If you’re reading this as a soon-to-be or recent college graduate, you have probably already seriously considered starting a business rather than working for others. Do you have what it takes to make a go of it? Let’s examine some issues around this career option that, for many young people, seems increasingly appealing. Consider the following critical questions before taking this particularly exciting and risky plunge.
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Do you have something to offer?
A new business must meet (or create) a consumer need. This seems self-evident, but is often blithely overlooked. Do you have a skill or expertise that is paid for by someone, somewhere, at some reasonable level of remuneration? An affirmative to this query suggests at least a baseline need.
How can you find out?
List everything you do well. Include even activities not normally considered skills. If, for example, you can kiss with swoon-inducing effect, this constitutes a skill that could, conceivable, be monetized somehow. More seriously, any competency that goes on this list – dishwashing, comforting babies, LEGO sculptures, sailing, tennis, scoring high on video games, writing funny emails or tweets, musical tarot readings – is a possible service for another person. All it takes are desire and discretionary funds on customers’ parts to generate a market for your item/service.
Sometimes, professional associations reveal hitherto unknown lines of work. A young graduate really wanted to work therapeutically with the elderly and handicapped, but also wanted to pursue the horticulture interests that were his passion. Imagine his surprise upon finding that there was a professional association for horticultural therapy professionals!
Consider this authentic pre-internet example: An Ivy League sophomore (and his friends) wanted cleaner dormitory rooms, but also wanted more time to maintain good grades. Unable to find maid service, he started one on campus. This netted him a tidy profit until the university’s legal eagles insisted that his student house-cleaners be bonded (check your local jurisdiction regarding this) for security purposes. The expense of blanket liability proved prohibitive. However, despite this setback, his initiative gave him on-campus prominence in a later student government campaign and a very legitimate entry in his resume.
List everything you make:
Think hard! You must make something – everyone does – even if it is just reservations for dinner. Photo-ready cakes, recycled content sweaters, thumb warmers, decorative headbands, photographs that compel attention, macro code for spreadsheets, custom-designed avatars for gaming, or whatever it may be, you probably create something in your life. Does anyone want such an item? Look in online sales sites such as EBay to find out if such products already are for sale, and their price ranges.
As a real example, a college football player sidelined by injury parlayed his flair for movie filming, as well as his knowledge/contacts in the sport, into a nice little business. He created professional quality films for pee-wee football teams. Sophisticated angles and effects, background music, voice-overs and high production values made this a substantial offset for his lost athletic scholarship.
Do you have access to your target consumers?
It is all well and good to know that something you can do, whether it is to hand-crochet I-pod warmers, write advertising jingles, create computer code, organize people’s CD collections, or exercise their bearded lizards, is needed by customers, but you need to be somehow close enough to them to sell it! With the internet, this is often irrelevant. However, for many of us, place – the element of location and geography – is crucial.
How can you determine access?
Market research locally is challenging. Start, however, in the shops of your own community. You can short-cut some of the foot work with online directories such as Yelp. They will at least provide phone numbers – call and make inquiries of the proprietor discreetly.
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You need to find out whether there are potential customers for your service, who can access the outlets you will have the privilege of using. For example, luxurious custom evening handbags demand customers with the disposable funds to pay the price for your many hours of labor. However, if your only distribution channels are flea markets and street sales, you may be stuck unless you can assure yourself that the right sort of customer is routinely present. Find out by visiting before committing.
For services, especially intellectual services, the internet is irreplaceable. For example, writing is borderless and global! Personal services also are often advertised on the web, and if no one is listed in your region, doing what you propose to do, that is a potentially empty niche for you to fill!
Can you successfully work solo?
Only you can tell this, but you can certainly get some objective input by using such test instruments as Meyers-Briggs , or others, to tell whether your personality demands team effort and companionship. There is support out there, however.
Can you tolerate the intense effort and risk?
The uncertainty and workload of entrepreneurs should be well-known, but every year, most efforts fail, and some of these failures are due to the strain that starting a business places on the entrepreneur. For recent grads, the experience can be overwhelming.
Can you handle the paperwork?
Although all jurisdictions try to ease the process, being incorporated takes ongoing effort! Know what is needed, in your jurisdiction, before you leap.
Do you have a fallback position?
Having a “real” job – even briefly – can offer a launching pad (and financial security) as well as providing insights into management of businesses.
Consider carefully whether you should first learn what all employers have in common, and what characteristics all jobs share, before ruling out that work environment in favor of your own independent business venture. You may benefit from having done so.
But believe in yourself- wisely!