Real Leaders

4 Ways to Become a Successful Entrepreneur While Earning a Degree

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 28:  Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic, poses for photographs before ringing a ceremonial bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to promote the first day of trading of Virgin Galactic Holdings shares on October 28, 2019 in New York City. Virgin Galactic Holdings became the first space-tourism company to go public as it began trading on Monday with a market value of about $1 billion. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Bill Gates. Richard Branson. Steve Jobs. When you hear these names, you immediately think of business legends. Billionaires with success stories so profound they’ll continue to influence generations of entrepreneurs. But what you might not realize is that this group has something else in common: they’re all college dropouts. 

These stories aren’t the standard path, of course. The skills and experience we can gain from college is invaluable to our business success. But what if you’re eager to start your entrepreneurial journey and don’t want to wait until after graduation? You might get a lot of pushback from people telling you to hold off until you’re out of school, but the stories of Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg serve as proof that it’s possible — though not easy — to start building a business while earning a degree. Just like Dell and Zuckerberg, I was also so excited to bring my ideas to life that I started my first company out of my dorm room as well.

There’s some unique advantages to being a student entrepreneur that other founders lack. You have access to free or subsidized educational resources, mentorship opportunities from faculty members and/or other students, as well as a large pool of potential customers to target your products or services to. It does come with its fair share of obstacles though, like limited time to focus on both school and work, as well as a higher rate of stress. All of this on top of the lingering pressure that 20 percent of small business don’t survive past their first year. Don’t let this prevent you from working towards your dream of running your own business. Below are some tips for successfully starting a company while also earning your degree.

1. Come up with a unique business idea

This isn’t the time to try to come up with a business that’s never been done before. Instead, start small and think of a unique way to monetize something that’s already an interest of yours. What simple service or product can you offer to someone to make their lives easier? What problems can you help solve through your business idea? As you begin developing this idea, you can also align some of your electives with your goals to help you gain the skills and knowledge to push yourself further. If there aren’t any specific electives that align with your industry, or these courses wouldn’t apply to your degree, try doing more general classes, like marketing or writing. As your business grows, these skills will also be a critical part of your growth and profitability.

2. Create a customer base

Having a business idea is important, but don’t get so wrapped up in the idea that you spend all your time finalizing your product or service only to quickly realize you have no customers. When you’re first starting out, you need sales in order to even have a business, so it often makes more sense to build a customer base before going all-in on a product or service. That way, when you do put all of your time, energy, and money into developing your business idea, you know you’ll have people who are waiting to buy from you.Being in college, your customer base could be right in front of your nose. Your fellow classmates could be the perfect group of people to center your products or services around. It makes selling even easier too, since you have access to them on campus at all times. They could also give you some valuable insight into the kinds of things they like or don’t like, so don’t forget to use them as a sounding board for your ideas.

3. Develop a business plan and get funding

This is what sets the real entrepreneurs apart from the amateurs. You need a working business plan with a budget in order to launch a successful startup. Here is what every business plan must have:

  • An executive summary, which provides the fundamental details about your business (information about your product or service, your target audience. etc.)
  • A mission statement, which should specify the products or services you’re offering
  • A marketing plan, which should show how you plan to reach your target audience
  • An operational plan, which will detail the day-to-day of your business
  • A list of your company’s managerial organization and fiscal planning

Then, there’s the funding side of launching a startup. As a college student, you should look into grants, loans, and scholarships that have been designed for people in your unique position. 

4. Build your brand

This is perhaps the most fun part of starting a business. In this step, you want to make your business legitimate and actually put it out into the public’s eye. The first step is building a website. There are affordable ways to do this, including using free platforms like WordPress and Wix. Then, you’ll want to create and personalize your social media profiles. The socials you create will depend on the audience you’re trying to reach, but the big five include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok. Tie all of these elements together and start building your following so you can start making sales. The most important thing to remember as a college student trying to launch your first business is to find balance. You don’t want your business to distract you from your studies, but you also need to be able to find between classes and homework to focus on getting your business in order. Once you have that balance, follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to being a successful entrepreneur even before you graduate college. 

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