blog post

How To Start A Business While In College (7 Steps & 21 Ideas)

Gerrard + Bizway Assistant
Last updated: 
August 22, 2023
5 min read

Every student should experiment with entrepreneurship, in some capacity. That's one bold claim I will stand by now, which I would have been harder to justify 10 years ago. But with an increasingly digital marketplace, the ability to reach customers globally and technology that makes it cheaper and cheaper to produce and share things of value... starting a business while you're in college is starting to look more favorable than ever.

The truth is, starting a small, online business is no longer a capital intensive project. If you can set up a blog, you can set up an online business. If you can create a YouTube channel, you can start an online business. If you can learn to set up a Shopify store, you can start an online business. And frankly, more college students should explore this option while studying.

So, this will be a practical guide for how to go about actually planning and starting one such business while you're in college. There are 7 big stages to work through, and we'll cover each:

  1. Ideation: Settling on Your Initial Business Idea
  2. Defining a Market: Dive Deep into Research
  3. Scoping your Product/Service: From Concept to Reality
  4. Selecting your Marketing Channels: Amplifying Your Reach
  5. Forecast Revenue and Cost Items: Financial Planning
  6. Allocating Time and Resources: Streamlining Operations
  7. Build and Ship: Bringing Your Vision to Life

1. Ideation: Settling on Your Initial Business Idea

Begin with brainstorming. Consider your passions, hobbies, and problems you can solve. It's important to choose something you're genuinely interested in.

Understanding Your Passion

  • Tip: Maintain a journal where you list down hobbies, activities, or subjects that excite you. Over time, patterns might emerge which can be potential business avenues.
  • Research: A study from Deloitte found that businesses driven by passion outperformed others in revenue growth over a 10-year period.
  • Tool Recommendation: Try our free business ideas generator tool if you're stuck.

Problem-Solving Approach

  • Tip: Interview friends, family, or peers about common challenges they face. Identify if there's a gap in the market addressing these problems.
  • Research: According to HBR, problem-driven businesses tend to have a 30% higher likelihood of success compared to solution-driven ones.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use Google's Keyword Planner to identify search trends around certain problems.

2. Defining a Market: Dive Deep into Research

Conduct market research to understand your audience. Analyze competitors, estimate the market size, and familiarize yourself with its key characteristics.

Know Your Audience

  • Tip: Create customer personas. Understand their demographics, preferences, pain points, and purchasing behavior.
  • Research: According to Forbes, businesses that understand their customers outperform those who don’t by 85% in sales growth.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use Facebook Audience Insights to get a better understanding of potential audiences.

Competitor Analysis

  • Tip: Look at online reviews of competitors to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tool Recommendation: Tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs are excellent for competitive analysis.

Estimate Market Size

  • Tip: Utilize industry forums and websites to gather data on potential market size.
  • Research: Market sizing is a pivotal step in the Business Model Canvas, a strategic management tool used by startups.
  • Tool Recommendation: Statista offers statistics and studies from over 22,500 sources. You can also simply create a market page in Bizway and our AI assistant will pull in information from all sources across the web.

3. Scoping your Product/Service: From Concept to Reality

Determine what you’ll offer. Decide on the product format, its creation process, and its pricing.

Product Design and Development

  • Tip: Collaborate with potential users during the design phase to ensure you’re building a product they want.
  • Tool Recommendation: TinkerCAD and SketchUp are beginner-friendly tools for product design.

Pricing Strategy

  • Tip: Consider tiered pricing strategies which can cater to different customer segments.
  • Research: A study by Price Intelligently found that pricing optimization can increase revenue by up to 30%.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use competitor analysis tools like Prisync to understand market pricing.

Feedback Loop

  • Tip: Use feedback to iterate and improve your product before a full-scale launch.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use platforms like UserTesting to get real-time feedback.

4. Selecting your Marketing Channels: Amplifying Your Reach

Identify how you'll reach your audience. Will you use SEO, social media, or email marketing? Choose channels that align with your target market.

Audience Preferences

  • Tip: Diversify your marketing efforts across multiple channels to avoid over-reliance on one.
  • Tool Recommendation: Google Analytics helps track which channels are driving traffic and conversions.


  • Tip: Always allocate a portion of your budget for experiments. What works for one business might not work for another.
  • Research: A Gartner survey found that companies allocate, on average, 11.2% of their company’s revenue to marketing.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use budgeting tools like QuickBooks or FreshBooks.

Content Creation

  • Tip: Use storytelling to create an emotional connection with your audience.
  • Tool Recommendation: Platforms like Canva for visual content and Medium for blogs.

