Innovation and energy come standard to every college student, but some may not use their full potential during their college years. Many startups begin in this life stage due to the free flow of thought and creativity that is cultivated in colleges, and the fact that college students can avoid the constraints of families, bills and 9-to-5 jobs makes their time at the university ripe for starting a business.
With the amount of college debt students are racking up these days, it’s the perfect time for an ambitious youngster to think entrepreneurially. And while many students will not have the ability to invest thousands of dollars into a business, technology can provide several opportunities for college students to launch a business for very little startup costs. University students can (and should) take advantage of their carefree living situation to embrace and develop a business that will teach them the fundamentals of running a business. And if they’re lucky, their ventures may even provide some security for their current and future finances.
With a full course load in college, it’s hard for many students to find the time to travel to a job or even have a set schedule with a local company, but the following businesses can be started and run from a dorm room or college apartment with minimal investment except your own time and abilities.
Let’s take a look at some easy-to-start, easy-to-manage startups that college students with limited resources can launch.
This is the classic college endeavor. Everyone has a subject in which they excel, so use that expertise to make some cash on the side. You can advertise through social media and charge by the hour or per assignment. Not only will you earn money; you will feel great helping others with their grades. But don’t forget to look beyond your college for tutoring services. If you did well on the SAT or ACT exams, you could go to local high schools and offer your services.
If you’re organized and can find a reliable team, you could also consider recruiting other students with different specialties to form a full-service (of sorts) tutoring agency. Help your team find clients, and collect commissions when they’re paid for services.
2. Textbook Trading and Selling Marketplace
College books are an expensive but very necessary part of the learning experience. And finding specific books at a price that won’t break a college student’s bank can be nearly impossible. If you can make friends with Computer Science majors and are decent with a camera and writing, consider starting a textbook exchange website from your dorm room that’s specific to your university.
If you don’t have any friends to develop a website for you and don’t mind not having your own domain, a few social media sites have options where you can start a book exchange group for free, and others can join quickly and easily. By charging a small percentage of the final sale, you could easily earn money on a daily basis while helping your fellow students.
3. Digital Marketing Services
Are you an expert in WordPress or other CMS platforms? Do you understand how SEO works and feel you can launch a killer SEM campaign? Do you have a firm grasp of social media and a large following on all the major social networks? Are you an amazing designer or image editor with awesome Photoshop skills? If so, there may be several local businesses, student clubs or school organizations that can use your services.
Create a pitch highlighting your expertise in website creation and social influence. Then, get out and hustle, and cold-call local shops that have little or no web presence. If you can offer quality at a fraction of the price of bigger, more established companies, you may be able to set up a marketing agency that can make you cash both during and after college. Don’t be afraid to approach your school’s administration or student clubs: they are more likely to leverage the services of a fellow student rather than an outsider.
If you’d rather not interact directly with clients, you may consider affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing has become a huge (and rather complicated) industry, but the essence of the system is that you help merchants sell their products to consumers online, and in turn, you get a cut of their profits. Once you get the hang of it, affiliate marketing can allow you to bring in multiple streams of income with minimal effort, all from inside your dorm room. To learn more about how affiliate marketing works, check out this article.
4. Staffing and Internship Placement
For busy college students, looking for a decent side job or summer internship can be extremely time-consuming and stressful. The reality is, however, that many local businesses are probably looking for qualified and eager workers to fill their positions, but they don’t have the time or insight to properly recruit for those positions. That’s where you come in.
Connect with local businesses (and maybe eventually national businesses), and ask them if they are interested in gaining access to a qualified list of candidates for their open position. If you have the resources, you can create an online network for businesses and college students and match them up based on interest. If you don’t, you can manage the staffing manually by posting available jobs on student networks and recruiting on behalf of the business, then curating the list of applicants for them. In exchange, perhaps you charge the business a small recruitment fee for each worker successfully placed in a position.
Helping a classmate launch their career is not only rewarding; it can also be lucrative. Not to mention it can also be a stepping-stone for your own gainful career as a recruiter or headhunter.
5. Promotional Services
Like the marketing idea highlighted above, if you’re well-connected on social media and can write convincing copy or a solid press piece, consider launching a promotional service for students, campus clubs or local businesses. Go around to fraternities, sororities and your school’s academic and social clubs and offer to promote them on social media, bulletin boards, fliers and the university paper. You can even offer to plan promotional events, contests or competitions to increase the “buzz” around their organizations. Reach out to these clubs at the beginning of the school year (when Rush Week starts and clubs are trying to land newcomers), and if you do well, it could set you up for many promotional opportunities throughout the rest of the year, including word-of-mouth referrals for other, non-school-related events.
Also, go around to local small businesses and offer to create fliers and posters advertising deals or upcoming events. You may even consider initially offering your services for free, and after proving your value, you can charge when they come back for more. And like a marketing service, if you’re great at what you do, you just might set yourself up for a reward career in public relations once your schooling is over.
6. Transportation/Delivery/Odd-Job Services
A trend developing across large cities is the concept of collaborative consumption, and bringing that concept to a small college town just might translate to large profits. Typically, collaborative consumption sites are marketplaces in which regular users offer their services for a fee; these services can include rides, picking up and delivering groceries, doing handiwork for elderly customers, pet-sitting, etc. The sites nip a percentage of the bill, and both users and webmasters enjoy profits.
While it’s possible with the right CS students and some marketing acumen, it may be difficult to develop a site that connects students willing to do odd jobs with those looking for help. If that’s outside your reach, offering your personal services to others through social media, on Craigslist and other job boards can be an easy way to make a few quick bucks. You can offer to:
- Deliver food
- Cater student events
- Start a dog-walking service
- Repair bicycles
- Handle post-party cleaning
- Repair someone’s computer for cheap
- Run a student laundry/cleaning business
While these odd jobs might not set you up for your future career endeavors, they offer a good way to make extra cash without devoting all of what little free time you may have to your business.
Set Yourself Up for Success
It may be tempting to simply enjoy college and not think about the expenses you are incurring, but you can help offset some of the costs with your own entrepreneurial spirit and determination. A college education is not cheap, so finding ways to help cover some of the costs can ensure you won’t have a mountain of debt to deal with later on in life. Don’t limit yourself to the college campus, but take a walk around the area and see what businesses and other organizations can utilize your services.
Beyond simply putting more cash in your pocket, launching a startup is setting you up for a successful career. And that’s what college is all about: when you outgrow frat parties, all that matters is your earning power in the real world. If you can show initiative, commitment and creative problem-solving skills (regardless of the level of success for your startup), employers will be more willing to offer you a job than another candidate who worked retail throughout college.