As an aspiring college entrepreneur, the odds are already stacked against you—do you know how you’ll beat them? Do you ever ask yourself how, exactly, other student entrepreneurs succeeded? Maybe you should.
The statistics are clear: you’re likely to fail at least twice in business before you succeed. This means you’re going to face long nights of uncertainty and fear on top of the challenges you already face as a college student. You’ll probably think about quitting almost as often as you dream of your eventual success.
No doubt this is exactly what you expect to hear. No doubt this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it. No doubt if you’re still reading, you really don’t care about the odds—you’re going to start that business anyway.
Give me 5 minutes of your attention, and I’ll give you the advice I wish I had when first starting out. Maybe I can give you the edge you need to be successful on the first try instead of the third.
How to build a business while still in college
Above all else, to build a business in college you must be disciplined. Taking daily steps toward your goals is what leads to success. No amount of advice, tips, or hacks will ever be enough to make you successful if you don’t regularly move forward with immediate and massive action. Unfortunately, one of the greatest challenges for college-aged entrepreneurs is being unwilling to take action for your business after college studies have drained your willpower.
To overcome this challenge, commit to taking action that moves you toward your goal in a real way. Commit to doing it often, regardless of how motivated you feel in the moment. Be disciplined. Do this, and you’ll start having success. Want to make that discipline as painless as possible? Want to make your success as certain as possible? Here’s how you can do that.
Make time in your schedule.
If you’re serious about doing something, make it non-negotiable. Set aside a few hours throughout the week to focus on your business. During these pre-scheduled times, you are unavailable. No friends, no homework, no distractions.
Take advantage of resources.
No matter what type of college you go to, you are surrounded by resources. Potential mentors, incubator programs, student entrepreneurship grants, even your fellow students can help you take your business to the next level. Seek out these resources; be intentional with how you use them.
Ask for help.
You’re significantly more likely to succeed with a partner. By starting your business with a partner, you’ll grow your customer base by an additional 300%; you’ll raise 30% more money; and you’re less likely to make devastating business mistakes. However even then, incompetence and lack of experience account for the vast majority of all business failure. In addition to having a partner, having a mentor with experience in your business is crucial to your success. If you’re serious about starting a business in college, find both.
If you’ve never built a business before, you’re going to be constantly uncomfortable. Calling strangers to offer your services or simply posting your first promotional flyer will likely be far outside your comfort zone. In order to grow your business, you need to be confident taking these crucial actions despite discomfort. In order to grow your business, you have to grow too.
No matter what type of business you start, you won’t be very good at it. Not at the beginning. Don’t worry! Even the founders of the world’s most iconic businesses weren’t good at what they did when first starting out. That’s why they practiced. Whether you need to improve your photo editing, your social skills, or your marketing, set aside a couple hours each week to practice that skill.
Offer something unique.
Unfortunately, directly competing with other businesses in your niche is a quick path to unpaid bills. Instead of playing the price game, center your business around something that only you can offer. You’re likely to find a handful of freelance photographers in every dorm. But a photographer who’s also talented with hair and makeup could offer a flagship package including a makeover and a photo shoot. Don’t play by someone else’s rules. Reinvent the game.
Invest in practical education.
You’re in college anyway. You can use that to your advantage. Be strategic about what classes you take. Use some of your electives to take marketing, basic business, and accounting courses, at the very least. Fundamental knowledge about how to run a business will give you a leg up on most other college entrepreneurs.
Choose a college program that gives you freedom.
Four-year universities have their place. But the simple truth is—if I did college in the traditional way, I would never have started a single business. Doing college online, at my own pace, with professional guidance and a supportive community gave me the freedom and flexibility to pursue my passions and build my businesses. With a program that helped me graduate debt free, that freedom even carried over after I graduated.
In my experience, the number one thing that prevents potential entrepreneurs from taking their first real step is a fear of failure. This can’t be you. As an entrepreneur, the question shouldn’t be “will I fail?” Instead, it should be “would I rather fail spectacularly, or never try?” Entrepreneurs fail spectacularly.
There is always another angle; there is always another opportunity. Every failure puts you closer to your eventual success. Stay disciplined in taking the next step, no matter what challenges you face, no matter what temporary failures you suffer, and you’ll reach success.
At its core, building a business in college is simple. Be intentional about taking action each day, keep your eye on the big picture, and you’ll soon find yourself running a business.
However, despite the simplicity of the task, I’ve never met an entrepreneur—college-aged or otherwise—who said building their business was easy. There will be days when you don’t take the next step. Despite how much you want to be an entrepreneur, there will be moments when you can’t muster the discipline to build your business. So let me leave you with one last piece of encouragement.
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.” - Les Brown
Do you dream of building a business in college? Then do it.
The odds may not be in your favor, but you know how to get started. You know what it takes to succeed. You know how to make that success as certain as possible. The only thing that can stop you is yourself.
Wyatt is an Unbound graduate and a driven entrepreneur. He’s passionate about building businesses and gets annoyed when someone says the only way to be successful is to get a “real” job. When not working on a new business idea or general self-development, Wyatt spends his time pursuing the life moments that make him feel alive.Read more by Wyatt