The Beginner’s Guide to Business Ideas for College Students

This article was originally published on Quick Sprout

Maybe you dream of being the next Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg and striking it rich with your college business idea. Or perhaps you are just looking for a way to make extra cash between classes. Whatever the case, entrepreneurship is a challenging but potentially lucrative task to mix with school projects and commitments. It is definitely possible to come up with a viable business idea while still in college. You may even be able to live out your entrepreneurship dream after graduation and skip the 9-5 grind altogether.

What Are the Advantages of Starting a Business in College?

If you’re toying with the idea of starting a business in college, you’ll need more than a vague dream of becoming an entrepreneur to see you through. College is already demanding enough. Starting a business on the side means giving up nights out, funneling any spare money to your project, and juggling multiple responsibilities. So, why go through the trouble of starting your business now rather than after you graduate?

First off, starting your business in college will give you a head start. This is especially true if you have entrepreneurial dreams after graduation. There’s a lot that goes into the planning stages of a business. You’ll need to create a business plan, do market research, estimate turnover and profit margins, choose a business name, and create a business entity. Starting a business in college lays the groundwork for your future empire, allowing you to scale your business after college.

College also offers bountiful resources that you would need to pay out of pocket in the real world. You have access to IT and printing resources, free internet, one-on-one time with professors and advisors, and business courses and programs. Many universities also offer grants and other financial assistance to student entrepreneurs. It will be a shame not to exploit these resources, especially considering you are paying top-dollar for them anyway.

Furthermore, starting a business in school offers the best low-risk, high reward scenario. You don’t have many commitments or assets that starting a business from scratch could jeopardize. And, if things go south, you could always go back to studying full-time. Starting a business in college is hard work. But, the stakes are far lower than after graduation, when your entire life may hinge on your business success or failure. College offers the perfect opportunity to test out business ideas and see what works and what doesn’t.

Finally, starting a business in college complements your classroom education. Running a business is an entirely different ballgame from acing your finals. Your business can help to bridge the gap between learning material and applied concepts.

The Basics of Good Business Ideas for College Students

Business ideas for college students are a dime a dozen. And, the experiences of student entrepreneurs vary widely. Even so, successful college business ventures have some core elements in common. Applying these elements will help you pick a viable business idea that you can execute successfully.

Ready Market

Starting a business is less about you and more about your customers. To state the obvious, a business cannot exist without customers. So while your mind is buzzing with business ideas, remember to consider who your customers will be.

Moreover, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to invest heavily in the business without first identifying your customers. Instead, you need to find out if there is demand for your product or service in the first place. Again, a little market research should help you figure this out.

You’ll also need to conduct a SWOT analysis for your business idea. Identifying the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of your idea will help you determine whether it’s viable.

Some of the crucial questions to ask about your business idea include:

  • Why is this business idea different?
  • What makes it stand out?
  • Why is this business important?
  • Why would people want to buy the product or service?

Available Funding

You’ll likely need to obtain funding for your business. This factor alone can make or break a business idea. So, consider how much you need to start your business when evaluating your ideas.

For example, you may have an excellent idea for an app. But, you’ll need to secure funding to cover backend development, design cost, security, testing, and architecture. A simple app with a standard UX and basic features could quickly run you upwards of $40,000. If you can’t secure funding, it may be worth scaling down your business idea, or exploring a different idea that doesn’t require as much capital. 

Potential For Growth

Many student entrepreneurs aspire to grow their businesses after graduation. So, a good business idea should have good potential for growth. This growth may include venturing into new markets to expanding the product range.

To this end, you can tilt towards business ideas in expanding sectors. According to Indeed, some of the fastest-growing industries in the US include transportation, healthcare, financial services, trucking, and real estate. So venturing into any of these sectors offers plenty of room to grow your business post-graduation.

Minimum Viable Product

A minimum viable product is one of the best ways to tell if you have a good business idea. But you don’t have to go all out and pay a manufacturer to create the prototype. Instead, you can create brochures or slideshows detailing the product and its features.

Once you’re happy with the response, you can go ahead and build a prototype. Ideally, the prototype should have the minimum features you need for the product to work. Then, you can use the revenue from the product for the subsequent development stages.

This strategy works equally well for a service-based business.

3 Tools To Improve Executing Your College Business Idea

There are a couple of handy tools that you’ll need to execute your business idea.

1. Business Plan Template

Writing your first business plan may seem daunting. But, this is a critical tool to help you successfully execute your business idea. For one, a business plan enables you to paint a realistic picture of your venture. The business plan highlights the steps you need to take to launch and run your venture. You’ll get an honest look at what it takes, including potential problems you might face. A business plan also helps to organize resources and approach investors.

You don’t even need a ten-page business plan. One or two pages covering the critical aspects of your business, including company description, marketing analysis, execution plan, and marketing plan, are enough. You are also more likely to follow through with a short, clear, and concise business plan.

Fortunately, a quick Google query will yield plenty of results for business plan templates. A template provides the structure you need to create a business plan from scratch. Additionally, the template will ensure you don’t miss any crucial details.

2. Website Builder

You’ll need a website for your startup. A business website will prove indispensable in every stage of your business. For example, you can use your website to deliver videos, images, and infographics during product development. Your website will also help to drum up business once you’re up and running.

The good news is that you can build one cheaply. You don’t even need design or coding experience to publish a professional business website.

