For many soon-to-be or recent graduates, the specter of finding gainful employment is a damn scary one. Either there are no jobs available in their industry, or the idea of working for someone else crushes their spirit and enthusiasm. Fair enough. So what’s an ambitious go-getter to do?
Entrepreneurship, as we’ve discussed before, is not for everyone. Some people function much better being told what to do. Having deadlines forced upon them by domineering boss. And that’s okay. For others, that is the very definition of hell. They want to be in charge. They want to make the big decisions, and assume the greatest risk and responsibility. They are the entrepreneurs the world needs.
There’s no one correct way to go about this. Every success story takes a slightly altered route to the finish line, but there are a few things you should do in order to become an entrepreneur when you graduate (if not before). Think of this as a guide, and not necessarily a list of commandments. And no, the first step is most definitely NOT find investors. That’s down the list...
Have an Idea
Obviously, your biggest obstacle out of the gate is having an idea. It needs to either solve an existing problem, or improve an existing product/service. It needs to make life better, easier, happier, more convenient for some segment of the population (the bigger, the better). Do you have one?
Your idea should be something you’re passionate about. If you choose something solely based on earning potential or some other criterion, you likely end up miserable. Part of the appeal of entrepreneurship is doing something you love, right?
Once you have an idea that is going to change the way we [insert your industry or problem here], you need to conduct a lot of research to make sure it’s viable. Look at the direct competition. Look at the indirect competition. Consider the potential market - is it big enough to support growth? Is it too small? At this stage, you can research (not - I repeat NOT - contact) potential investors. Are there some out there that have already supported something similar? Consider everything you might need in terms of research, development, and production...from brain power to physical production facilities. Do they exist? Can you find them?
Draw up a business plan - even if only informally at this stage - that collects and organizes all your research, plans, and goals.
Get the Finances in Order
Yes, finances are important, but too ,many young entrepreneurs make the mistake of seeking investment too early, dooming themselves to failure and rejection. No one is going to put their money into something (or someone) who hasn’t taken the time to research and plan. And really, investors come in all shapes and sizes. You may want to consider applying for a government business loan. These usually come with very attractive interest rates and payment structures. Your government wants - needs - young entrepreneurs to drive the economy forward, and they are willing to support those with a well-thought out and planned idea. Look into it.
You may consider an angel investor or two. Or a venture capitalist or firm. You should also look at friends and family. They are often a great source of investment, especially in the early stages. You might opt for the crowdfunding (aka crowdsourcing) route, which has proven very popular and effective in recent years. Finally, obviously, you need to be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and invest in yourself. Personally assume (at least some) the risk before asking anyone else to join you.
The Legality of It All
At some point, you need to establish the legal structure of your business. There are many forms it could take, so do some reading and choose the one that best fits your situation. You might decide on a sole proprietorship (you are the lone owner/operator, and there is no distinction between you and your business in the eyes of the law), or a partnership (with at least one other entrepreneur or investor...just be very, very clear on everyone’s role, obligations, and responsibilities). It may be necessary to establish a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in order to protect personal assets and for tax purposes. You may want to become a corporation, or a designated non-profit. Each have their pros and cons, but the sooner you decide and take the required action, the better. Your decision will also affect the types of license and business permits that you may need to procure.
Get Your Name Out There
Network with other entrepreneurs. Meet potential investors. Talk to industry insiders and bigwigs. Blog on your adventure. Develop your reputation as an authority and go-to individual. Promote your business and yourself. Find a mentor.
Break it Down
Always be moving forward by setting small, achievable goals. Don’t overreach, and don’t set ridiculous goals you’ll never reach. You want to quickly start checking things off the list so you feel and celebrate the success. Having one unattainable goal soon becomes a demoralizing monster laughing at you. Don’t do it.
Just Do It (Apologies to Nike)
The danger is stalling for too long in the beginning. Yes, you need to lay some groundwork. You need to research. You need to plan. You need to network. But don’t spend months and months in that stage, always finding some reason or another why you shouldn’t “start” yet. If you fall into that cycle, you may never break free of it. Start before you feel 100% ready. Work towards that first achievable goal. And then celebrate like mad when you hit it, and immediately start towards the next one. Repeat.
A Few Useful Links
New Entrepreneurs Foundation (30 young entrepreneurs selected each year for a 12-month program that includes training, mentorship, and paid job placement)
Startup America (links and resources for entrepreneurs in the USA)
Kickstarter (one of the biggest and most popular crowdfunding sites)
Go Fund Me (another crowdfunding site)
Now, go forth and succeed!
Photo by Steven Depolo
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