How to Start a Business: Tips from Successful Entrepreneurs

We’ve all been there. Even though school is going well and you have great friends, something is missing. What if you feel like you have a great new idea that you want to explore more? What if you have the drive to accomplish a new goal that will benefit others? What if you want to shake things up and strike out on a new, professional adventure? If these thoughts are familiar to you, you may be ready to start your own business!

However, a good business idea is just the beginning. You have to research, plan, and get advice from people like you who have gone into business for themselves and who have done it successfully. From effective promotion and budgeting to navigating common start-up challenges, here’s your guide to start making your entrepreneurial dreams a reality!

Evaluate Your Idea

Before you jump in to a new business venture, figure out your unique point of view and how you will set your business apart from others. Alan Martin is a 2005 graduate of Weber State University and the CEO of Campus Book Rentals. He started his company in 2007 while pursuing his master’s degree, when he saw the need for a cheaper way to buy textbooks. “The one thing I definitely observed was that students were willing for the system to change,” says Martin. “It just seemed like I had a good idea. It was a thing that could really do some good, and I didn’t look back.”

From humble beginnings came a business that quickly rose to success. Since its inception, Campus Book Rentals has sold more than 1 million textbooks to students everywhere. Renting textbooks seems like no big deal now, but at the time, it just wasn’t being done. Finding a need and filling it, like Martin did, is the key to starting a business that will do well. “If the idea is good enough, people will talk about it,” Martin says.

Between classes and any other commitments you may have, starting a business while you’re still in school or even shortly after you graduate is certainly time-consuming and a little intimidating. However, if the business bug is something you just can’t shake, ask yourself some of these questions before you commit to your new idea:

Is my idea unique?

If you have an idea for a service that isn’t currently being offered, it’s perfectly reasonable to think about it in terms of a future business and start building a plan for how you want to put your idea in place. Martin saw that his idea clearly had merit among college students, because as a student himself, he knew the frustration of trying to afford textbooks. “It didn’t make sense for me to pay so much and get so little,” Martin says. “Rentals weren’t a thing that was happening anywhere, and this was providing a service.”

Veronica Saron, a rising senior at Rice University, is also filling a need with her business. She and her co-founders, also from Rice University, recently launched OwlSpark to help Rice students take their unique business ventures and get them off the ground. “It’s a 3-month, student-run entrepreneurship accelerator for Rice-affiliated start-ups that provides resources like a network of mentors, co-located office space on campus, and initial investment,” Veronica explains. “Many of the bright and talented students at Rice don’t necessarily know where to turn when they want to go through the process of starting a business. We started OwlSpark with the intention of providing that guidance and resource to students and alumni from Rice who want to start a business.” By recognizing a need in an environment where superb business ideas were already being formed, Veronica and her co-founders are paving the way for new businesses to get a leg up on the competition. If your idea will clearly fill a need, then it’s worth your time to consider it.

If my idea is already out there, how is my offering different?

Let’s say you’re opening an Etsy shop, but there are 20 other sellers who create products like yours. Before you make the leap, determine what will make your products different and better from all the other ones out there. If you’re selling hand stamped T-shirts made with eco-friendly dye, for example, you could tell your customers that the dye you use is better for the environment and incorporate that into your unique message. Comparing your product to others that may use more harmful chemicals in their dyes sets you apart. By differentiating yourself from the start, you have a greater chance of success.

A recent graduate of Butler University, freelance photographer Molly Poracky began her photography business in high school and took it to a more visible stage during her college years. While a freelance photography business has become easier to attain with the plethora of resources available these days, Molly says that her passion and style has differentiated her business from others in the area and has helped her to grow. “I started building my portfolio by photographing a variety of sets and people,” she says. “When I started college I found a larger clientele, therefore expanding my range of projects.” Molly is fortunate that her style is unique enough from other photographers in the area that she fills another specific need, particularly for college students or recent grads who need professional photos done.

Will I still want to do this a few months from now?

Starting your own business is rough. You may run into financial troubles, have too much on your plate, or find that your idea doesn’t inspire you anymore after a while. If your business is something you’re ready to put in the work for, then keep planning! Sometimes the best inspiration is a little extra encouragement and direction. “When we were initially forming the ideas for OwlSpark, we reached out to several Rice alumni who had gone on to become entrepreneurs for their advice,” Veronica says. “Several were happy to sit down with us to provide guidance on how to formulate our thinking around the various facets of the program.”

As your business continues to grow, always remember that your business is never just you. If you want it to expand, it will help to know people who can help you. “One extremely important business skill for college women is the ability to create and maintain a large and robust network of colleagues, mentors, and friends,” Veronica says. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for advice, because if you can excite them about your idea they will be willing to share their knowledge to help you succeed.”