Web.com is an exceptional website builder for startups. It’s a perfect choice for people who aren’t very tech-savvy. The website builder has a straightforward drag-and-drop design to help you create your website quickly. You can also choose from hundreds of professionally designed templates to ensure your website stands out.

Other noteworthy web.com features include:

  • Domain
  • Hosting
  • Professional email
  • SEO and business directory listings

You even get access to technicians to help walk you through building your first website. Web.com is also one of the most affordable website builders out there, allowing you can get started at just $1.95 for the first month.

Feel free to check out our Best Website Builders post for the complete picture of the best options on the market. In addition, our Daily Eggspert has done a terrific job reviewing six more web.com alternatives. You’ll also get valuable tips for picking the best website builder for your use case.

3. Organizer/Planner

One of your biggest challenges as a student entrepreneur will be organizing your time. There’s a lot to get done between school and your startup. So, an organizer will help you plan your time and stay on top of your to-do list.

You can choose a traditional physical organizer. Or, you can go online. There are plenty of organization apps to choose from, including Todoist and Any.do. These apps come with helpful productivity features, including:

  • Voice entry
  • Sharing your list with others
  • Syncing across platforms and devices
  • Setting priority levels
  • Productivity graphs

6 Tricks To Becoming a Successful Student Entrepreneur

Once you’re confident in your business idea, here’s what it takes to be a successful student entrepreneur:

Trick #1 – Merge Academics And Business

If you haven’t already chosen your major, choosing one related to your business makes sense. Altrnately, you can select a business idea that’s related to your major. This strategy is especially effective for balancing your academic and business performance. This way, you’ll be transferring your classroom study into the real world.

For example, you can use your class assignments to do market research for your business. In this case, successful entrepreneurs are less likely to see you as competition. They may be more willing to share invaluable insights if you’re doing market research or a feasibility study as part of your homework. 

Equally, your professors may also be willing to facilitate internships in your field. Professors often have a vast network of alumni groups that they can connect you with.

Trick #2 – Build A Legitimate Business

You’ll want to cut costs as much as you can. But, there are certain business aspects you shouldn’t skimp on. Taking shortcuts, especially where legal and regulatory matters are concerned can come back to haunt you. For example, just because you are a student entrepreneur doesn’t mean you are exempt from compliance issues and business insurance.

Do your research to find out the precise legal and regulatory requirements for your type of business. Some of the basic legal requirements when starting a business include:

  • Business structure
  • Business name
  • Licenses and permits
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Taxes
  • Compliance plan

It is also worth consulting with a professional and asking them to review all your paperwork. Then, they’ll be able to spot potentially costly mistakes before they happen.

Trick #3 – Search for a Mentor

A mentor can help you accelerate your business. You’ll also probably face many of the same challenges as your mentor during your journey. They’ll be able to offer ready answers or solutions to your problems.

College is a great place to find mentors easily. Your professors are a go-to option. Preferably, consult with professors who have experience running a business. Also, make time to network. Join groups and programs designed for student entrepreneurs. These are great places to make valuable connections.

Trick #4 – Explore Various Financing Options

Raising capital for your business may not be the most straightforward task. But, it is possible to do, even as a college student. To this end, explore your financing options and choose the option that makes the most sense. Of course, you can also combine several financing options.

Start with a budget. This way, you’ll know exactly how much you need to raise and where the money will go. This is another area where having a business plan is useful. For now, you may want to stay away from loans. Moreover, you may have difficulty qualifying for a business loan since you haven’t had much time to build your credit score.

You’ll still have plenty of funding options, including investors, government grants, donations from friends, crowdfunding, venture capitalists, bootstrapping, family assistance, and personal savings.

Alternatively, you can make a point of coming up with an idea that doesn’t require large startup costs.

Trick #5 – Don’t Forget What’s Important

When it comes down to it, school is your number one priority. The harsh truth is that few people create a successful business right out of the gate. It may even take a few tries before you hit on a viable or successful business idea. So, prioritize your school work and graduate on schedule.

You can start by regarding your business as a side-hustle or part-time business. This way, you’ll always be clear on what is vital in case of conflicting schedules. Also, don’t forget to take time off for yourself. Schedule time regularly to relax and reflect.

Trick #6 – Be Careful When Using College Resources

College offers plenty of free resources that you can utilize for your business. But, be mindful about how you use these resources. For example, free college WiFi can help you cut costs. But, this is a public network. That means you could easily land in legal trouble by transmitting sensitive client information via the college network.

Additionally, there might be a limit to how you can use resources like printers. For example, going over the limit printing your brochures may land you in trouble with the faculty. You could face disciplinary action, including suspension or dismissal for breaking the institution’s rules. Go through your student handbook to make sure you don’t inadvertently break any rules. Also, consult with a trusted faculty member when in doubt.  

On the other hand, find out which resources your college offers aspiring entrepreneurs. Many colleges offer such resources, including Small Business Development Centers, placement offices for internship opportunities, software development programs, university incubators and accelerators, and university business consulting.

Next Steps

Make sure you have all the necessary permits for your city or state before launching your business. This should be the case even if your business is limited to your campus.

Next, start getting the word out about your product or service. The college campus offers a ready market. You also have an opportunity to test your product or service viability before your rollout to the rest of the world. You don’t need a big marketing budget just yet. Start by getting the word out about your business within the university. You can hand out flyers and put up posters on bulletin boards, class buildings, and student centers.

Here are two more guides to help you start your college business:

This article was written by Lars Lofgren

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