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9 Tips for starting your business in college when your dorm is your office

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As many entrepreneurs know, dedicating time and energy to a business venture is a job all its own. It takes willpower to start a business at any age, but starting your first enterprise while still in school is especially challenging.

Yet, some of the most famous CEOs got their big ideas while in college. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell of Dell Computers, and Insomnia Cookies’ Steve Berkowitz all started their businesses in dorms or on campus. Today, young entrepreneurs are eager to emulate these successes before they graduate college.

Balancing schoolwork and the entrepreneurial dream are often troublesome for students. Many are reluctant to follow their business plans if they equate it with wasted tuition, but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Luckily, now is a great time to develop that entrepreneurial spirit while in college. In 2016, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested a revival for entrepreneurial growth and improved economic development. In addition, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports it’s still a safe bet to finish college. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher have higher employment rates and earning potential than those who finish some or no college. In addition, the 2016 Kauffman Startup Activity Index reports new entrepreneurs that are college grads has increased from 23.7 percent to 32.7 percent since 1997.

School can help define and influence your career goals rather than hinder them. If you’re a budding entrepreneur who’s still in school, these key steps can help balance your academic and professional careers:

1. Prioritize

Finding your priorities can be a challenge. First, determine your short-term and long-term career goals and how school fits into them. Questioning your impetus for school and business can help you determine the most important needs. Ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Why are you starting a business before graduation?
  2. Why do you value staying in school?
  3. Can your schoolwork help you build a business?
  4. Do you see a future career with your business after graduation?

When answering these questions, clearly define your reasons. Then decide when to sacrifice study time versus business opportunities. Each situation depends on the urgency of deadlines, but setting priorities can help clear your mind for which goal to focus on at any given moment.

Pro tip: Don’t beat yourself up if you want to work on a business strategy for a few days. If you want to integrate your class plan into your business plan, make sure you implement some of the key lesson strategies into your business or networking endeavors for the week.

2. Choose the right courses

If you’re concerned about good grades, bridge the gap between school and work. Choose a major or elective that benefits your business modeland helps you strategize. Pick classes to meet expert professors and other like-minded individuals. Attending courses related to your venture helps save time and allows more practice with your business endeavors.

Pro tip: Take a for-credit independent study course for a semester or quarter. This allows you to focus on research for your business. During another semester, take a project-based entrepreneurship class to gain experience creating prototype designs for products and/or strategy or marketing development for your business.

3. Utilize school resources

As part of your tuition, colleges and universities offer several free resources you can utilize while starting your business. Copy and print services, free wifi, online resources, and library materials are indispensable tools to help progress your business interests. Plus, you should be able to get discounts on student software. (On average, 63 percent of small businesses spend a quarter of their budget on technology). Many entrepreneurs pay for their startup out of pocket at first, so maximize on resources while they’re free.

Pro tip: If your college has a writing center, take advantage of it for promotional materials and collaborate with student organizations to help promote your business. You can also book conference rooms for meeting space.

4. Connect with other students

College offers students lots of spare time. While you’re building your business, connect with fellow classmates and students for recruitment opportunities. Consider pitching the idea of collaboration to them and make it a learning opportunity for everyone. Many startups have employed students for onboarding.

College is a multidisciplinary hub. You’re more likely to meet well-rounded individuals with diverse ideas to produce intersecting and innovative concepts.

Pro tip: Check if your school provides an entrepreneurship or business department with alumni connections. Departments within the business school can assist entrepreneurs with business strategy and finding lucrative mentors.

5. Ask business-minded questions in class

In order to produce a high-quality business product, you’ll have to test everything carefully. First, you have to find a work strategy so you know how much time to allot for schoolwork and business. Examine your competitors’ sales strategies and test your product in your college community. Ask fellow students, niche demographic organizations, or campus groups these three questions:

  1. Would you use this business/service?
  2. What makes the business desirable?
  3. What would you improve?

Student entrepreneurs can also be efficient by posing hypothetical business questions during relevant lesson plans or asking fellow students’ opinions during team projects. Asking questions will help develop your business plan and result in better time management.

Pro tip: Even if the business strategy is in its infancy, it’s essential to build notoriety or generate ideas for your own learning or business. Professors will note your interest and dedication. Plus, you’ll gain knowledge of business development. You may even be able to find ways to market the particular service to specific groups of people.

