Starting A Business After College: Pitfalls To Avoid

The transition from university life back to civilian life can be a difficult one - especially if you move back home with your parents.

Getting a job is not always easy. There are only so many jobs per graduates and many of them will require at least some relevant work experience.

“How do I get experience if nobody will give me a job in the first place?” is the perpetual question which plaques young people searching for work.

There is one way, and that’s to start your own business in order to build a portfolio or relevant work and references that will impress a potential employer.

Whether you are aiming to become an entrepreneur or looking to gain relevant work experience, there are many helpful tips to know and pitfalls to be aware of.

Plan everything

Organisation and planning are crucial. You need to know in detail:

  • What service and/or products is your business is going to offer?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What the company name will be?
  • What its logo will be/look like? Who will create it?
  • What will your unique selling point and/or strong selling points be?
  • How will you create your website?
  • What will your website domain name be?
  • What will your social media account names be? (your business name might be taken)
  • Will you need funding? If so, how will you secure it?
  • How will you keep your books/accounts/expenses?
  • Will you open a business bank account? Who with?
  • Will you need to buy any equipment?
  • Will you work from home, use a coworking space or your own office?
  • What overheads will you have? E.g. cost of renting an office, cost of account keeping, software subscriptions, website hosting etc.
  • What will you outsource? E.g. logo design, website design, SEO
  • What will be your business goals and key performance indicators (KPIs)?
  • How will you market your business?

Although many will argue that you don’t need one, creating a business plan is the best way to get everything on paper and organised. You can download a free business plan for startups from score.org

Even if you don’t use a formal or traditional business plan template, ensure that you have some kind of documentation that organises and outlines everything to do with your business and the relevant finances. 

It can also be extremely helpful to run ideas past the online community found at Reddit.com, as well as any relevant Facebook groups that you might be able to find.

These communities can provide valuable information for everything related to your business, from the best cell phone apps to use for invoicing clients, to the best places to hire a graphic designer for your logo.

Mentors

Mentors can be extremely helpful, especially for people who are starting up a business straight after graduating college. If you don’t have any experience, it’s always helpful to learn some aspects of business from other people’s mistakes, rather than your own! 

Before contacting a potential mentor, write down what you want to learn or what you want help with. For example, you might need help with networking, or setting up your digital/online business presence. 

Finding a mentor can be straightforward in many ways, just go to a mentoring website and sign up. This can prove a little expensive, however, especially if you are working with a limited budget.

It can pay to think outside of the box when it comes to recruiting yourself a business mentor.

Contacting your college might be a good starting point - ask if they do any kind of mentoring or have a careers department that might be able to point you in the right direction.

You can find mentors in a variety of random places that you might not think of; the gym, the park, your son’s football club. So keep an eye out for anyone that might be able to help.

Ensure that when you do find a mentor you agree to what kind of relationship you will have. How many hours per month they can commit to and what they expect in return.

Sometimes you can have a reciprocated mentorship, for example, I would train my friend at the gym in return for some help with coding my business website.

Keeping your own books

Keeping your own books is a tedious but necessary part of running your own business. Even if you employ an accountant or use a bookkeeping app, you will still have to keep a record of your expenses and invoicing.

As with pretty much everything else to do with business, there’s a cell phone app that can help. Quickbooks is the most popular, and its popularity means that there a large number of accountants that you can choose from to register your accounts etc. without any issues.

The developers claim that you can ‘save up to 8 hours a month’ on your bookkeeping with Quickbooks.

Automatically categorise your expenses and receipts in a format that is acceptable for the taxman. If required, you can also save time and stress with things such as payroll, sending invoices, accepting online payments and easily managing contractors. 

Whichever bookkeeping method you choose, make sure you have a system and everything you need before you start. Getting in a muddle with your expenses and invoicing can be very time-consuming and difficult to rectify, not to mention there can also be legal implications. 

Work from home or an office?

Many startups will work from home in an understandable effort to save money and reduce expenses. If this is the case then ensure that you are able to create a physical and mental barrier between work and family/home life.

If possible, designate a room or area that is just for work, and go for a 10-minute walk at the end of your working day to develop a psychological boundary between your working day and leisure time.

Ensure that your workstation has everything you need too. For example, proper lighting, all the software your business needs, necessary hardware and a comfortable chair (or even a stability ball).

If you do choose to work from home, you might also want to invest in a virtual office address and a virtual receptionist.

Virtual addresses can be seen as a ‘trust signal’ for anyone visiting your website or anyone who receives a business card or company letter.

Trust signals on your website such as reviews, awards and client testimonials are all very important. A company address is vital in the eyes of a potential customer - would you buy from a website with a residential address?  

A virtual receptionist or call answering service can also help instill trust in potential customers. If you are unable to take a call, having a US (or UK) based receptionist from the likes of Moneypenny, on the other end of the phone gives the impression of a legitimate, professional and well-established business.

In addition, investing in a virtual receptionist reduces the number of interruptions that you might expect during the day, and a 24/7 service allows you to switch off during the evenings and weekends.

If you find that working from home is not working out, remember that coworking spaces are also an option.

Many coworking offices will allow you to rent a desk for just 1 or 2 days per week, meaning that you won’t have to commit to a large expense.

Marketing your business

Marketing a business can be a full-time job in itself - this is why so many companies hire agencies to manage their online marketing.

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves creating great content on your blog or website, ensuring the website code is properly implemented and optimised, and creating online marketing campaigns to attract backlinks from highly authoritative websites. This can take a long time, just writing a single, in-depth blog post can take hours. 

Local SEO is slightly different from ‘normal’ SEO and relates to ranking on Google Maps and in the ‘local pack’ on Google Search Results. Be sure to register your business with Google My Business if you want to reach customers this way.

Pay per click (PPC) marketing involves using Facebook, Google and Microsoft adverts to reach your customers.

The return on investment can be seen a lot sooner than with SEO, however, it can also be expensive. For example, a single click on a Google Ad can cost anywhere between $2 to $150.

Social media marketing involves utilizing channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to create an online following.

Sharing informative, funny and/or emotion-provoking posts that relate to your brand can be a good way to start.

Directly promoting your business in every status or tweet is not going to attract too many fans or followers.

Many marketers will take content from their blog, turn it into a micro-format (such as 10-second videos, GIFs and images) and repurpose this on social media.

Offline marketing may well be the most time and cost-efficient form of marketing for your business.

Attending local networking events, conferences and knocking on doors and promoting yourself and your business may well be a good way to get your name out there in the local area.

Be organised and speak to other entrepreneurs

It’s great to learn from mistakes, but they don’t always have to be yours.

Speak to experienced entrepreneurs and get advice from others on forums such as Reddit.

Have a flexible plan before you start and be prepared for lots of hard work!