Life before Facebook is a pretty distant memory for most of us. It’s changed the way we stay in touch, share photos, make new friends, shop, and more. And even though all aspiring college entrepreneurs can’t become the next Mark Zuckerburg, somewhere out there a college student is surely busy creating the Next Big Thing.
First things first. Whether it’s walking up to a hot girl and asking her out on a date or starting your own business, it’s the fear of failure that keeps most people from taking risks. For some reason, letting opportunities that we’re honestly interested in pass us by seems like a better idea than giving it a shot and missing.
The abundance of motivational quotes on the Internet about this very issue is a good indicator that it must be a common problem.
Well, you get the drift.
Many recent college grads, even those with impressive track records and plenty of great ideas, are struggling to find work. Some are resorting to part-time gigs waiting tables or running cash registers, but others are taking a different approach and starting their own businesses. Far too many others are holding back because they’re afraid of failing.
If you have a business idea, there’s no rule book that says you must wait until after graduation to get started. In fact, being college actually puts a wealth of resources right your fingertips— things that you won’t have easy access to once you’ve graduated. These include state-of-the-art computer labs and pricy software that you may not own; professors and advisors to consult for advice; and other students who are usually willing to work for fairly low wages.
So whether you have an idea for a product that could transform the world or if you’re really good at something that others would be willing to pay you to do—creating websites, designing logos, writing, cooking, whatever—there’s a good chance you could turn your idea into a money-making reality.
Keep in mind that services are generally easier to work with during college than products, which require research and development, not to mention manufacturing, but here are 8 steps to get you going:
1. State your idea. “Start a business” is a pretty broad idea. “Start an online matchmaking site” or “Sell T-shirts with custom slogans” is a bit more descriptive. Write out your idea so that anyone who reads it will understand what you’re trying to do.
2. Choose a niche. This means you will want to narrow your idea down. “Start an online matchmaking site for college students” is more definitive. So is “Sell T-shirts to youth sports teams.”
3. Check out your competition. Google your idea and see if someone else is already putting it into action. If so, is it successful? Can you improve it by making it easier to use or cheaper? If your idea is a service, is it regional? Would you bringing something new to your area?
4. Ask others to evaluate your idea. If your idea doesn’t already exist, figure out why. If it’s not in high demand—most college students already turn to friends and Facebook for dating opportunities—it may not be as great of an idea as you think it is. Ask around and find out what your friends, roommates, classmates, and professors think. Some entrepreneurs are paranoid that someone will steal their great idea, so you may want to ask people that you trust.
5. Find a mentor. One common trend among successful people is their use of mentors. A mentor can listen to your concerns, answer your questions, offer advice, help you solve problems, and save you plenty of headaches—in confidence without the risk of embarrassment. Many students are fortunate enough to have talented professors or department heads that are willing to act as mentors. Others turn to local professionals.
6. Figure out a plan. Once you’ve determined that your idea is a good one, figure out exactly what you’re doing to do with it. If you are the best writer and savviest social media guru that you know, there’s a good chance you could help other people write their resumes and promote themselves online during a job search. How exactly are you going to “sell” that service?
7. Research. The entire goal of starting your own business is making a profit. You already know that you won’t turn into an instant millionaire overnight just because you have a business plan in mind, but do you have any clue how much you could sell your services for? Research what competitors charge. You might not be able to charge the same amount from the get-go because your company is new and you need to build a client base.
8. Pick your price. Calculate the bare minimum that you could charge and make a profit. If you’re going to be selling a service, how much is your own time worth? Think of it this way—would you baby-sit for $10 an hour even though you’d rather have $12, but say “No thanks!” if you were only offered $8? If you’re going to sell T-shirts, you need to take into account the cost of acquiring the necessary materials as well as your own time involved.
These are just a few suggestions to get you going. If you’re serious about the entire endeavor, you’ll also have to name your company and register your business with the state, open a business checking account and a way to accept payments, launch a website, create a logo, get business cards … the list goes on, which is which is why finding a mentor is so critical.
It will seem difficult now, but always remember that anything worthwhile does take effort. Just imagine how you’ll feel ten years down the road when your friends wish they were in your shoes. And while you’re at it, ask yourself how you’d feel if you didn’t try now … what if one day, you saw your idea out there making millions and you had nothing to do with it?
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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