out startup ideas likely means that someone else has already had the idea, the idea may not reach your target audience or the audience viable to you (hello, hallmates!) or it may not be what you’re looking for as a novice business owner.
The best business startups arise because of a problem or need that has been recognized, or because of a skill the founder already possesses. For example, many multimillion dollar startups began from doom rooms around the country, after students created a small service to scratch their own itch. The pattern often goes, their roommate, friends, and classmates also have the same needs or problems. It starts, simply by recognizing a problem and coming up with a solution.
Define your idea by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is your product or service?
- Who is it helping?
- Why or how is it helping them?
- Did you get the idea because people are already in need of this item or service?
Ask around, too. What do others think of your idea? Is your business something they would be interested in?
By determining your business objective and thinking about who your business is going to serve, you have already started your business plan. Having a plan is crucial to any entrepreneurial endeavour because it keeps you organized and on-track.
The Boss Knows Best—Set goals
Ask yourself why you want to start a business and what your priorities are. Will you be able to focus and still complete your school work? Will you have enough time and energy to put into the business? What do you want to get out of this?
Figure out how much effort you can afford to give, what you want to achieve, and the timeline for achieving it. Start small and slow, sell first, and worry about tweaking later—give yourself time to grow with your business. You don’t have to be uber successful right away—remember, no one becomes an expert overnight.
Financial fuel is necessary for any new company, but don’t worry if you’re short on cash. There are a few ways you can find financial funding.
Start by looking for scholarships, fellowships, and grants that are aimed at offering students assistance. There are hundreds of thousands of types of financial aid out there aimed at creating opportunities for students.
Some are intended for young entrepreneurs specifically and want to hear what your business is all about. Filling out a questionnaire or writing a short essay could go a long way. Ask someone to invest in your business. Finding someone to sponsor your business doesn’t have to be as fancy as it sounds. Pitching your business plan to your family, friends, or other avid business junkies may result in a few shares to get you going. Don’t be overzealous—a few five dollar buy-ins can go a long way in a dorm room-sized enterprise.
Spend a little money to make a little money. We hate to hear it but it’s true—setting aside some money to get yourself started is sometimes what it takes. Spending your own savings really means you are betting on yourself—and it’s up to you to make investing in yourself worth it. Your startup costs don’t have to break the bank.
Finally, offer promotional deals. Advertise first-time customers the chance to pay only a percentage of your intended price the first time they try out your product or services.
Not paying full price may entice people to give your business a chance and might end up attracting even more potential customers than you would have promoting at top-dollar. Better yet, you could get customers who return satisfied and willing to pay full price.
Create a Customer Base—Connect with your classmates
In college you are constantly surrounded by other students with varying backgrounds, opinions, and interests. Collaborating with the student body is a great way to receive feedback and generate more ideas. Not only can your doormates, study buddies, friends, or teammates help shape your business venture, but they can be your demo audience and hopefully your first customers.
Communicating with your classmates doesn’t necessarily have to take place on campus, either. With remote and online learning more popular than ever, linking up online offers virtual connection and an easy way to reach even more people with just one link, tag, or post.
Set Up Shop
Once you’ve figured out who you want to reach you have to figure out how you are going to reach them—or how they are going to reach you.
Does your business offer delivery services? Is it based online? Are your customers going to be able and willing to seek you out? Is your store front the back of your bike or the center of the quad?
Whether you’re mobile and working out of a backpack or you’ve dedicated the minifridge to the cause, decide where and when you are available to your customers and let them know how to find you.
Build a Website or Social Media Business Account
Regardless of your office hours, making a website or business social media account offers a way for people to contact you, find out more about your products or services, and to take a look at pricing.
Having a profile also makes you look credible and professional—people will think you’re legit.
Don’t overthink your media management. If you don’t have a lot of time between classes and cramming for that next exam, chances are you customers don’t either. It’s okay to start out keeping things short and sweet.
Use your (school) resources and print flyers to advertise in dorms, the library, or cafeteria. Large, confusing college buildings are nothing if not a canvas to be filled with your pamphlets. As lost students wander the halls, their eyes can wander over your ad. Another popular billboard is the back of a bathroom stall. Hey, what else are we going to do during toilet time? If you’re not sure what rules your college has on sharing information, be sure to ask. Getting written up might be bad for business.
You can also use your social media outlets or online forums for marketing purposes and advertise your business with ease. Find free advertising with each like, retweet, or share. Not sure how to go about designing a logo, business cards, or merch? Fiverr is a freelance company of artists who can help you with branding your business and offers assistance with branding style guides, social media design, packaging, ads, and more.
Startup Without Dropping Out—Stay in business and in school
Some of the bigwigs -Gates, Zuckerberg, Spiegel—traded the classroom for their company—but you don’t have to. Many other successful entrepreneurs such as Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, founders of Redditt, or Chris Cherian, the CEO of Gatherly, stayed in business and in school.
Studies don’t have to get in the way of sales. Instead, find a way to let your education support your business, goals, and future career moves without losing money (including tuition costs) or letting your schoolwork suffer. Make time for the business, books, and the boss by remembering to balance out your life and avoid burnout. You may be an aspiring-CEO but you’re still a college kid, too, and it’s okay to take a break from the grind. Besides, you’re not partying, you’re networking, right?