Where I come from, there is a popular belief that the entire essence of going to college is to come out with a good degree so you can land a high paying job. It was – and still is to a degree – the most popular “parent-to-child” advice. All you need to do is to factor in employment unavailability and inflation and you will quickly discard this advice as being “out of place” in the 21st century business world.
Why wait to get out of school to make money when you can start your own business now? In fact, I strongly believe that the college environment is an excellent platform to launch a business. And believe me there are lots of business ideas for students to try out no matter how busy they are. One of the main reasons, for you go ahead with that business in college, is because no other environment amplifies success and cushions failure as effectively as this one.
If you succeed, you become a hall-of-famer, whose name is revered among wannabe entrepreneurs. If you don’t, well your name won’t get thrown in the dumpster, after all, you’re still in college right? You might even get thumbs up from students, professors and friends for being able to make such a ballsy move.
Every entrepreneur – budding and veteran – will agree with me that nothing encourages an entrepreneur to continue pushing like being congratulated and encouraged when you fail. Besides, in retrospect, you will be largely thankful for the business experience you garnered.
So, here’s a few tips I know will help you to take that first step into entrepreneurship and be successful at it.
1. Pick the right college environment
While, generally speaking, college is the best time to start a business, some offer a better opportunity for growing a business than others. So if you are not in college yet, it is time to start rethinking whatever schools you’ve got lined up. Pick a school that offers many resources for young entrepreneurs and you will have a competitive advantage.
These resources could be in form of legal personnel, conference rooms for meetings, marketers, entrepreneurial events, competitions etc. Take your time and look at all the prospective universities objectively, and pick the one that best suits you and the type of business you plan to run.
2. Pick a few relevant courses to aid your business acumen
You might have gotten admission into the university to study a course that has nothing to do with the business you have in mind. This is nothing to worry about. You can make up for your lack in “business sense” by taking a few entrepreneurial classes.
It is sort of like a theory and practice session. What you learn in these classes you can test using your assignments. Use your assignments to conduct feasibility studies and market research about your field of interest. Talk to business owners in your chosen field and let them share their insights with you.
The fact that you are a student conducting research will make them more open to the idea of sharing invaluable lessons with you – stuff they will never share with another business owner. What you learn from these interviews will likely help you avoid many pitfalls down the road.
3. Establish an avenue for free advice
In almost every college, you are likely to find full time and adjunct professors that love to get involved in student startups in any capacity they can. Often times, you will find that some of these professors have or at one point, had businesses of their own.
They have more experience than you have and can help you shape your raw ideas into a feasible business plan. They can also give invaluable advice on marketing, sales and growth to help your business kick off and thrive. Make sure that you build a lasting relationship with them, even after you graduate college as their connection to your business will continue to prove invaluable.
4. Find a customer base and sell your idea to them
The biggest mistake you can make as a young entrepreneur in college is to spend all your resources trying to come up with a product or service that people may or may not want. You need to be sure that your idea is sellable before you spend resources making it into a product/service.
Luckily, you have many people around you: students, professors, lab technicians, janitors, security guards etc. These people are as different from each other as they come, which makes them ideal for testing your product.
Build an inexpensive prototype of your product or service and use it to show people what your idea will be able to do for them. The feedback you get from this eccentric mix of people will be invaluable as you prepare to move forward into full launch of your product – that is if the idea is accepted.
If it is not, all you need to do now is go back to the drawing board and think of something else. No love lost, no resources wasted, no resultant headache.
5. Develop a well-crafted and realistic budget
As a college entrepreneur, finance is not something you have in abundance. Besides, you still have stuff related to your academics to worry about from a financial standpoint.
You cannot spend all your money on your business alone and getting a loan from a financial institution will likely be difficult due to your business’ status as a student run startup. Online lenders are not the best either. They are more accommodating, but have interest rates higher than that of conventional financial institutions.
This means that there will be times when you will have to pass on things you feel that your business needs to grow because of financial constraints. Unless you are in the group of rare “collegepreneurs” who have an abundance of financial resources, you should focus only on the absolute essentials.
One way to help you achieve this is to create a well-detailed and realistic budget, one that takes into consideration the full amount of money available to you and plans for the worst-case scenario. You will be grateful for this when financial challenges arise – and they often do arise.
If you are not sure how to draft such a budget, you can visit any Local Small Business Development Center near you. There are hundreds of such centers littered all over the country. They are federally sponsored and so offer free and objective business consulting.