If you’re a recent college grad, you may aspire to turn your dream business into a reality. In fact, a survey conducted by the University of Phoenix reveals that 63 percent of people in their 20s were either entrepreneurs—or would like to be one someday.
While that may come as no surprise, getting a venture up and running isn’t easy. As you know, it requires a ton of work, grit and resources. But no need to feel intimidated or overwhelmed. There are ways you can gradually build your own business that don’t necessarily require a lot of funds and time.
For new college grads with an entrepreneurial mindset, here are a few stepping-stones to starting your own business:
Set up an Online Store
For those with a creative, crafty bent, you can set up shop online. Opening a store on popular marketplaces such as Society6, Etsy, or Shopify is a great way to learn how to promote, showcase, and sell goods. It’s also provides a low-risk way to test your ideas and see what flies.
And because there isn’t a huge investment involved, you can easily be flexible and pivot to meet the wants of your potential client base. “Your customers will show you what they want,” explains Chelsea Russo, managing director of Nathan Miller Chocolates. “Be a student of how your idea can be just what the customer is looking for.”
Pick Up Gigs on Freelance Platforms
Freelance platforms are a great way to develop your skills with very low risk and money. Popular ones include Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer.com. Services you can offer include everything from technical writing to graphic design and software development. They’re a solid way to explore what you really want to do.
You can even think of it as a training grounds to learn what you are best. Take it from app strategist and agency founder Carissa Lintao. The 21-year-old started freelancing on Upwork at the ripe age of 17 because she couldn’t find a “real job” at say, Best Buy. And during college, Lintao turned freelancing on the platform into a five-figure side hustle. After taking on about a hundred assignments and exploring different things, Lintao realized her strength—and passion—was in app marketing strategy.
Fast forward to the present, the 21-year-old recent college grad is launch her own app marketing agency, Apptuitive. As you can see, small gigs can eventually lead to giving you the experience, skills, and confidence to do great things.
Start Off Very Small
You don’t need to get seed funding or raise a significant amount of funds to start developing the skills and building your network. As they say, begin where you’re planted, and start small. “People are terrified of entrepreneurship because it involves risk,” explains Lintao. “But if you freelance as a content writer on Upwork, there’s nothing to lose. There’s no need to invest hundreds of dollars into a website, fancy equipment, or your personal brand when you’re just starting out.”
Start today. “It’s important to start thinking like an entrepreneur in school because you could start now,” says Russo. “It doesn’t need to be your lifelong dream project, start with something realistic for the stage you’re at, that you’re interested in, and learn from that experience. Maybe that project will take off, and you get you to a point of being able to cover some bills to fund the bigger project you’re dreaming about later.”
Make the Most of Past Internships
If you’ve held a few internships during college, you can extrapolate what you’ve learned to building your business and could help you land a mentor. “You’re gaining valuable experience in your field as well as finding someone who knows the ins-and-outs of how to run a business,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. “It’s never too late for college students to start networking in their industry and gain contacts.”
Besides the possibility of securing a mentor and growing your network through a former internship, see if someone you interned for is willing to give you a testimonial. A few words from a former boss boasting your skills and contributions on your LinkedIn page or soon-to-be company website add great value and could help attract new business.
Look for Proof of Concept
Even if you’re starting off small, you’ll need to look for signs that your business idea has legs. At the most basic level, entrepreneurship requires you offer something to the marketplace that people value and would pay money for. Figure out what you want to achieve, and set markers to measure effectiveness and success.
For instance, let’s say you’re a musician, and want to start a business helping fellow musicians mix and master their tracks. How much money would you need to rake in for it to be a profitable business? And what feedback are you receiving from your would-be clients? These signs of validation will help you gauge if you’re ready to launch your business. Otherwise, you may need to go back to the drawing board and make tweaks accordingly.
Save for Your Business
If you aim to gradually “level up” and scale your business over time, you’ll want to save add more resources into your endeavor. To bootstrap your endeavors, cut back where you can so you are able to free up more money to put into your business.
Sure, you may have student loans to pay off, but live as frugally as possible for the time being. If you can cut back on the three major spending categories—housing, food, and transport—you can put the money you saved toward jump-starting your future enterprise.
Find a Business Mentor
If you’re just starting out, you don’t have to make a go of it alone. Mentors can come from different places. You can seek business mentorship through resources such as the Small Business Association’s (SBA) SCORE, which offers free one-on-one mentorship coaching.
You may also be able to find a mentor through the career center of your alma mater. If there’s a successful entrepreneur you want to follow in the professional footsteps of, try reaching out to them and see if they’re up to answer a few questions.
Striking out on your own can be a scary thing. But you don’t have to worry about starting your business overnight. By taking it step by step, you can build your first mini empire. After all, how do you eat an elephant? One step at a time.