Allison, Pittsburgh, PA.
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). Founded by Scott Gerber, the YEC is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.
A. Provide a Service
Look to start a service industry business that requires little overhead expenses to turn classmates into customers. For college entrepreneurs, a good example would be a laundry pick-up, wash, and delivery service. Price the service per pound and spread the word via word of mouth and flyers around campus. Everyone away at school needs to do laundry and I haven’t met many people that enjoy it.
A. Try contracting on ODesk
If you want to test whether there is a market for your skills, try becoming a freelancer on ODesk. Don’t focus on pricing too much, but try to work with some clients on design/programming/admin projects to get a sense of what selling services is like. It’s low risk and you can earn a few bucks.
A. Web Development
I started my web development business in college without any knowledge in how to build websites. I wanted to learn, so I found a business owner who needed a web guy and told him I could do it. That was a Friday. I spent the whole weekend learning and landed the gig on Monday. He was a client for over a year. If you can use Word, you can probably figure out how to build a website.
A. Go Overhead-Free
These days, there are hundreds of overhead-free business options that are perfect low-risk bets for budding entrepreneurs. One example is running a t-shirt business through print-on-demand services like Zazzle or Skreened. Make or acquire designs and make money when they sell; the service handles the rest. You don’t even have to buy a domain right away if you want zero up-front costs.
A. T Shirt Company
Create funny, interesting tshirts that your high school or college friends will wear, take preorders and then print the orders you already have. You can practice design, sales, marketing, order fulfillment and other business skills while assuming very little financial risk.
A. Information Products
The web allows for knowledge repurposing at an incredibly low cost and arguably low barrier to entry. Take an e-book as an example; a collection of resources and ideas around a subject (i.e. chihuahuas)…assessing target market size, distribution channels, and setting up a website/e-commerce destination can be done for cheap, but still requires front to back planning and execution.
A. Private Lessons
We all have something that we are good at, so why not try to sell your services in the form of a private lesson: a very low risk start-up. You might find teaching the lesson to be the easiest part. Along the way you’ll gain valuable marketing and sales experience in your search for clients and practice skills like negotiation and client management.
It really does not matter what you sell, as long as you sell something. This is how business is ran, by selling something. Rather than risking your money, first see if you can sell something and if you can, buy it and turn it for a profit. Don’t go out and buy the thing first though, because chances are you may have a garage full of that stuff. Go practice by pre-selling something…anything!
A. Start a Blog Before a Business
Start by creating a blog. Very little overhead is involved and more importantly it will help you discover your passions. By starting a business focused blog you can start to not only share your interests with the world but begin to discover your interests on a deeper level, which is extremely important early on. Also, producing content gives you a vehicle to connect with others in the space.
A. College Colors
Shoelaces, hairbands, sweat bands, sunglasses, bracelets, etc. Whatever it is, if it can be made in your school colors, you can probably sell it. Buy them on the cheap and set up in a high traffic area of your school. Team up with a campus organization and donate a portion to their philanthropy, doing so will instantly multiply your marketing street team and sales will be a snap.
A. Affiliate Sales
The great thing about the internet is that you can sell products/services you don’t actually have to deliver/fulfill. Look into commission junction, amazon and ebay and find some things you know a lot about. Sign up as an affiliate for products/services you feel comfortable selling. Create a blog, facebook page or simply try to get your friends to buy these products through your affiliate links.
A. Use Your Peers
When I was in high school, I started to event plan and produce parties at local halls. I made sure to work out a deal that had minimal risk by splitting the door proceeds with the hall to avoid a rental fee. I then got numerous students in different cliques and sports teams to promote the party and paid them based on how many people they brought. I then motivated the promoters with financial incentives to find sub-promoters under them to increase the marketing efforts. Being at the top of the pyramid obviously reaped the most benefits.
A. Laundry Service
One of my top employees started a laundry service while in college. He contracted with a local laundry matt who charged him a lower rate for the volume be brought them and made the difference in price. They laundry matt would pick up and drop off the clothes for him so all he needed to do was find the customers. They even paid him online through PayPal. Very low risk yet a great start.