Think about all the incredible business ideas that have come out of colleges. There was Facebook, started by Mark Zuckerberg in his college dormitory. There was Google, which began as a research project while the founders were studying for their PhDs at Stanford. Even Microsoft’s history dates back to the days when Bill Gates studied at Harvard.
Image source: http://www.slac.stanford.edu/exp/atlas/events/2010/TDAQ-week/images/stanford_quad.png
The founders of Google had the rather grandiose vision of organizing the world’s information, but you don’t have to be quite as ambitious. Start any business, and you could pay your way through college. If you’re lucky, you could even create a readymade career for when you graduate.
Starting a consulting business is usually the one business idea that’s most likely to be successful for a college student, and yet it tends to be overlooked. When you sell services, the startup costs are very low. There’s no need for an office, expensive capital investments or employees. Everything can be set up for a few hundred dollars and you’re ready to begin earning money.
Start by thinking about the areas where your expertise could be of value to businesses. If you have technical skills, this could be an interesting area to explore. Possibly you could set up a web design consultancy or even a software consultancy. If you know how to translate, possibly you could start out as a translator. In future, you could expand your freelance translation business into a full-fledged translation agency.
While these businesses are easy to start, the difficulty comes in getting clients. For most successful consultancies started in recent years, the first step was always to design a website. If you are starting a technical consultancy, you should have no problem designing your website on your own. If you aren’t able to design your website, avoid asking your friend’s sister or that guy who stays in your dorm. Instead, use a service like Square Space that makes it simple to design a website on your own.
When your website is designed, don’t think that people will come on their own. There are likely thousands of businesses that offer a similar service to you, most of which will have been around for a while longer. When you think of all the businesses that fail each year, you realize just how big the challenge can be.
Image source: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/GUARDIAN/Pix/pictures/2011/2/14/1297712194126/Empty-shops-007.jpg
That is why online marketing is key. One very simple but often overlooked step is starting a newsletter. Make sure to publish regularly and make it easy for people to sign up through your website. Over time, your subscriber numbers will grow, and so will your client base as more and more people come across you and learn about your perspective on the industry. Just remember, a newsletter isn’t the time to sell. It’s the time to show that you know what you’re talking about and have true expertise in the area where you consult. Before you start your newsletter, read these five email newsletter mistakes so you know what not to do.
If a consulting business isn’t for you, then why not consider online retail? E-commerce platforms are making it easier and easier to sell online. While decreased barriers have increased competition, they have also made it easier for you to enter and compete.
Keep in mind that you don’t to be the next Amazon. All you need to do is carve out a niche, but it’s still very difficult to find the right products to sell. If you love golf, your overwhelming urge will be to sell golf clubs. In business, people are taught to follow their passions, and this can often be good advice. But – when it comes to starting a retail business in college – this is exactly what you shouldn’t do.
Given that everyone’s selling golf balls, you’ll need to settle for selling very low volumes or making very low margins. Neither are very appealing options. Instead, you need to carefully select an industry that is underserved. The more unglamorous, the more likely you’ll be to succeed.
Look around online and see if you can find an area that is underserved and where you can find a reliable supplier. You might even consider drop shipping, which is where a company dispatches orders on your behalf. While you’re studying, the drop shipper will be busy packaging up your orders and posting them off to your customers. Drop shipping is more convenient, but you do cede control and give up a lot of margin in the process. And, if the drop shipper messes up your order, guess who the customer will blame?