young businessman while in college

25 Tips for Starting Your Own Business in College
2020 Guide for Student Entrepreneurs

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Starting a business in college might sound too ambitious. If that’s the case with you, move on to another informative article at College Consensus. But if you’re motivated, entrepreneurial, and a good time manager, college very well might be the best possible time to start your own business. 

Think about it. Traditional-aged college students: 

  • generally don’t have anyone depending on them
  • usually have their basics (housing and food) taken care of
  • can financially weather a risk 
  • have their whole life ahead of them

There is one other very important reason starting a business in college is a good idea – it’s when you’re at your most creative, energetic, and imaginative. Believe it or not, your brain is firing harder between 18-25 than any other time in your life, and you’re more likely to come up with a great idea then than later, when the responsibilities and stresses of a career show you down. And you have the energy to put in the all-nighters, extra hours, and intense effort that starting a business demands. 

So if you’re wondering how to start a business in college, read on. College Consensus has helpful advice from people who have been there.  

1. Keep Your Day Job.  

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Be practical. Don’t up and quit your day job (which, of course, is college). It’s one of the most basic things to think about when you’re starting a business in college. More than half of all businesses do not survive the first year, so it’s important to have something to fall back on if the business does not pan out. That’s why you’re in college – to build a foundation for the future. Maybe your business will blow up so big that you don’t need a degree, but even if it doesn’t, you took a chance, learned something, and learned more than you lost. 

2. Go with What You Already Know.  

Build on your experiences. Starting a small business in college is that much easier when a person starts from their framework of knowledge and experience. Every person has innate abilities and talents. Tap into the skillsets that make the most sense. Even when a person has never done this before, he or she can still figure out how to start a business while in college. It just takes a bit of luck, imagination, knowledge, and dedication. A person must be able and willing to take what he or she knows and turn that knowledge into something that will make money.  

3. Make it a Side Hustle  

Decide from 8 p.m to 2 a.m. that you’ll work on your new business venture. There are a number of hours in the day that are not being used by anything in particular, other than sleep (but make time for sleep, too). For some students, those hours are used up by partying, watching amovies or TV, hanging out with friends, or doing nothing at all. Take advantage of the hours in the day that are not already dedicated to studying, classes, and work. Make those hours count toward your own future.   

4. Replace the Booze with Fizzy H2O.  

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You can’t build an empire drunk. In fact, drinking or using mind-altering substances can lead to making poor decisions, missing deadlines, or otherwise undermining what is still new. Some students think that they can learn how to start a college business while playing the stereotypical fun-loving lifestyle. It may even work for a short period of time. Ultimately, a small business is like a small child. It takes a lot of time and care. It requires a lot of responsibility. It’s not something that can or will typically succeed if the principal party is running it while intoxicated.  

5. Become a Better Interviewer.  

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It’s important to know how to interview, and it could just turn into something more substantial. Maybe you’ll be the next big Podcaster. Anything could happen. First, though, it’s important to hone those skills as part of the learning process in how to start your own business in college. Practice with who you know. Interview your friends and family. Prepare for each interview scenario. Even if a person appears to have nothing to hide, there are always hidden details, secrets they’ve never shared before, and the devil’s in the details. An interview can turn into a great story. All it takes is a bit of homework, preparation, and being prepared to listen to what they have to say.  

6. Review Everything You Buy. 

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Start with Amazon/Yelp, but don’t stop there while you’re starting a business in college. For every purchase, craft review content that will best represent your knowledge and expertise. Offer the review content to websites or start a review site. It sounds simple, because it is. Those reviews help build a reputation online, but it can be a side-hustle that can bring in some extra money while a person builds that small business.  

7. Network with Moneymakers. 

Look into local entrepreneur/start-up groups. Believe it or not, it’s not necessary to learn how to start your own business in college all by yourself. A college campus is a great place to meet people who are important business contacts, but it’s also important to think beyond the immediate surrounding of the college environs. What is the business? What types of contacts will best meet your needs? Then, consider how to best access the money-maker individuals who are in the best position to invest in or take on an advisory role in the company.  

8. Be Frugal. 

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It sounds simple. It probably doesn’t seem like it will make any difference. Skip the lattes and late-night Chipotle runs. Avoid unnecessary expenditures. It’s possible to save a tidy nest egg if a person is frugal their whole life. Just imagine what a person could do by foregoing the quick-and-easy conveniences of life to invest those savings back into their small business.

