Q: I head back to college soon and would like to start a business to help pay for my education. Would you have any thoughts on how best to start a business in college?
A: Of course the stories of bright entrepreneurs who started a business while in college are legion. Michael Dell started Dell Computers while living in the dorm, Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook while still an undergraduate at Harvard, and Fred Smith wrote a paper at Yale that would later become the blueprint for FedEx.
But the thing is, while many collegiate entrepreneurs have Facebook in the back of their mind when they look to start a business, that probably won’t happen. What can happen though is that you can launch a fine, side business that does indeed help pay the bills. Here’s how:
1. Look for something cheap, that you can do part-time. Because you are in college, you don’t have the time necessary to launch a real, full-scale business. That means that you need to come up with a business idea that you can do part-time. And it also needs, in all likelihood, to be affordable. Two types of businesses fit the bill:
- Service businesses: Pool cleaning, delivery services, painting – these types of businesses require little overhead and can be done on the side.
- E-commerce: Starting an eBay store or some other e-commerce venture is another option that allows you the freedom to go to class and still run a business that can make some money.
Tip: Check out a source like Web.com for getting a site made easily and affordably.
2. Draft a business plan: It need not be anything fancy, but you do need to create a blueprint of where you want to go and how you plan to get there.
3. Get funded: There are several different ways that you can fund your new business. The first and best is to fund it yourself with your saving so that you don’t have any debt. Credit cards can also be a good move, as long as you have a solid plan for paying them off in a timely manner. Third, you can ask friends and family to help you, and this is where your business plan will come in handy, as any investor, no matter how small, will want to see it. Finally, another option is to look into crowdfunding; there are many different crowdfunding platforms today, and one of these may work for you.
4. Handle logistics and operations. Take the time to make sure that you create the proper legal entity for your business, and make sure to get a seperate business banking account as well.
If you are going to be doing anything with technology or products, you will also want legal disclaimers and copyright registration to be high on your to-do list before you start marketing your idea. While patents can take years and thousands of dollars to get, trademarks are easier. It may be a good idea to look into trademarking your initial logo and material.
5. Marketing your business: Once you have your plan and the means to make it happen, you have to generate a desire for your business in the market. The go-to marketing platform these days of course will be your social media accounts, but don’t stop there. The only way anyone is going to find out about your new business is through your marketing, so cast a wide net.
6. Delivering on your promise: Whatever business you start, you will be making some sort of express or implied promise to your customers – their pool will be cleaned every week, the product they ordered online will be delivered on time, that sort of thing.
Keep your promises.
Not only will your business flourish as a result, but this is the beginning of your career and you want the reputation that precedes you down the road to be sterling one.
Today’s Tip: If starting a business while in school interests you, you may also want to check out a great group, the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.