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5 Best Side Business Ideas for College Students – Things to Consider

By Lewis Humphries

studentsIn the wake of the global recession, the American employment market has undergone a significant transition. This is part of an international trend, as individuals turn toward self-employment, contracting, and entrepreneurship as ways of earning a living. In fact, according to Quartz, it is estimated that more than 40% of the U.S. workforce will be working independently by the year 2020, equating to more than 60 million citizens. This entrepreneurial spirit was evident throughout the recession, as the Small Business Association (SBA) reports that approximately 27.5 million independent ventures were operating in America during 2009.

These trends have particular relevance to U.S. citizens in higher education, especially after it was reported by Reuters that American banks and lenders wrote off more than $3 billion of student debt during the first financial quarter of 2013. With many graduates struggling with joblessness and underemployment, current students can benefit considerably by establishing a side business as they pursue their educational goals. By accruing additional income and developing a range of entrepreneurial skills, students can reduce their debt liability and improve their earning potential for the future.

What Student Entrepreneurs Should Consider

Before you look to create a side business or income stream as a student, there are several key factors to consider:

1. Start-Up Costs
Your business idea must be simple and require minimal start-ups costs, as otherwise you will simply incur additional debt. Given the burden of student loan debt, you should avoid any concept that demands additional lending, and focus solely on those that can be funded with your existing capital.

To help achieve this, try to target a concept that taps into your existing skills and resources. For example, if you’re a journalism major, put together an underground school paper and sell ad slots to local businesses to finance the paper and earn a profit.

2. The Importance of your Studies
As a student, educational attainment must remain your priority. With this in mind, your business idea should be relatively easy to manage and not consume a significant amount of your time. This can be measured in accordance with the nature of your degree, paying particular attention to its subject matter, academic level, and the amount of time that you need invest in your studies.

For example, if you have a heavy course load, launching a side business might not be a good idea at all. Or you may choose to start a seasonal business, such as pool cleaning, landscaping, or snow shoveling to do during school breaks.

3. The Quality of the Product or Service
Even if you are only operating a part-time business venture, paying customers demand value for their hard-earned money. Therefore, you must be able to deliver a quality product or service if your idea is to be sustainable. For example, should you choose to provide a tutoring service, it is crucial that you only offer lessons in subject areas in which you have a broad knowledge base. Otherwise, your service will fall short of customer expectations, and instead of giving referrals, your customers may actively discourage others from using your service.

4. The Importance of Market Research
Before you commit to any side business idea, you should conduct thorough market research. Be sure to evaluate each concept individually, in terms of both your chosen market and how you intend to reach target consumers.

Another key consideration is the level of competition relating to a specific idea, as markets that are well populated are far more difficult to succeed in. Depending on your schedule and the amount of money you intend to earn, you may be better off choosing less popular markets that are easier to break into. For instance, while the option of DJing is particularly competitive among students and requires significant investment in equipment, you may be able to operate as a part-time cleaner in a less competitive space and with a smaller financial commitment.

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Best Side Business Ideas for College Students

With these points in mind, what side business ideas are the most suitable for students? Consider the following options:

1. Tutoring and Mentoring
Your innate skills and qualities are all marketable, which means that they can be used to develop a viable stream of income. By focusing on your knowledge base and specific areas of academic strength, you can offer a mentoring or tutoring service to students who may be struggling to achieve their potential. While there are numerous student-facilitated initiatives that allow you to mentor disadvantaged or overseas pupils, you can look to tutor on an independent basis and reach out to a broader group of customers.

Start by offering your service to friends and associates on campus, after which time your reputation will grow and allow you to benefit from referrals. Once you are established and earning income, you can even look to advertise through both online and offline methods, including everything from producing promotional flyers for campus notice boards to engaging with social media marketing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

2. Freelance as a Writer and Blogger
In the burgeoning freelance market, the demand for creative skills is continuing to soar. Freelancing as a writer or blogger can therefore be particularly lucrative, especially if you focus on commercial copywriting for large organizations.

While the market is extremely competitive and likely to become even more so in the years ahead, you can still succeed by placing an emphasis on the quality of your content. Businesses are increasingly aware that they need relevant, high-quality content to market themselves successfully online, so focus on writing in your area of expertise and using resources such as Elance and oDesk to promote your service. These sites, along with Freelancer.com, are well suited to newcomers, as they boast a wide range of tasks that suit all levels of experience.

Simply create a basic resume that showcases the quality of your writing and your academic achievements, and apply for jobs that suit this skill set. It may also be worth using these sites to research the rates of competing service providers, as this will enable you to charge a fair price without losing ground in the market.

