Today’s graduate leaves college with an average student loan debt of $26,600, according to a Project on Student Debt report. This compounds other expenses, such as rent, gas and insurance. To keep debt from accumulating, a smart strategy is to build a business while you’re still in college and have access to resources, such as your parents’ support and your school business library, before you have to start repaying loans. Your college years represent one of the best opportunities you’ll have to learn the basics of entrepreneurship and leadership, which can be easier than you think if you follow a sound business plan.
A solid plan is key to whether your business will earn money or waste time. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides an online guide to business plan basics. Your plan doesn’t have to be as detailed as if you were forming a major corporation, but you should cover some essential bases.
- What is your business mission? What product or service will you provide, and to whom?
- How will you manage your business? What tasks need doing, how much time will they consume weekly, and how will you handle scheduling? Will you run everything yourself, or coordinate with others?
- What will you charge? What is your monthly sales goal, and how many sales do you need to reach it? What monthly expenses do you need to offset? What are your tax obligations?
Marketing on a Shoestring
A marketing plan to attract customers is another essential component of your strategy. The SBA recommends the average small startup with profit margins between 10 to 12 percent should devote 7 to 8 percent of revenue to branding and promotion.
On a college budget, this implies pursuing low-cost marketing strategies. Start by honing your marketing theme with a concise expression of who you help and what you offer them, which will help you get the most out of whatever promotions you do.
Begin publicizing your message by using your family, friends and social networks to spread the word. Sign up for free networking accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Klout, and create a content calendar with strategized messaging that brings value to your followers. Spark discussions on the networks to gain insight into refining your product, and ask for referrals to others who might need your services. Position yourself as an industry thought leader by participating in forums and LinkedIn Groups, which is a great way to network. Offer to share your expertise by speaking at networking groups and to local news outlets. When generating referrals, print business cards online through quality services, and look into affordable functional merchandise, such as pens, to keep your brand literally in potential customers point-of-view.
Blogging and video marketing can help you connect with your target market. Offer up advice, write guest blogs for related brands, and shoot video tutorials that will keep your contacts engaged and coming back.
You can apply the marketing techniques above to numerous business models, as Open Forum suggests. The easiest model is providing a service leveraging your skills or hobbies. For instance, you can tutor other students in subjects you’re good at, or teach skills such as dancing.
If you’ve got good organizational skills, you can earn money by scheduling work for other students for a commission, as a staffing agency does. For instance, you can arrange cleaning or lawn care services for local businesses.
If you have technical skills, various online opportunities are available. You can assist businesses with website installation or design. You can also set up your own website to sell digital info-products, Kindle books or online courses.
What are your tips for starting a business in college?