6. Find funding options

Financial growth is an important factor in the early stages of any business. If you’re looking to generate money flow, college is a great way to find funding sources for your startup. Finance and scholarship offices can help you secure loans, federal grants, scholarships, and fellowships that offer students financial assistance. Holding an email address ending with “.edu” is lucrative because there are specific funding options available for student entrepreneurs.

Pro tip: Crowdsourcing offers unique funding opportunities. This method is now helping to generate startup revenue and draws attention from businesses and investors. While you’re still in college, reach out to a large and unique school community to promote your business or product. You could even create a crowdsourcing event on your campus.

7. Create a schedule and checklist.

Feeling overwhelmed? Many students and entrepreneurs benefit from creating a to-do list. If you need to fit in goals each day, make yourself a daily checklist and highlight the most important deadlines. Checklists help you stay focused and optimize specific goals.

Pro tip: Splitting up specific goals into time blocks can help you focus and manage details more efficiently. Studies show designating 50-minute study blocks with 10-minute breaks simplifies larger tasks and optimizes focus. Consider working on school work during the first half of the day and your business plans during the evening.

Related: Inspiring Quotes to Help You Get Through Your Work Day

8. Learn to say “no.”

Knowing your boundaries is an important part of becoming a business leader. As you study in school, be sure to make a routine for your schoolwork and business endeavors. But say “no” to any that overextend you. If friends invite you out for drinks, it’s ok to say “no.”Designate weekends for maintaining relationships or enjoy a drink while at a networking or business event.

Pro tip: Create a rewards system and allow yourself to go out for a drink with friends only if you complete both a school and business task for that day. Plus, negotiating why you must focus on school or work is an essential quality to learn for business relations.

9. Find a mentor

College offers a vast network to help you meet seasoned professionals and expand upon ideas. Finding mentors is one benefit of college networks. Ask mentors if they can introduce you to local business development offices or experts in the field. As a student, most people are generally willing to help you. Mentors are there to offer sage advice, coaching, and opportunities to connect with businesses for college credit.

Pro tip: Use platforms like Envelop, Mogul, or FledgeWing to connect with mentors or capital in your area.

Tying it together

A full schedule can make you feel like a ticking time bomb. But, combining school and work can help balance the day. If you’re passionate about an idea, take the risk and develop it. Attending college provides opportunity, crucial learning experience and time to fail.

Embrace the ideal that business and education can be balanced and stay dedicated to both worlds. School is the perfect opportunity for you to blossom and grow your business while becoming a more well-rounded, astute individual.

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Don’t Share Your Goals With These 3 People

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They say you should share your goals. But with everyone?

It has been said that the moment we set a goal, we should tell everyone as a means of securing success. That making a commitment to the world will ensure that we have the added pressure to see that goal to completion. But is that always the best approach?

Here are a few people who you must be careful to share your goals with:

1. People Who Don’t Pursue Their Own Goals

Every person has belief systems about what is possible or impossible, forged by a person’s upbringing. There are many people who will suggest you lower your targets to something that sounds reasonable to them, given their perception of possibility. By doing so, we commit to living socially acceptable lives instead of pursuing the inventions, businesses and behaviors that can lift an entire society out of the status quo.

A person who doesn’t pursue their own goals may suggest you don’t need to change. It is the selfish desire of a person who wants to feel equal by keeping you down. This is incredibly pernicious, as it will cause you to settle instead of strive. In this way, their beliefs are never challenged, and your goals are never fulfilled.

Even more subtle is the person who verbally agrees to your endeavor, but nonverballydisagrees. It has been stated that we communicate 93 percent nonverbally. By way of mirror neurons, our brains can pick up everything that isn’t being said, at the very least subconsciously. A person who verbally believes in you but nonverbally doubts you will cause you to question yourself. You will feel doubt as you are thinking about your goal, and that has the potential to derail your progress before it even begins. As our goals are still developing, we need to make sure they are not kept in the company of people who live in disbelief.

Solution: Share your goals with people who have already achieved success in that area of their life, or people who are currently pursuing success in their own lives. They have the belief systems that doubters, naysayers and average thinkers do not possess. These are the select few who will disagree with you when you begin to doubt yourself, the ones that will fight your limiting beliefs and will hold you to a higher standard of life.

2. People Who Praise Your Goal Instead of Your Commitment

Since we are social creatures, we often want to be accepted by the people we keep near. Our well-intentioned friends and families attempt to boost our self-esteem by praising the goals we set. This, however, is ineffective as it can create validation on intention instead of action. Psychologists have proven that praising the process instead of performance is more beneficial for self-worth and goal attainment. The act of setting a goal and pursuing the path to greatness is an uncomfortable one. If we feel comforted by the acceptance of peers for just setting the goal, we may never find the follow-through to reach that endeavor. We’ll descend back to our familiar comfort zone instead of that higher plane of success.