That frugality does something else, though, as well. It demonstrates to family, friends, colleagues, and even casual observers that this is an important focus. The business is not to be taken lightly. After all, it’s become an entire, all-consuming focus, the thing around which nothing else matters. Demonstrate focused attention on strategic purchases, a balanced budget, and determined frugality.  

9. Get Creative with Financing.  

There are so many options for tapping into the necessary financing to build a small business. Some of those financial options may seem a bit of a long-shot. Crowdfunding, for example, does take some luck and lots of support to get off the ground. Take a look into an Incubator/Accelerator. Particularly in a college town, these are ready and available. They’re just waiting for ideas that they can really stand behind, and they can also offer the expertise and knowledge to take a business to the next level.

The options for funding and financing also involve a hodgepodge of angel investors, research grants, and small business loans as well. Even if one source of funding doesn’t materialize, falls through, or just isn’t enough, explore the myriad of creative and ever-evolving solutions.  

10. Start Seizing the Day EARLY.  

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Set Your Alarm! Create morning habits. Exercise. Walk the dog. Make a smoothie. Every great and successful CEO says that they start their day early. It puts the day, their business, and their life into perspective, but it also allows them to get a lot done before most everyone else even gets out of bed. Those morning habits are also key, because they awaken the mind in a healthy, wellness-focused way that supports brain health and fitness. It’s the best way to be prepared and ready for the day. It’s also how leaders best demonstrate their innate capabilities.

With a clear mind and focused attention, a leader will more easily grasp the importance of the situation, be able to respond to requests for feedback and/or direction from employees, and will move forward with a sense of purpose. It’s easy to see how the little things like being the first one to the office and being prepared for every meeting can help to elevate any leadership position in the eyes of those employees who come to trust the authenticity of that reliable direction.  

11. Carve Out Some Solid Time for R&D (Research and Development). 

Brainstorm unique product or service ideas to meet your own needs. If a product meets the needs of one person, it’s a pretty good bet that it will meet the needs of others as well. But, it’s still important to test it. Check all those assumptions. Validate the research. Bring in focus groups. Conduct usability testing. Test. Test. Test. Then, take the feedback, results, and data and use it to improve the product. That’s what this process is all about. The team must be willing and able to take the feedback and make changes that will make the product and the company better in the long run.  

12. Analyze Your Market and Challenges. 

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Coming up with a great idea is one part of starting a small business in college. Now analyze! Create a SWOT analysis by taking a look at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It’s simple. Just because it is a great idea doesn’t mean that it will be easy or cost-effective to bring to life. Determine what all the factors will be. What will it cost? What infrastructure is needed? What about competitive advantage? In other words, why is this business idea different? What makes this stand out? Why is it important? Why will people buy the product or service?  

13. Build a Prototype. 

Get your craft on! Don’t expect to get the product perfectly right the first time. After all, you’re just learning how to start a college business. Craft the prototype, and then refine it. Make it perfect (or as near to perfect as possible. Give it time. Don’t release to market before it’s ready. Work out the kinks. Your goal is to get it to market, so you can start to recoup the costs, but the business model is more than just about making money.

It’s also important to realize that building a reputation is just as important, if not more so. If the product or service is not perfect, those hard-won customers may never return. The other piece of the puzzle is to focus on getting investors and supporters in place, who will support product deployment. If the product has a bad reputation, that negative publicity and feedback have a way of discouraging investment. It may not be a narrative that an investor wants to be a part of.  

14. Gather Feedback. 

Business is never run in a vacuum, even when working toward how to start a business while in college. There are a multitude of opinions and perspectives that will come into play. Don’t try to run it in isolation, as a one-person show. Take into account that others may have differing opinions. Don’t discount ideas and feedback just because it may not concur with what everyone else says, or even what could be part of long-held personal beliefs. When feedback is requested, it won’t do the company a lot of good if it’s not carefully considered, with an open mind.

