On average one in three people aged 18-24 are in full-time education. Each year around 1.5 million people graduate from university. Most of these graduates will go into employment or a graduate scheme, but there are some who will choose the self-employment path. 

So, how do you go about setting up a business whilst at university, or after graduating, and is there a proven formula for success?

Why graduates make great entrepreneurs

How degrees are taught has changed over the decades. Instead of focusing on ideas taught from textbooks, students are involved in group discussions and open debates. They are encouraged to draw on real-life experiences and to explore their creative thinking. 

It could be that during one of these group discussions or debates you may have seen that there is a ‘gap’ in the market for a new product or service. You’ll have to decide if you want to act on it now or wait until you have some business experience behind you? 

Without realising it, the three or four years you spent at university could have provided you with the skillset that is needed to be a great entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs often have the following qualities:

  • Observant
  • Question the norm
  • Lateral thinkers
  • Adaptable  
  • Know how to change their communication style to suit their audience.

These, amongst others, are some of the qualities that you may have developed during your time at university.  

Ultimately, the reason you want to be your own boss is that you want control over your career and can’t face working for anyone else and being told what to do. 

Popular graduate business ideas

With nearly 10% of businesses failing within their first year, you’ll have to be sure that your business idea has longevity. 

These are some of the business ventures that are popular with recent graduates. 

App development

The mobile app industry is one of the biggest global industries. The UK is the centre for app development in Europe. According to BusinessofApps, there are approximately 680,000 app developers working in Europe. 

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App development

It is estimated that by the end of 2018, the number of apps downloaded in the UK will reach 15.5 billion (Source: Statista.com). By 2020 the app market in the UK is expected to be worth £15 billion (Source: CityAM). 

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Content marketing

According to the Content Marketing Institute, Content marketing is described as a “strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content.” Working under the content marketing umbrella, are; graphic designers, web developers, email marketers and copywriters. 

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Content marketing

A survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute found that 87% of businesses create and distribute their own content. 32% of those surveyed also commented they are committed to content marketing. Campaignlive estimates that content marketing spend will increase to £349 million by 2020. 

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Event management

Research by Eventbrite shows the UK event industry is worth £43.2 billion. 570,000 jobs support the event industry. These include; waiting staff, security personnel, food and drink retailers and marketing professionals.  

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Event management

The research by Eventbrite also shows that there are over 10,000 venues in the UK, with London taking the top spot for event venues. The Business Visits and Events Partnership (EVEP) estimates the UK event industry is responsible for 30% of the total UK visitor economy. The largest sector is Conference and Meetings (worth £19.9 billion), followed by Exhibition and trade fairs (worth £11 billion). 

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Social media management

Consumers are spending more time than ever online. The Institute of Practitioners of Advertising (IPA) calculated that in 2017, UK adults spend on average eight hours a day online. Social media makes up 2 hours 53 minutes of this time. 

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Social media management

The total number of social media users in the UK is estimated to between 39 to 42 million (Source: Statista.com). In 2016, advertising spend on social media sites by UK businesses was £1.73 billion. This is set to rise and by 2020 it is predicted that a fifth of all advertising spend will be on social media (Source: eMarketer).

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What graduates should think about before setting up a business

So, you’ve decided that running your own business is what you really want to do. What’s next? Before you open your doors for business, you need to think about these considerations. 

Obtaining funds for your startup

Now that you’ve decided on an idea, you’ll need funds to get it started. It is possible to start a business on a minuscule budget but having a solid financial base on which to build a business is important. Apart from your friends and family, there are several ways you can fund your startup. You might be able to fund it from your own savings. However, with the average student debt running into the tens of thousands, this may not always be an option. 

Other routes include using money from your student loan, overdraft or credit card. If you choose this route, make sure you are aware of the interest rate and penalty charges associated with each.  

If you have a unique and even quirky business idea you may find that crowdfunding could work for you. The benefits of crowdfunding are that it can provide financial support when traditional lenders won’t help and it’s an incredibly cost-effective and quick way to raise finance. On the downside, it may mean you will have to give individuals equity in your business and on some platforms, if you don’t hit your target you won’t get access to any of the money raised.

A business mentor may be willing to provide financial assistance. If not, they should be able to direct to you organisations that offer business grants, such as the Princes Trust Grant and the government’s Start Up Loan.

Getting help for your startup

Whilst running your business is hugely rewarding it can also be lonely. At some point, you will face yourself in a situation where you’re unsure what to do. At times like this, you’ll need the support and guidance of others.  

If you feel like you’ve exhausted your current support network, broaden it. There are numerous places where you can seek counsel. The best starting point is your personal network. Friends and family can be a valuable source of information. Between them, they could have accumulated years of business experience and will likely have been in a situation like what you are facing. 

Financial institutions have extended their service offering beyond bank accounts and ISA’s. They offer a wealth of small business advice and run local business networking events and workshops, such as ‘How to perfect your business pitch’, and ‘Improve your presenting skills’.

Business mentors can greatly enhance your business’ chance of success. Amongst other things, a mentor will provide practical advice, support and most importantly, encouragement. When times get tough or you find yourself going through a quiet patch, it can be tempting to pack it all in. A mentor, will offer assurance and help you to develop strategies to deal with this. 

As well as being a great communication tool, social media is a valuable source of business advice and guidance. Check out Facebook networking groups that are aimed at small businesses. Find one that is in your area or that operates in your business niche. 
 

Next Steps

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