How to start a student business
Feeling a bit skint? If you're a student or you've just graduated, now is the perfect time to start a business.
So you're thinking of starting a business?
If those who have already done it are to be believed, the three
years we spend at university are the best days of our lives. The
freedom, the intellectual stimulation, the drinking, the
sheer wealth and diversity and unusual levels of willingness of
members of the opposite sex - it's all yours for the taking.
It's not just about money - starting a business is
great for your CV as well
Then again, those who have already done it probably didn't have to
deal with tuition fees. Or credit cards. Or massive student loans.
Or overdrafts. In fact, they probably survived off grants and the
odd friendly wink from their parents.
How's a student to enjoy their time at uni with all that on their
shoulders? Start a business, we say - and the great news is, it's
Why you should start a business
If you're at university or you've just graduated, now is the
best possible time to start a business. Think about it: what do you
have to lose? It's unlikely you'll own property, have a job to hold
down or have a family to support - when will you get another
opportunity to do this? This may be the only time in your life you
have the freedom to make mistakes - so take advantage.
Businesses don't necessarily cost a lot to start - and they don't
have to take up all your time. While your friends might be toiling
their free time away in the student union (Smarta did that -
believe us, it's no fun), you could be making the most of your
passion or expertise, raking in the ad revenue from your blog,
getting your career as a promoter off to a start or farming out
your skills as a freelance graphic designer, writer or
It's not just about money, though - starting a business is great
for your CV as well: think about how impressed prospective
employers will be if you tell them you've started a business.
During a time when graduates are finding harder and harder to get a
job, starting a business will give you the edge over other
candidates, providing you with skills from accountancy to sales to
management and teamwork - and you'll be able to demonstrate to
employers just how self-motivated you are.
So what are you waiting for? Get started!
What kind of business should you start?
As a student, it's important you choose the kind of business you
run carefully. You'll need to be able to fit it in with your
studies and, while we wish it were different, it's unlikely bank
managers or investors will take your idea seriously before you
If you like music, running a club night is a great way to make
money: because you can often hire venues for free, as long as your
punters spend an agreed amount at the bar, your overheads are low
and because budding bands are usually so keen to get any exposure
they possibly can, they'll sometimes accept a crate of beer and a
promise of a repeat booking as payment. Just make sure you're good
at marketing: you'll need to leverage your best social media and
flyering skills to get the word out. Check out our sales and marketing section
for more advice.
From dancing to writing to coding, if you're good at something,
you'll be able to freelance. Freelancing is flexible - you can do
as much or as little work as you need to do, cutting down during
exam time and building up more during the holidays. Take a look at
eBay is the ultimate online marketplace. While it can be tough,
and there's a lot to learn about earning a living on it, if you get
it right, there's no limit to the amount of money you can make. And
you don't even need storage space for your products - see our
drop shipping guide to drop shipping for more information. If
you hand-make your products, have a look at Etsy too.
As a student, you have an advantage over 9-to-5 workers because
you get to see daylight on a regular basis. This means you're
perfect to do those odd jobs people don't get around to during the
weekend - whether it's cleaning, DIY or dog walking.
The fact you are studying means you are an expert in one subject.
Use your expertise to teach the next generation. It isn't just GCSE
students who need tutoring: this is a chance to put that Grade
Eight violin or modern dance certificate to use.
Websites are the ultimate student business: they cost very little
to start, can be run from your bedroom and, because you're at
university, if you don't have the skills to design the site, you
probably know someone who does. There's a lot to learn about
starting a web business, but if you get it right, success could be
just around the corner. Smarta has loads of content about the tech
How to start a business
1. Come up with your idea
Coming up with a business idea is simple, if you know how to do
it. Think about what you're good at: when
Vivianne Jaeger and Emma-Jayne Parkes started their business,
SquidLondon, after they graduated, it was based on a project they
had done at university. Now they supply colour-changing umbrellas
to the Tate Modern's museum shop, the New York Museum of Modern Art
and the Kunstmuseum in Basle.
On the other hand, Glasses
Direct founder Jamie Murray Wells started his business, which
sells glasses online at rock-bottom prices, just after he graduated
because he was looking for an idea. "I was actively looking around
for an idea," he says. "I guess it's just a mentality of keeping
your mind open to problems that need to be solved."
2. To partner or not to partner?
Even if you don't have a lot to lose, starting a business can be
a scary prospect - but there's safety in numbers, so
starting up with a partner might be a good idea.
Not only does starting-up with a partner reduce the fear-factor,
it also gives you someone to bounce your ideas off, as well as
someone who understands what you're going through.
All entrepreneurs experience an element of loneliness when they're
starting-up, but if you're at university and you're missing out on
a party because you have a meeting the next day or a deadline to
hit, it can be particularly tough.
Mind Candy chief executive Michael
Smith started his first business, Firebox, with a partner when
they were studying at Cardiff university. "I've seen both sides,"
he says. "Starting a business with someone else is far preferable.
You can share the ups when things are going well, and you've got
someone to pick you up when things are going disastrously. You have
to face those huge ups and downs on your own when you set up your
Watch out, though: when you're choosing a partner, make sure you
choose someone who is as committed as you are to the idea. You
don't want to have to be the one who bears the brunt of the
responsibility - keep the workload equal, and the partnership will
3. Write a business plan
The business plan is the most important document you will write:
it sets out exactly what the business will do and how you will run
it, including everything from how you will market the business to
how you plan to finance it.
Writing the business plan is often a mammoth task, incorporating
hours of market research. Lucky for you, as a student, you will
have access to hundreds of market research reports via your
library, which could otherwise cost thousands of pounds.
For more advice, see our business planning
4. Raise finance
If you're lucky, you'll be able to finance your business from your
overdraft and your student loan, like entrepreneur Hermione
Way, who used her final student loan payment to buy a camera
and started her production company, Newspepper, with that.
If you're less lucky, you may have to borrow: there are various
options, including the three Fs -
friends, family and fools, bank funding, and venture capital,
although without assets to secure it against, bank funding may be
difficult to secure.
Crowdfunding is an alternative way of raising finance: selling
shares in the business for a small amount of money, say £10. Each
shareholder is then paid dividends once the business is profitable
depending on how many shares they bought.
More information on raising
finance for a student business here.
5. Build your brand
Once you've started your business, you need to build up its brand.
By far the cheapest way to do this is using the internet:
build a nice website, then build up your business' brand identity
using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It's simple, allowing you to
reach thousands of potential clients with relatively little effort.
As a student and therefore probably a frequent user of social
media, there's a good chance you will have a natural advantage over
your older, less tech-savvy competitors.
Don't underestimate the power of just getting out there and making
your face known, though. Flyering or holding a stall in the
students' union or a local market will get your product out there
in front of hundreds of potential customers.
Want to know more? Check out our marketing section.
To help you on your business journey, we've
created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online
tools package for growing your business. Website
Builder, Business Plans,
Documents and Email - all
in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out