For those of you who have students preparing to go to, or currently attending college, the costs probably are daunting. The cost of a year in college runs right around $23.000/year. This is unaffordable for many, and painful for all but the most wealthy. Luckily, there are many things a parent and student can do to mitigate the costs of college. Most of these are well known options, including summer and school year jobs, financial aid, attending public vs. private institutions, using community college as a launching point for a four year college, joining the military and using GI Bill benefits.
One option that is rarely considered is for a student to start their own business in college. Notwithstanding the notable examples of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and other urban legends, this is not a choice most college students will make. I’ve blogged before about whether a college degree is necessary for someone starting their own business, but I didn’t discuss combining the two – starting a business in order to pay for a college degree.
Note that most businesses don’t need to have employees or complex operations in order to generate profits. As stated before in this blog, to have a business you need to identify a product people want to purchase and sell it at a profit. If you do this well and generate self-sustaining repeat business, you can minimize the amount of hustle required to get new business and focus on your studies. Another advantage for those who are taking business-related courses in college is that you can immediately apply your newly learned knowledge to your business.
What I’m talking about in this blog, however, is about generating income so that your student can pay their way through school. Here are five suggested ways that hopefully will lead you to creating your own mini-incomes that will help you or your student through college and provide a basis for future entrepreneurial endeavors.
- Expand upon a hobby, such as photography. A college-age friend of my son has a passion for both sports cars and photography. He also has a real talent for photography, and has a portfolio of professional quality photos. He currently goes to niche exotic car dealers, takes photos of their cars, then shows them the photos in the form of an online portfolio. If they like what they see, they commission him to take photos of their cars to better market them. If not, he has wasted very little time and has been doing something he enjoys.
- Teach or tutor. Every student has some subject at which they excel, whether math, english, or music. Tutoring high school students in your favorite subject can be rewarding and provide a good income stream. You can go through agencies, but the idea here is to make a profit for yourself, not for others. Create your own fliers and business cards and use your connections back to your high school alma mater (if you’re local) or the local high income area high schools. Ask for referrals and as you do good work, watch your referrals grow.
- Look for opportunities to provide services for your fellow students. This could be in the form of concierge type services (for someone with no time to do basic things but extra cash to pay for someone else to do them), shopping, tutoring, note-taking, etc. All these require on your part is the ability to market and perform the service, either yourself or buy paying other students at a rate that lets you make a profit. Obviously you’ll want to market these services to students that have the money to pay for them, since other starving students are likely to have more time than money, or too little of both.
- Make hand-crafted goods and sell them. The internet is a great venue for selling that doesn’t require retail space, going to craft shows, or any brick and mortar other than a dorm room. A co-worker of mine was looking at a business that makes custom wallets out of old ties. The ties are virtually free at thrift stores and for the cost of a sewing machine and labor this business was able to generate in excess of 60K/year, with the owner working part time. Alternatively, work with someone you know who makes handcrafted goods and create a website and marketing plan for them. On Yahoo Stores or similar venues setting up an e-commerce site is both cheap and easy. If you have a friend’s mom who makes the best hot sauce in the world, or knits cardigans for all of her friends, there may be an opportunity to sell those goods to a wider market.
- Provide services for local residents or businesses. There are students who have window washing businesses, dog-walking businesses, car detailing businesses, landscaping businesses, etc. Market research and finding a demographic are key skills that will be developed here.
College can be expensive, but it’s an opportunity for students to gain practical business skills as well as a more traditional academic education. This is a one-two punch combination that will hopefully provide them a basis for entrepreneurism that will stay with them throughout their many careers and help them find opportunities that will enable them to explore their passions as well as accumulate wealth.