How to start a student business

So you're thinking of starting a business?

If those who have already done it are to be believed, the three years we spent 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 easy.

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 developer.

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 graduate.

Try these:

Promotions
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.

Freelancing
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 StudentFreelance.com for opportunities.

eBay business
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.

Odd jobs
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.

Tutoring
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.

Online business
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 sector here.

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 own business."

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 flourish.

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 section.

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, Accounting Software, Legal Documents, and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.

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