Solution: Remember that setting a goal does not set you apart. We need to be careful of the comfort that a compliment can produce. If you do share your goals with loved ones, remind yourself that you still have a long way to accomplishment and that follow-through will always feel better than validation. If a person congratulates you for setting a goal, restructure the compliment in your mind as though they are congratulating your continued commitment to seeing that goal through.

3. People Who Are Critical

The critic isn’t necessarily toxic, but he isn’t the person you want to be speaking to while your goal is still in it its early stages.

You may have all the confidence in the world, but you must still consider that your vision is in infancy and needs to be protected. At this stage, momentum is key. Oftentimes, the critic means well; they don’t want to see you traveling down the erroneous path. But we can easily misinterpret that advice for perfectionism. Place their opinion too early in the process and it only serves to procrastinate our journey or halt our path to success altogether.

Solution: These people have mindsets that can be incredibly useful to edit our manuscripts, review our products and hone our skill set. It is essential to keep these people in our circle, but we can only share our goals with these people when we have gained sufficient traction. At that point, we can solicit the feedback of a critic who can help increase the quality of our pursuit.

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5 Career Secrets Women Need to Know

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1. Purpose

Everyone talks about engaging in work that has meaning. When we bring passion and energy to the work we do, it makes long days more tolerable. Most people understand this but don’t know what to do if they don’t already have that meaning.

I once coached a woman who was bored, apathetic and unchallenged. The work itself was fine; it paid well and she had an easy routine to her day. Sounds good, right? No! After further coaching, she decided the status quo was no longer enough. An easy work schedule was coming at the expense of fulfillment.

After months of due diligence and connecting strategically with key relationships (also known as targeted networking), she aligned herself in a completely different area of the company. She sought after and accepted a stretch assignment. She went outside the proverbial comfort zoneand said yes to an entirely different line of business where her skills were needed to create a new vision and fix a broken team.

Learning the new business was just a fringe benefit compared to the opportunity she had to contribute and feel a sense of purpose, passion and accomplishment again.

2. Presence

Picture this: You are in a conference room. Everyone is seated and ready to go with the exception of the leader—a high profile, talented woman. She comes flying in with her hair disheveled, papers overflowing, briefcase and purse drooping down her shoulder, laptop upside down, and apologizing repeatedly while over-explaining her delay in excruciating detail. I have been that woman!

Executive presence is not just about a great wardrobe (although looking sharp and put together is important). It is about confidence. Do you carry yourself with solid posture? Do you introduce yourself fully and with a firm handshake? Can you make a point in a meeting succinctly and with a well-thought-out point of view?

Ask others how you show up and listen to the feedback. Your presence is an attribute you’ll never quite be finished improving.

3. Preparation

This comes in so many sizes and shapes, but it can also be an Achilles heel for us. The key is to be prepared but not drowning in your preparation. Many women feel a need to keep their heads down and hope good things will come to them. One woman who I met was on the brink of promotion to the partnership ranks. As I gathered her feedback, it became clear that she missed out on key leadership opportunities and connections because she spent an inordinate amount of time in her office. She told me repeatedly she could not attend key networking events because she was “too busy” or “too tired.”

She was working harder instead of smarter.

Sometimes preparation looks like shopping an idea at a casual lunch. Sometimes it looks like blocking off time to prepare for meetings ahead, or planning 50-minute meetings versus the full hour, which allows time to take a quick break, jot notes from the previous meeting and mentally turn the page to the next engagement.

Remember, humans are not meant to run like computers. Preparation is necessary, but create a routine so you can manage it.

4. Power

As women, we have a love-hate relationship with this word. In our book, we discuss the term “influence” as a way to embrace the concepts of power and office politics while maintaining authenticity.

“Studies show that imitating male behavior doesn’t translate to professional advancement for women,” says Kathryn Heath, Flynn Heath Holt Leadership’s founding partner. “We, women, do not like unbridled competition, backroom deals or trading favors. We favor collaboration, inclusion and win-win outcomes. The distinctive missing link is influence.”

Ask yourself if you’re comfortable with your power position and your expert power (that which comes from your knowledge and skills). The answer might be yes, but personal power is often a more nuanced skill. This is where influence becomes a critical skill and one we must learn how to use effectively.

