For many of us, the phrase ‘student business’ has become synonymous with some of the world’s biggest brands: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Reddit, and countless others that sprang from campus collaborations.
According to Dr Charlotte Carey, a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University’s Business School, however, “it is important to remember that successful entrepreneurs, be they university-made or otherwise, did not start off that way.”
Many businesses begin with just one or two people devoting spare time to hobbies, study projects, or to solving common problems. Getting investment isn’t difficult once you discover a lucrative angle, yet you don’t have to pour in cash or take on risk to see if starting a business is for you.
Technology and social media are especially good for this, Carey adds. “They offer visible routes and aspirations for self-employment and entrepreneurship with a relatively low-risk and cost. One of my students started her blog in my class and has gone onto running her own successful content channels.”
With that in mind, here are business ideas that can bring in extra cash and career skills while studying, yet don’t need tons of equipment, insurance or specialist qualifications to get off the ground.
Everyone has marketable skills. You don’t even have to be local to teach face-to-face – video calling platforms like Messenger or Skype mean you can target clients all over the world.
- Turn your hobby, degree subject or music and language skills into a tutoring business. Don’t be scared to start with your closest client base: other students and university staff.
- Don’t limit earnings to your availability – put what you know into an eBook (there’s a growing number of successful self-published authors out there). Alternatively, start a website, podcast or YouTube channel and make money from home through advertising or premium content.
- Find the value in your everyday experiences, for example, a service for overseas applicants that explains UK uni life. Or how about a social media consultancy that teaches businesses how to connect with students?
- Public speaking can be very lucrative, plus it develops career-boosting skills and confidence, too. If the thought terrifies you, look up Viv Groskop’s How to Own the Room (aimed at women, but includes inspiration and practical tips for all).
They may not be glamorous, but cleaning services are always in-demand – you may be surprised at what customers will pay for if it saves time, mess or effort.
- Poop scooping: target pet owners who let Rover or Tiddles do their business in the back yard, or try farms and stables in your neck of the woods.
- Domestic cleaning can include hoovering, dusting, ironing, and any other tasks you’re willing to do. Busy employees, those who struggle with mobility and even estate agents/landlords are all potential clients.
- Laundry delivery: pick-up dirty clothes, take them to the laundromat and then drop off the clean stuff (don’t forget to charge for your time and transport too).
Make a profit
Upselling – buying things cheaply and selling for more than you paid – is a valuable experience in turning a profit, yet you don’t need lots of funding to have a go.
- Start with the cheapest stock going, i.e., pound shops and charity stores. The trick is to grab limited edition or in-demand items, then resell online or through a car boot app. Inspiration: this student made £30,000 selling old clothes.
- If you have the craft skills, you can boost profits significantly by recycling furniture or home goods – get them for nothing from freecycling sites or keep an eye out for street items.
- A personal shopper service where you source items to budget or taste. There are shades of Made.com in this: founder Ning Li started the site after realising he could pay less for furniture by going straight to the factory.
Use local knowledge
- If you have excellent local knowledge with people skills to match, organising or leading local tours is worth a look. Again, this is one you can translate into extra or ongoing income through book, audio or web content based on your travel tips and guides.
- Start a reviews site for local businesses, bars, restaurants or anything else that interests you. Monetise content with advertising or retailer offers.
- The student angle: a fresher’s PDF guide to your local town or uni. Include retail offers and sell for a couple of quid, or keep it free by selling ad space.
- An event discovery service: organise hand-picked trips and mystery tours or create your own events – could include dining out, speed dating, clubs, fitness and sport for starters.
A successful student business doesn’t have to be sophisticated or product-oriented. Your main objectives are likely to be earning money and gaining experience: both are easier when you find a way to connect your skills and interests with a problem or need that customers have, rather than reinventing the wheel.
You can stay small and still make money – simple, low-cost ideas like the above are more realistic for first-time entrepreneurs, too. Without hefty startup costs, they’ll get you into profit quickly while laying the foundation for bigger business or wider ambitions later down the line.