It’s also important to carefully consider why feedback is important. Beyond reaching out to colleagues, friends, and mentors to gain insight, it’s just as essential to gain insight from customers, vendors, and other professionals. The purpose of gathering all this feedback is to better understand the company, public perception, workforce considerations, and supply chain issues. By listening and responding to the feedback (both positive and negative), the business is able to improve processes and procedure, build a stronger staff, and demonstrate a commitment to customer satisfaction.  

15. Understand the Commitment and Prioritize. 

It’s just not possible to do everything, as you’re figuring out how to start a business while in college. Skip time-sucking activities that will slow down your progress. Learn how to say “No.” Even when you really want to do it all, it’s not possible to accomplish everything or be everything to everyone as a single person. Particularly as the owner of a small business, there are a myriad of responsibilities that simply cannot be avoided or put off. So, for those non-essential items on the list, find ways to off-load them by delegating responsibilities. If training is needed, make it happen. If it’s a task that requires a certain type of person (someone you don’t currently have in your employ), find the right person.

There are lots of reasons why a person might start a business and take on the commitment of making that business into a success. Once that path is chosen, there must be some give-and-take. One person, particularly one of the most important representatives of the organization, cannot possibly take on every task or work project in the company, particularly as the business grows.  

16. Protect Your Assets.  

As one of the first steps when you start a business in college, begin with an LLC and Tax ID. Look into the legalities of owning a business. It is an expense, but it’s also important to make sure that this part of the business is set up properly. Even if the paperwork all seems very easy and straightforward, consult with a professional to make sure that the paperwork protects you from any unfortunate mistakes, unfortunate events, etc. Mistakes can cost you time, money, and they can adversely affect your small business down the road. So, make sure that the business is properly licensed, with all the appropriate paperwork in place.  

17. Come Up with a Great Business Name and Logo.  

As you work toward starting a small business in college, use SurveyMonkey (or something similar) and crowdsource for help. Don’t assume that the best idea for a business name and logo will just happen overnight. Great ideas take time and vetting. Even if it is a brilliant concept, there may be reasons to avoid certain words, images, the swoosh, or innuendos that could be misconstrued or mistaken for something else. When you ask for feedback, be prepared that not everyone will like the initial ideas.

That’s a good thing. It’s better to know and be able to adjust the look and name of the company now than to find out about those perceptions later when a ton of money has already been invested in the brand and image. There may also be times when the team will ignore that negative feedback, and move forward with the original or a slightly altered plan for a logo, brand element, or other features related to your business name or presence. It’s still important to know that the negative outlook may be one way that customers will see your business.  

18. Build a Website  

Online Bachelors in Information Technology

Clueless on how? Probably the most important piece of the puzzle is a website when working toward how to start your own business in college. Some businesses put off making and posting a website right away, because it might seem like a hassle or an unnecessary expense. Register the business domain name, and then start with an easy 1-page WordPress landing page theme. Make the website development an essential part of overall business development. Develop a strategic plan for the content and resources that will be part of the website. Then, start to implement that plan one piece at a time.

Don’t take the “good enough” approach. That website is the face of the company. It should be comprehensive and as up-to-do date as possible as you grow the business. Make sure any change in product development or service roll-out is first reflected in your online portal.  

19. Recruit Some Help. 

As someone who is starting a business while in college, the first thing to remember when hiring is to ask every employee who signs up to work with you to sign a Confidentiality and Invention Assignment Agreement. Even if the person was a friend or a trusted before, money can become a tantalizing draw when or if the business takes off.  Even if the business doesn’t take off, the business could become the proving ground for that next great venture.

Don’t allow that intellectual capital, your great ideas, and how you plan to grow those concepts to become a success factor for one of your former employees. Just because it all seemed like a friendly working relationship doesn’t mean that it can’t become something else down the line. Protect the business, but also seek out those individuals who will help to grow and improve the company.   

20. Market Your Business.  

Forget business cards and newspaper ads as you go down the path of starting a small business in college. That’s last century. Market your business for free online. Digital marketing has been around for long enough now that there are a number of expected steps and platforms that must be in place. Take your SWOT analysis and start developing a full-fledged Marketing Plan, complete with a focused plan to build a database of contacts.

Deploy focused online profiles to key directories and platforms. Continue to build your online credibility and authority via the website, social media, and email marketing. It’s a multi-faceted approach, and it doesn’t happen overnight, which is why it’s important to strategically deploy and continue to build upon that online presence over time as the business continues to evolve and grow.  