If we want to advance our personal, professional and organizational agendas, we must influence others to achieve the success we want.

5. Positivity

Raise your hand if you enjoy working with leaders who can be “Debbie Downers.” I do not and nor do most women (or men) that I know. Work is hard, especially if you are passionate and purposeful. There is a personal investment here that can add emotion.

Numerous studies indicate that men mistake a woman’s passionate argument as being “emotional.” Other studies suggest women have a harder time “letting go” and staying positive. Our firm calls this “retained angst.”

We, as women, have to work harder to overcome this positivity perception deficit. Building followership is critical to our future as women leaders, and people want to follow positive leaders.

You have likely heard bits and pieces of this advice before. Now it is a matter of focus and intention. Which of these is most important for you right now? Start there. Enroll others to help you. Unlock the hidden potential standing before you. Good luck!

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10 Obstacles Every Startup Must Overcome to Be Successful

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The odds of survival for a startup are daunting at best. Nine out of 10 startups fail in their first year. Failure is so common, in fact, that many entrepreneurs have taken to penning failure post-mortems to determine where things went wrong, in the hopes that others will learn from their mistakes.

Related: 10 Things Successful People Never Do Again

Despite the odds, we keep at it. Perhaps it’s for the love of the business. Perhaps it’s the desire to create something that’s our own. But it’s also because we believe that we’ll be part of the 10 percent who succeed. There’s always a need for companies that are innovative and meet customers’ needs, and we’re sure that we have what it takes.

Do you have the chops to get your company over the hump? After building my startup Owlmetrics, an Instagram analytics tool, I realized that there are 10 obstacles every startup must overcome if it’s going to become successful. Here’s your chance to determine your weaknesses and build on your strengths.

1. Strong Leadership

In order for a startup to muster the Herculean strength it will need to succeed, it must have determined leaders willing to put in the hard work to see it through. But don’t confuse being a strong leader with being a hierarchical, authoritarian boss.

Good leaders understand the need to hire the right people, and to delegate and trust those people to do their jobs. They understand the need to develop synergistic partnerships and collaborative relationships. They believe deeply in their business and they continually work to develop their vision for the company’s future.

Leadership is especially key for a startup, as everything about the company is coming into focus. It’s in an extremely volatile state. Strong leaders are the decision-makers, idea generators, team builders and image-makers for their company. If you stand at the helm of a young company, you play a crucial role in all these areas. In short, the rest of the advice below is worthless without a strong leader showing the way forward.

2. Thriving in a Competitive Market

No matter what type of business you go into, your startup is in a contest for survival. Fierce competition is either going to drive your startup forward, pushing you and your company to new heights, or it’s going to eat you for lunch.

If you want to avoid being made into sushi, you need to learn to thrive when facing direct or indirect competition. In fact, research shows that learning to thrive in the “red ocean” of competition will strengthen a startup for long-term survival.

Related: 8 Essential Startup Tools for Every Entrepreneur

Competition forces young companies to focus on customer needs and keep costs lower and contained. It also opens up opportunities that young companies can take advantage of. In the rocky waters of a competitive marketplace, no one has the luxury of hanging out in the shallow end on a life raft. It’s sink or swim, so you’d better be ready to start paddling from the get-go.

3. Tapping the Right Talent

If you’re a strong leader, you already understand the importance of hiring suitable candidates with the right background, skill set and personality to competently do the job. But it’s not just about hiring the right people; it’s about putting together an exclusive team that can work together, feed off of each other, reel each other in when necessary, and remain excited and focused on the task of launching a successful startup.

As you go through the hiring process, remember that these are the people who will make or break your startup, so be careful and discerning. The hiring process takes valuable time away from your business. Your goal should be to spend that time wisely so you don’t have to do it again in short order. Narrow your search by prequalifying candidates through thoughtfully written classified advertisements that specify exactly what kind of applicants you are looking for.

Call references. Have candidates meet with other team members to see how they fit in. If you create the best team possible up front, you will save loads of time and money in the long run.

4. Sustainable Expectations

Your startup has attained a measure of success. Things are looking up and sales are skyrocketing. The sky’s the limit, right? It may be tempting to assume business will continue to exceed your wildest expectations. Here’s your reality check: Good times don’t last forever.

Even when things seem to be functioning flawlessly, it’s important to keep a cautious mindset. If you assume things will always be good, you are setting yourself up for failure. Sustainability requires consistent effort and hard work. You can’t coast on your past success or rely on unrealistic growth potential.