3. Sell Your Essays and Revision Notes Through Online Communities
If your goal is to maximize existing resources as a way of making money, then you should look to advertise and sell your academic work for research purposes. Sites such as Gradesaver.com publish this content, and allow its members to use it as a reference point, while retaining the copyright so that individuals cannot claim the work as their own. Completed essays and notes made during the revision process have practical value, especially if they are of high quality and reflect a genuine appreciation of the subject matter. These documents can therefore be sold to fellow students through various online platforms, and create a stream of passive income without any additional effort.

The aforementioned Gradesaver.com pays up to $25 for literary essays, while Academon.com provides an online bidding platform where your revision and reference material can be sold.

4. Establish a Cleaning Service
Academic pursuits can be mentally draining, and you may decide to pursue a money-making concept that revolves around delivering a simple, hands-on service. If you are willing to embrace manual labor, establishing a campus-based cleaning service offers the ideal opportunity to earn income and refresh your mind. Given that student dormitories have a reputation for being unkempt, this idea also ensures a high and consistent level of demand. The biggest advantage of this concept is that it is scalable, which means that you can soon reach out to individuals outside of your social circle.

While you can start modestly and offer the service to friends and family, if you are successful you can then choose to invest some of your funds into creating promotional material, such as flyers and business cards. If you wish to win additional work during summer break, you can even expand into landscaping and pool cleaning while operating under the same business name.

5. Embrace the American Thrift Culture
The thrift store industry in the U.S. has rebounded significantly since the onset of the global recession in 2008, as consumers have looked to reduce expenditure and maximize their income. According to the National Association of Resale Professionals, the market leader Goodwill Industries generated retail sales of $2.69 billion from just 2,500 stores during 2011, as citizens flocked to sell their unwanted clothes, appliances, and household clutter. This represents an excellent opportunity for students, who can sell their possessions through both online resources such as eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, and local garage sales.

The key is to market items that have a high demand and genuine resale value, so pay particular attention to academic reference books, academic texts, clothing, and fashion accessories. Reselling thrift items online may also lead to a handsome profit.

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Final Word

Not only can these ideas be used to earn significant income and reduce your student debt, they also teach fundamental skills that can be applied in the current and future economy. Having the ability to start a business venture or market a valuable skill will improve your chances of earning once you graduate, and enable you to bridge the gap as you look for viable, long-term employment. Or, you may decide to eschew employment entirely and build your own business after graduation.

Don’t become a slave to your student debt. Even if your academic studies are not focused on business or entrepreneurship, self-taught skills can still help you to earn a little extra money now and secure your future.

What other side businesses can you suggest for college students?

Lewis Humphries
Lewis Humphries is a professional blogger and marketer based in Birmingham, UK. He has a particular interest in personal finance and economics, and believes firmly in the value of speculating to accumulate in the current economy.

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  • http://debtblag.blogspot.com/ @debtblag

    I’d make sure to do the cost-benefit analysis of this. I worked full time in my last semester of school and got way less out of my classes than I would have otherwise. Balance the extra amount you won’t have to borrow in student loans with the potential for lower income in the future

  • http://twitter.com/crhanse Sarah Hansen

    Great ideas! As someone just starting out as a blogger, I really valued the advice! Time to work off some of those student loans!

  • Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash Tru

    The Internet business venue seems most appropriate for college students due to its usually low start-up costs and significant potential for profit. It doesn’t mean that everyone will be successful, but the opportunities abound. I would stress that one of the most important qualities of a successful business is providing outstanding value to its customers for a reasonable price.

  • Gina

    I think that the list of options are endless. Waiting tables and delivering pizza are good options because they should not interfere with classes and can allow for tip money to add up!

    • Winston C

      Yes, indeed there are a lot of options. But I believe it is very critical for students to find work that’s related to their major. That way, when it comes time to apply for the big important job, they will have enough experience to impress their perspective employers.

      Right now, I tutor couple of my friends in economics and math. I don’t make any money off of them because they are my friends and I enjoy helping them off.

    • Mac

      Good call. A buddy of mine made sure that his jobs during college were directly related to the field he was interested in and it did really help him land a good job after graduation. Me? I had some short-term fun and made some money, but none of my college jobs helped me in my future career. Tutoring is smart as it helps you as well, but I’d recommend trying to fit it into your resume somehow. Maybe create a small business plan and a name for your tutoring services.

  • Mac

    Some good ideas here, as most of these side businesses allow the student to make their own hours. The easy way out is to work for the college, do some menial task, and enjoy the fact that they’ll work around your schedule. Of course, the money isn’t there, but you’ll probably be able to socialize with fellow students.

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