As many entrepreneurs know, dedicating time and energy to a business venture is a job all its own. It takes willpower to start a business at any age, but starting your first enterprise while still in school is especially challenging.
Yet, some of the most famous CEOs got their big ideas while in college. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell of Dell Computers, and Insomnia Cookies’ Steve Berkowitz all started their businesses in dorms or on campus. Today, young entrepreneurs are eager to emulate these successes before they graduate college.
Balancing schoolwork and the entrepreneurial dream are often troublesome for students. Many are reluctant to follow their business plans if they equate it with wasted tuition, but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Luckily, now is a great time to develop that entrepreneurial spirit while in college. In 2016, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested a revival for entrepreneurial growth and improved economic development. In addition, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports it’s still a safe bet to finish college. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher have higher employment rates and earning potential than those who finish some or no college. In addition, the 2016 Kauffman Startup Activity Index reports new entrepreneurs that are college grads has increased from 23.7 percent to 32.7 percent since 1997.
School can help define and influence your career goals rather than hinder them. If you’re a budding entrepreneur who’s still in school, these key steps can help balance your academic and professional careers:
Finding your priorities can be a challenge. First, determine your short-term and long-term career goals and how school fits into them. Questioning your impetus for school and business can help you determine the most important needs. Ask yourself these four questions:
Why are you starting a business before graduation?
Why do you value staying in school?
Can your schoolwork help you build a business?
Do you see a future career with your business after graduation?
When answering these questions, clearly define your reasons. Then decide when to sacrifice study time versus business opportunities. Each situation depends on the urgency of deadlines, but setting priorities can help clear your mind for which goal to focus on at any given moment.
Pro tip: Don’t beat yourself up if you want to work on a business strategy for a few days. If you want to integrate your class plan into your business plan, make sure you implement some of the key lesson strategies into your business or networking endeavors for the week.
2. Choose the right courses
If you’re concerned about good grades, bridge the gap between school and work. Choose a major or elective that benefits your business model and helps you strategize. Pick classes to meet expert professors and other like-minded individuals. Attending courses related to your venture helps save time and allows more practice with your business endeavors.
Pro tip: Take a for-credit independent study course for a semester or quarter. This allows you to focus on research for your business. During another semester, take a project-based entrepreneurship class to gain experience creating prototype designs for products and/or strategy or marketing development for your business.
3. Utilize school resources
As part of your tuition, colleges and universities offer several free resources you can utilize while starting your business. Copy and print services, free wifi, online resources, and library materials are indispensable tools to help progress your business interests. Plus, you should be able to get discounts on student software. (On average, 63 percent of small businesses spend a quarter of their budget on technology). Many entrepreneurs pay for their startup out of pocket at first, so maximize on resources while they’re free.
Pro tip: If your college has a writing center, take advantage of it for promotional materials and collaborate with student organizations to help promote your business. You can also book conference rooms for meeting space.
4. Connect with other students
College offers students lots of spare time. While you’re building your business, connect with fellow classmates and students for recruitment opportunities. Consider pitching the idea of collaboration to them and make it a learning opportunity for everyone. Many startups have employed students for onboarding.
College is a multidisciplinary hub. You’re more likely to meet well-rounded individuals with diverse ideas to produce intersecting and innovative concepts.
Pro tip: Check if your school provides an entrepreneurship or business department with alumni connections. Departments within the business school can assist entrepreneurs with business strategy and finding lucrative mentors.
5. Ask business-minded questions in class
In order to produce a high-quality business product, you’ll have to test everything carefully. First, you have to find a work strategy so you know how much time to allot for schoolwork and business. Examine your competitors’ sales strategies and test your product in your college community. Ask fellow students, niche demographic organizations, or campus groups these three questions:
Would you use this business/service?
What makes the business desirable?
What would you improve?
Student entrepreneurs can also be efficient by posing hypothetical business questions during relevant lesson plans or asking fellow students’ opinions during team projects. Asking questions will help develop your business plan and result in better time management.
Pro tip: Even if the business strategy is in its infancy, it’s essential to build notoriety or generate ideas for your own learning or business. Professors will note your interest and dedication. Plus, you’ll gain knowledge of business development. You may even be able to find ways to market the particular service to specific groups of people.
6. Find funding options
Financial growth is an important factor in the early stages of any business. If you’re looking to generate money flow, college is a great way to find funding sources for your startup. Finance and scholarship offices can help you secure loans, federal grants, scholarships, and fellowships that offer students financial assistance. Holding an email address ending with “.edu” is lucrative because there are specific funding options available for student entrepreneurs.
Pro tip: Crowdsourcing offers unique funding opportunities. This method is now helping to generate startup revenue and draws attention from businesses and investors. While you’re still in college, reach out to a large and unique school community to promote your business or product. You could even create a crowdsourcing event on your campus.
7. Create a schedule and checklist.
Feeling overwhelmed? Many students and entrepreneurs benefit from creating a to-do list. If you need to fit in goals each day, make yourself a daily checklist and highlight the most important deadlines. Checklists help you stay focused and optimize specific goals.
Pro tip: Splitting up specific goals into time blocks can help you focus and manage details more efficiently. Studies show designating 50-minute study blocks with 10-minute breaks simplifies larger tasks and optimizes focus. Consider working on school work during the first half of the day and your business plans during the evening.
8. Learn to say “no.”
Knowing your boundaries is an important part of becoming a business leader. As you study in school, be sure to make a routine for your schoolwork and business endeavors. But say “no” to any that overextend you. If friends invite you out for drinks, it’s ok to say “no.” Designate weekends for maintaining relationships or enjoy a drink while at a networking or business event.
Pro tip: Create a rewards system and allow yourself to go out for a drink with friends only if you complete both a school and business task for that day. Plus, negotiating why you must focus on school or work is an essential quality to learn for business relations.
9. Find a mentor
College offers a vast network to help you meet seasoned professionals and expand upon ideas. Finding mentors is one benefit of college networks. Ask mentors if they can introduce you to local business development offices or experts in the field. As a student, most people are generally willing to help you. Mentors are there to offer sage advice, coaching, and opportunities to connect with businesses for college credit.
Pro tip: Use platforms like Envelop, Mogul, or FledgeWing to connect with mentors or capital in your area.
Tying it together
A full schedule can make you feel like a ticking time bomb. But, combining school and work can help balance the day. If you’re passionate about an idea, take the risk and develop it. Attending college provides opportunity, crucial learning experience and time to fail.
Embrace the ideal that business and education can be balanced and stay dedicated to both worlds. School is the perfect opportunity for you to blossom and grow your business while becoming a more well-rounded, astute individual.