No matter what your business, you have to be prepared, keep working hard and understand that that even if you are thriving now, the competition is nipping at your heels. True success is not attained only when everything’s going your way; it’s also about what you do during the lean times. It’s how you achieve sustainability over the long haul.

5. Budgeting and Financial Woes

If there is one thing that seems to plague most startups, it’s cash flow. It’s easy for a young company to get bogged down under financial stress and pressure. Unexpected expenses and emergencies pop up. Sometimes you appear profitable on the books, but in reality you are waiting for clients and customers to pay you. The bottom line is that most startups aren’t bringing in much in the way of income—at least at first—so paying the bills and finding ways to grow to scale are ongoing problems.

Careful budgeting and preplanning are key to getting over this initial financial hump. Write down your cash-flow projections and come up with a financial plan. Having an idea of what you can reasonably predict in terms of expenses and income will help you plan ahead and spot problems sooner.

Consider speeding up your cash-flow timeline by requiring faster payment on invoices. Another option is to require customers to make a down payment for goods or services.

6. Defining Your Product and Your Niche Market

For many new entrepreneurs, deciding what kind of product or service to focus on is the first major hurdle in launching a business. This is especially true for ecommerce entrepreneurs, who may struggle to decide which niche market to focus on.

On one hand, there are so many potentially prosperous niches out there, it’s hard to know which one to devote your time and energy to. On the other hand, all the good ideas have been done, so how do you compete and stand out in a crowded marketplace?

Now is the time to get down and dirty with research and introspection. Here are some things to consider when defining your product and market:

  • What kind of customer do you want to do business with?
  • What are your interests, areas of expertise and experience? Your niche should come from an area you are naturally interested in.
  • What are the emerging trends you can capitalize on?

Keep in mind that whatever you do, it should be with an eye toward building a unique brand.

7. Understanding Your Customers

Winning customers’ trust is paramount in any business if you are to build a loyal customer base. This is what all startups seek to achieve. But here’s the thing: No startup will sell to all customers. Not everyone will be interested in purchasing your product or buying your service. In order to be successful, you have to know who your customers are and how to best reach them.

It’s not enough to know how old your customer is, their gender or education level. You have to understand what motivates them, what they hope to accomplish, and what challenges or barriers they face. Spend time talking to them, to really get a sense of who they are. Consider creating a customer persona, a semi-fictional character that represents a generalized ideal customer. This can help you see who your customer is more clearly, so it’s easier to find them.

8. Marketing and Branding Yourself

Every company has a personality. This is more than just a logo and a catchy slogan or tagline. It’s what that company stands for, how customers see it and what draws people to it. But startups often miss out on this because they overlook the importance of advertising and marketing. Marketing, branding and advertising play a big role in how a company creates its identity and how the outside world perceives it.

Getting a jump-start on marketing and branding will help a company establish its brand identity, and this is huge when it comes to differentiating itself from the competition.

Branding requires a company to understand its customer base and then articulate what makes it different or unique from the rest. Branding should be part of a startup’s vision from the beginning. It also gives customers a sense that the company is here to stay.

9. A Well-Defined Vision and Goals

If there is one sure thing that all startups face, it’s constant change. It’s like trying to jump into a long-distance relay race that began ahead of you, with a team you’ve never practiced with before. In order to succeed, you’d better know early on where you are going. Otherwise, you’ll be lost before you begin.

A well-defined vision is a turbo-boost to getting across the finish line. It allows you to set goals that define the path you plan to take and how you envision your progress along the way. A strong vision, along with clear-cut goals, will give you a strategy for achieving success.

Use that to develop a solid internal structure and you’ll have the “muscles” to get where you want to go. Start by creating a mission statement, which declares where your business is headed and what you expect it to look like when it arrives.

10. Time Management

In the midst of dealing with all the countless decisions and issues that it takes to launch a company, it can be easy to feel like time is the enemy. There simply isn’t enough of it to accomplish all the tasks that must be done in a day. Learning to properly manage time is crucial to staying on task. Working smarter not harder sounds great, but is it really possible?

It is, but only if you stay focused and find ways to cut out time-sucks, maximize your productivity and know your limits. Make sure you pick a weekly goal, something that you want to accomplish over the workweek. Just as defining the overarching goals for your company will help see the big picture, picking smaller, bite-sized goals to tackle each week will help you stay focused on what’s important.

Finally, make sure to take breaks. Stretch your legs with a walk. A short mental break will actually help you be more productive. It can give you the space you need to make better decisions and enable you be the best leader you can be.

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