Starting a business in school gives you plenty of opportunity to test different ideas and discover what works for you. While there are unique challenges running a business during your academic tenure, it’s certainly possible and with the right dedication and resources, you can make it work.
If you started to gain some traction while you were still taking classes, you might be wondering how you can scale up as you edge closer to your degree. Scaling is all about sustainable growth and operational efficiency. Here’s what you need to do make it work:
Make It Full Time
One of the biggest drawbacks of starting a business in college is that you’re unable to dedicate your undivided attention. Once you’ve graduated, you can take the next step to full-time work. While you’re in school, you might be dedicating a few hours per day to helping your customer and fine-tuning your product or service; naturally, you can’t exactly scale the way you want too.
However, it’s important to recognize that just because you’re graduating doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to go full steam ahead. For instance, you need to analyze your finances to determine whether you can realistically afford to continue growing your business on the salary your business currently provides—if any.
Create Budgeted Milestones
One of the first things you need to do is start creating milestones for your business, and build financial plans around those milestones. Defining milestones helps you build out a realistic timeline of the business trajectory. Furthermore, milestones help you reach both short and long-term goals. Key components of your milestone setting should include a solid business plan, set dates, budgets, responsibilities, and KPIs.
To grow your business the right way, you need data. Data allows you to identify the inefficiencies in your current media portfolio, reallocate your budget as needed, test new opportunities for scale, and curate all your marketing tactics into a single unified view for reporting and data-backed decision-making. For example, if you spearheaded a direct mail marketing campaign with personalized envelopes and inserts, you’d want to use a code that would help you determine how many of your sales stem from your direct mail efforts. In business, data is key. It will prove instrumental to your ability to make smart choices moving forward.
Apply for an Incubator or Accelerator
Incubator and accelerators are programs designed to help grow startup companies. Incubators help early stage startups gain traction, while accelerators help fast track startups that have already seen some level of traction. Many startups have achieved significant success through incubators, including Airbnb, Stripe, DoorDash, and Instacart.
Typically, these programs offer early funding in exchange for a small portion in equity. They also provide office space, valuable mentorship programs, networking events, and most importantly, culminate in a Demo Day. Demo Day is an event that brings together investors from around the world, and your startup gets the opportunity to pitch your product or service in hopes for securing a match and spreading awareness.
Reach Out to Investors
If you’ve been accepted into an accelerator or incubator program, chances are you’ve prepared for a Demo Day. However, if you’re spearheading your scaling on your own, outside investors are one of the best ways to build strategic partnerships and secure cash that helps fuel your growth. There are a few creative ways you can meet with investors, and one of the most sure fire ways is to network as much as possible.
Participate in entrepreneurial events like “Startup Week” in Denver and hone in on industry events and invest in a table. Pitching will be a big part of meeting potential investors. Ideally, you know someone who can offer an introduction or have met your potential investors at an event. However, the key to pitching is demonstrating your value and choosing investors whose portfolios align with what you have to offer.
One of the biggest scaling mistakes that people make is hiring too quickly because they want to address a big workload fast. However, bad hiring decisions cost businesses millions every year, and can hurt the company in the long-run. Rather than spend money on a salary, consider hiring for interim positions, working with agencies, and building relationships with independent contractors. Additionally, you may want to consider bringing on a co-founder to balance your expertise. For example, if your speciality is in marketing and you’re a single founder, you might want to hire a technical co-founder to save money, bring on-site expertise, and appear better to potential investors.