5. Forecast Revenue and Cost Items: Financial Planning

Plan your revenue streams (subscriptions, sales, etc.) and anticipate the potential earnings. Outline the costs associated with each.

Revenue Streams

  • Tip: For online businesses, consider affiliate marketing or sponsored content as additional revenue streams.
  • Tool Recommendation: Affiliate networks like CJ Affiliate or ShareASale.

Budgeting and Costs

  • Tip: Regularly review and adjust your budget based on the ROI of different investments.
  • Research: A U.S. Bank study found that 82% of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems.
  • Tool Recommendation: Financial planning software like Mint or YNAB.

Break-Even Analysis

  • Tip: Regularly update your break-even analysis as fixed and variable costs can change.
  • Tool Recommendation: Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can be used for a detailed break-even analysis.

6. Allocating Time and Resources: Streamlining Operations

Establish systems for resource and time management. Decide when to start marketing and allocate time for product development.

Time Management

  • Tip: Prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance.
  • Research: The Eisenhower Matrix, a popular time management tool, suggests dividing tasks based on their urgency and importance.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use tools like Trello or Asana for task management.


  • Tip: Initially, delegate tasks that are time-consuming but don’t require your expertise.
  • Tool Recommendation: Platforms like Upwork or Fiverr to hire freelancers.

Resource Optimization

  • Tip: Attend entrepreneurial events or workshops in your college to gain insights and network.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use LinkedIn for networking and Eventbrite to find events.

7. Build and Ship: Bringing Your Vision to Life

Execute your plans. Focus on acquiring that first genuine customer. Once validated, consider scaling or refining your strategy.

Product Launch

  • Tip: Use influencer marketing or partnerships to amplify your product launch.
  • Research: According to Influencer Marketing Hub, businesses make $5.20 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use platforms like BuzzSumo to find influencers in your niche.

Iterative Approach

  • Tip: Adopt the agile approach which emphasizes continuous feedback and improvement.
  • Tool Recommendation: JIRA for agile project management.


  • Tip: Before scaling, ensure your business processes are well-documented and can handle increased demand.
  • Tool Recommendation: Use tools like Process Street for documenting processes.

Common Business Models and Ideas for Students

If you're unsure about the type of business to start, here are some low-cost ideas tailored for students:

  1. Niche Website: Create a site targeting a specific audience and earn through affiliate sales.
  2. Sponsored YouTube Channel: Create content and earn through sponsorships and ads.
  3. Digital Products and Resources Website: Sell e-books, courses, or templates.
  4. SaaS Application: Use no-code tools to design applications and charge users.
  5. Ecommerce Store: Begin with dropshipping to minimize initial costs.
  6. Photography Services: Capture events or sell stock photos online.
  7. Tutoring Services: Use your academic strengths to teach others.
  8. Freelance Writing or Designing: Offer your skills on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr.
  9. Consulting or Coaching: Use your expertise to guide others.
  10. Subscription Boxes: Curate and send themed boxes monthly.
  11. Print-on-Demand Products: Create custom designs for t-shirts, mugs, and more, without dealing with inventory.
  12. Podcasting: Start a niche podcast and monetize through sponsorships or affiliate partnerships.
  13. Mobile App Development: Design user-friendly apps for specific needs or games.
  14. Event Planning: Organize and manage events for various occasions, from birthdays to corporate functions.
  15. Blogging with Ad Revenue: Write about topics you're passionate about and monetize through ads or affiliate partnerships.
  16. Personal Training or Fitness Classes: Offer sessions online or in-person.
  17. Handmade Crafts or Jewelry: Sell your unique creations on platforms like Etsy.
  18. Affiliate Marketing: Promote other people's products and earn a commission for every sale made through your referral.
  19. Virtual Assistance: Offer administrative services like email management or scheduling for busy professionals.
  20. Online Workshops or Webinars: Share your knowledge on a specific topic with a larger audience.
  21. Property Management or House-sitting: Help homeowners manage their properties or look after them while they're away.

5 Tips for Starting a Business While in College:

  • Validation: Prioritize clear market demand over the allure of a 'cool' idea.
  • Emphasize Marketing: Set conversion goals and strategize content creation accordingly.
  • Network: Leverage college resources, clubs, and alumni networks to gain insights and partners.
  • Stay Flexible: Adapt to feedback and be ready to pivot if necessary.
  • Utilize Tools: Use platforms like Bizway to organize your ideas, conduct research, and seek guidance when needed.

College is the perfect time to experiment with entrepreneurship. Embrace the challenge, learn invaluable skills, and set the stage for a future where you’re in control of your destiny. Whether it's a side hustle or a full-time endeavor, starting a business in college offers a plethora of opportunities and lessons. So, take the leap!

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