These days, more and more students are suplementing loans with freelance work or by starting a small business. It's a smart move, as it helps with the rising cost of tuition and lets you build up a body of work while you earn. The extra hours can be tough, but they're flexible, and working for yourself is great way to show people what you're capable of.
It also means you'll have experience if you decide to join the 9 to 5 when your course ends and you start attending interviews; something employers love. So if you're still in education and want to start earning a little extra to help pay for books and beer, keep reading - here to give you a few pointers is Brian Ng, growth hacker and content strategist at Strikingly.
Guest post by Brian Ng
If you’re in college, odds are that you have a lot of great ideas but not much spare cash to pursue them. However, there’s a way to chase your dreams even with limited resources. At Strikingly, a startup formed in a dingy San Francisco apartment by three broke college grads, we have key insights for other student entrepreneurs on how to grow a business on a small budget. The takeaways from our experiences as a bootstrapped startup are: figure out your own core competencies, be lean, and leverage your network.
1. Understand what you can offer.
Limited financial resources doesn’t necessarily limit your business' growth. Be resourceful and embrace financial constraints. Your leverage is bigger than your budget, or even your skillset. Your cachet is literally anything you can do, whatever you can invest in; though it does help if you’re the only one who can.
If you only have $5, for example, don’t buy a penny stock, or sell lemonade; capitalize on your time and skills. Good teacher? Tutor students. Good coder? Hack up a project. Graduated from a nice school? Advertise within that network and connect with alumni.
Remember the iconic scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, where Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and soon-to-be Wall Street extraordinaire, tries to convert a bunch of misfits into high-octane penny stock salesmen over some beers. “Sell me this pen,” he instructs.
“It’s an amazing pen,” someone offers. This pen writes upside down. It defies gravity, this pen is the cheapest pen on earth, this pen will never run out. All of these are decent answers.
But in the film, one of them takes the pen and tells Jordan to write his name down. Jordan replies that he doesn’t have a pen. Exactly, the man says. “Supply and demand.”
The slightly longer lesson: it pays to have a great product or skill to sell, to know exactly what you’re good at. It also pays to realize what people need, and go right after that target. To realise a client’s demand, and go for it -- that doesn’t need a budget.
Like a pen, your skills can seem expendable, when the going gets rough. Be resourceful, be confident, and address or create a need, and you will find your worth. Check out our blog for articles on branding your new business, or building an online identity for a student startup, for more inspiration!
2. Be frugal.
Evaluate - constantly look for things to streamline, simplify and remove. You can do that by drafting a budget plan by an excel spreadsheet, and notating your expenses. Either manage your finances with software like Quicken, or if you feel fancier, invest in a good accountant that has experience with freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses. The key takeaway: spend less than you earn, and invest the rest.
If you’re studying in the United States, consider starting out as a sole proprietorship - not only is it free of charge to form, it has very easy tax guidelines. As you grow, however, watch out as sole proprietorships have unlimited personal liabilities: this means that, as an owner, you are personally liable for all debts and obligations of the business. Then, consider incorporating your business, which allows the raising of investment capital, among other things.
If your business depends on the web, you can easily conduct your business online, and converse with clients and customers over Skype or email. If you need another space - for example, to focus, or collaborate with others, or to look like a legit business - either try your school library (wi-fi access!) or an accelerator space near you.
If your school has a business department, they are usually the best-funded, and distribute delicious free food in official events. Show up, network, and save ramen money to help fund your business. Every penny counts.
3. Find other sources of funding.
Check out resources for student entrepreneurs at your school. There might be startup competitions, entrepreneurship organizations, scholarships, or artistic grants within your school that can give you funding for academic-year and summer endeavors.
Another potential source of revenue is freelancing. Not only will you be making money to grow your business, freelancing is an opportunity to showcase your own skills, expand your portfolio, and hone your skills. A graphic designer? Draw an icon set. A copywriter? Start your own travel blog. A web designer? Make a website for your uncle’s restaurant, if not your own business. Not only will you gain working experience, you’ll also be able to prove to future employers about the skills you’re offering.
4. Leverage your current network.
When you’re starting a business, a strong network is important - you may not have a list of clients, and you certainly don’t have a big branding and marketing budget. Still, there’s plenty of ways to spread the word without money.
Leverage your school connections, including professors and your alumni network. Consider how Facebook, which began as a community restricted within Harvard, relied on word-of-mouth among students to spread, one campus at a time. There are also plenty of promotional outlets including posters on clipboards, or even your Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds to reach out to your fellow students.
5. Get online.
A website always helps - either as a portfolio of your work, a public or accessible resume, or as a landing page to launch products and events. If you’re a web designer, you know to make a distinctive webpage to establish your personal style. If you’re not, there are website creation services including Strikingly which you can use to create custom sites without any coding knowledge.
Get active on social media, especially on professional networks like LinkedIn or Slideshare. Not only can platforms like these increase your visibility, they’re also useful tools for researching your competitors, connecting with potential investors, and help you establish yourself as an emerging talent in your industry.
Have more advice for student entrepreneurs and freelancers? Leave a comment. Check out Strikingly Blog for more features on entrepreneurship, campus life, technology, and more!
This blog post is brought to you by the creators of Solo; your freelance wingman. If you'd like to contribute to the blog, contact us on hello[at]wearethrive.com.