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Tips for Starting a Small Business While in College

Starting a small business can be an excellent way for college students to develop valuable real-world experience. And, of course, we've all heard the success stories of a student who has a big idea, drops out of college, and becomes a seemingly overnight success. But you don't have to drop out of school or have the next billion-dollar idea to take the plunge and start your own business. Our Money Matters highlights some of the benefits of being a college entrepreneur and some tips on starting a business, managing cash flow, and business ideas.

Benefits of Entrepreneurship:

  1. Valuable Experience: Learn practical skills such as marketing, sales, and accounting that will be beneficial in any future career.

  2. Extra Income: Earn extra income, which can help pay for tuition, student loans, textbooks, and other expenses.

  3. Expand your Network: Build a network of contacts, including customers, suppliers, and mentors.

  4. Focus Groups: In a college environment, you have easy access to fellow students, professors, and faculty who can act as sounding boards for your ideas.

  5. Get Started Early: Gain independence by taking control of your financial future while still in college.

Tips for Starting a Business on a Tight Budget:

  1. Learn the ropes: To learn the basics, many colleges offer classes specifically on entrepreneurship. If your school doesn't provide that, take an online course.

  2. Start small: It's essential to start small and focus on an open niche market, and that help solves a problem for consumers or other companies.

  3. Use free resources: Use tools, such as social media, to market your business. You can also use free software for tasks like accounting and bookkeeping.

  4. Keep costs down: Be mindful of costs and avoid unnecessary expenses. For example, you can rent equipment instead of buying it or work from your dorm room to avoid paying rent.

  5. Bootstrap your business: Reinvest your profits into the company instead of taking a salary which can help you build the business and avoid debt.

  6. Don’t forget the soft skills: Building a successful business long-term requires a strong work ethic and the ability to provide excellent service to customers. One great way to gather feedback is to email short surveys to clients so that you can consistently improve your products and customer service.

Managing Cash Flow:

  1. Create a budget: It's vital to create a budget and stick to it to prevent overspending and enable you to manage your cash flow. You can sign up for free budgeting tools at

  2. Keep track of expenses: Keep track of all your costs and review them regularly to identify areas where you can cut costs and improve your cash flow.

  3. Invoice your customers promptly and follow up on late payments to avoid cash flow problems.

  4. Negotiate with suppliers: Negotiate with suppliers to get the best prices and terms to help you reduce costs and improve your cash flow.

Ideas for Businesses:

Depending on your skills, interests, and available resources, you can start many types of businesses that can help you earn extra cash without becoming an all-consuming project. Here are some examples:

  1. Tutoring: You can offer tutoring services to other students or high school students in the local community.

  2. Social media management: Provide social media management services to small businesses in your area.

  3. Event planning: Start an event planning business and offer parties, weddings, and other events services.

  4. Graphic design: If you have graphic design skills, provide design services for small businesses and individuals.

  5. Dog walking: Start a pet sitting or dog walking business.

  6. Photography: If you have photography skills, use those to offer services for events, portraits, and product photography.

  7. Personal training: If you are passionate about fitness, start a personal training business.

  8. Personal assistant: Offer a service to help busy professionals to help them manage their everyday personal tasks.

  9. Writing and editing: If you are a strong writer and editor, offer those services to individuals or businesses.

  10. Lawn care: College students can start a lawn care business and offer services like mowing, trimming, and landscaping.

In conclusion, starting a small business while in college can provide many benefits, including valuable skills, extra income, a network of contacts, and a sense of independence. By following these tips for starting a business on a tight budget and managing cash flow, college students can build successful companies that can serve them well in the future.

If you want to learn how to get free financial tools at Our Money Matters, click here.

A grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation generously supports our Money Matters.

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