21. Find a Mentor.  

Reach out to people doing what you want to do, but don’t waste their time by asking how to start a college business. Do the research. Learn more about them (but don’t stalk them). Connect with them via social media. Start a conversation. Demonstrate your knowledge, and that you value their input. Be aware, though. Not every mentor will be ready or willing to connect and/or share his or her knowledge and trade secrets. It’s actually a lot to ask of another professional that they even respond to you when they are already inundated with so many other demands.

So, be cognizant of the fact that the search for a mentor might not happen overnight. Continue to seek out those individuals to connect with and learn from, even if it is in a more tangential way. The goal is to learn and grow. It’s not to be annoying or demanding of someone’s time or knowledge. It’s also important to make full use of the resources and people at your disposal. That means, it’s always a great idea to mine your connections for mentors who will offer valuable insights into your business outlook and strategic approach.

While you’re mining those contacts, also make use of networking and referrals. Some of the most powerful business relationships are developed via local business events or via social networking activities. Don’t discount any possible opportunity to gain access to those individuals who will offer insight for personal and professional growth.  

22. Get Good at Social Media.  

free apps college students

You don’t have to be an influencer as someone who is just starting a business while in college, but you won’t get far without social media (or with embarrassing social media). So, start getting used to the idea. Sign up for social media, and ask for help. While it’s not something that is an overnight success (in most situations anyway), it’s important to build personal branding while rolling out the strategic plan for the social media presence for a successful small business.

For those who avoid social media like the plagues, it understandable. If it was just about an individual person, it might be possible to avoid social media altogether. But, with the business as a central focal point, social media is essential. It can make or break a business. Every customer has come to expect a social media presence, but it’s also a powerful promotional tool.

So, if it’s really so abhorrent from a personal perspective, hire someone to do it. It just needs to get done, and it must be done in a way that highlights all the positive benefits that the business has to offer to the customers and to the world as a whole. Focus on those positive stories, and highlight achievements.  

23. Use School Resources. 

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College is peppered with a range of facilities and resources that could be beneficial to a new small business, particularly as someone who is just learning how to start a business in college. While it might be required to requests permission or sign-in for the use of labs, meeting rooms, or other office space, colleges offer a range of facilities and networking opportunities that students don’t always take advantage of. Consider the clubs, the wealth of smart and savvy students, the teachers, and the other tools that are often free or easily accessible to students. 

Colleges have many resources available. It’s just about keeping one’s mind and eyes open to the possibilities and being willing to ask lots of questions. Just because it’s not possible or not easy in one department or area of campus doesn’t mean that it won’t be possible if one was to approach it from a different department or a more creative approach.  

24. Make Your Classes Count.  

A small business can always benefit from the knowledge developed in Business classrooms and other Financial Services seminars. While still figuring out how to start a business in college, the business should be a consideration with every project, assignment, or other class requirements. The questions is: Can you come up with class projects that also feed into your business? After all, the business is the focal point. It’s part of the reason why college is so important right now. It’s more than just about the learning experience, though.

When a business scenario is repurposed as a homework assignment or project, it’s a great way to get real and actionable intel on the business from the professor as well as a classroom of other highly intelligent and educated individuals. It’s even possible to hone in on those individuals who offer the most pointed or useful details for the business. It’s possible that a person could make a great addition to the shoestring staff either now or down the line. Collaborating with and learning from fellow students can also just be a great way to improve the product, services, and/or overall business strategy.  

25. Set Realistic Goals and Achieve Them.  

To start a business in college, you don’t have to be Zuckerberg! There are those businesses that come around just a few times in a hundred years. They emerge into one of the behemoths of our culture. There’s no way to know if a company will become the next big thing. There’s a good chance it won’t be, but that’s ok. The point of all this is to pursue realistic goals, and then put strategic plans in place to make those dreams and goals become a reality.

Copying somebody else’s idea usually is the worst way to start a business. Instead come up with a unique idea, an idea that has a unique target market, and develop that goal-oriented idea. As you build the idea and propel the company forward toward those strategic goals, that idea may just become the next great business success story. It will never be easy, and it probably won’t be another Facebook, but it can still make a difference in a chosen niche or demographic market segment. 

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