5 Expert Tips for Starting a Business on a College Student’s Budget

ramen budget

Free or Low Cost Ways to Get Your Great Business Idea Off the Ground While on a Ramen Budget

College students are well positioned to start their business – they are agile, innovative, flexible and technology savvy. However, many students are scared off by the lack the financial resources – thinking it takes a great deal of capital to get their business started. However, with the access to school and community programs, as well as a wealth of online resources, you can be free to spread your entrepreneurial wings without being chained by debt.

Here are five ways you can kick start your student business on a tight budget:

1. Seek Out Mentorships – Local colleges and universities are a great resource to help students flesh out their ideas and spark their entrepreneurial spirit. Mentors available through the program can be instrumental in helping you build your business and guide you through each step of the way.

Many colleges have formal entrepreneurial programs that can connect you with community programs and leaders. An example is Arizona State University’s Entrepreneurship + Innovation Organization, which provides everything from learning resources and programs to events and experts within the school and the community that can help you get your business launched.

However, even if your university doesn’t have a formal program, professors and advisors are often well connected and can introduce you to local mentors. College clubs and area meet-ups also provide a great way to find mentors relevant to your business idea.

2. Setup and Protect Your Business Online – Creating your business plan is an important first step – serving as your road map for your new business. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a free business plan builder. Or if you are looking to pitch to investors and need a more robust plan, there are several online services where you can pay a small monthly fee to develop your plan, strategy, pitch, forecast and budget.

Once it’s time to set up your business, you can accomplish most everything online. Most states offer the ability to form your limited liability corporation (LLC) through the state Corporation Commission. The site will walk you through the process and the charge is typically well under $100 depending on your specific state.

In some cases, there is a huge benefit to registering your Intellectual Property (IP) as early as you can. And while patent attorneys and the process for a thorough patent search can be timely and expensive (albeit necessary for larger or highly competitive markets), you can start with a simple registration process for trademarks, copyrights and patents through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. The site also provides resources to help you determine which type of IP protection is most suitable for your business.

3. Leverage Expert Resources for Hardware Prototypes – Avnet offers a range of assembly and development kits and tools to help you prototype your hardware or software design. Technology Solutions experts can also collaborate with you to make your vision come to life. Community groups offer another great resource for building out your prototype. Examples include: Element14, a large community of engineers and developers with tools and kits, including Raspberry Pi; Hackster.io, some of the newest hardware platforms on the market with many open source user projects and contests; and MakerSource.io, a new, growing community of service providers focused on the electronics space that can help early stage customers find the assistance they need.

In addition to these resources, there are often tech centers available on campus where you can rent time and equipment to build the prototype yourself or find freelance support to help you with the project.

4. Utilize Free or Low Cost Website Builders – It has never been easier to build and launch your website! Google free website builders and you will come up with a laundry list of different solutions. In the past, building a quality site would have set you back several thousands of dollars, but with a wealth of free or low cost templates, you can easily get your site up and running in just a matter of hours. Plus, when it’s time to add or change your content – you can easily do it yourself without having to rely on technical experts! What more could you ask for?

5. Leverage Social Media for Marketing – Gone are the days of multi-million dollar budgets that were needed to get your business in front of your customers and generating revenue. Today, marketing your new business can start the same way as the post you just created about what you are doing right now! Start out by creating business pages on each of the major social media sites – focus on the top 5 or 6 social sites to start. Then, build your social media followers by targeting your end users and industry influencers by creating relevant content and images that drive them to use your product or visit your website.

Hopefully these tips for kick starting your new business – without sacrificing your next meal to pay for it – will help you on your path to entrepreneurship.

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