Running a business while studying - What you need to know

It’s hard to find work. Student fees are the highest they’ve ever been. Accommodation is expensive. How can you make university pay?

For many students, starting a business is the answer. University provides a time during which you can hone your entrepreneurial instincts, while still retaining the security of your student loan.

So, if you are considering running a business while a student, how can you make it work for you?

Discipline yourself

Running a business in your spare time requires a huge amount of discipline from the outset. You need to identify the periods during which you can concentrate on your business, and the periods during which you need to focus on your studies, and stick to that plan. Try to plan around exam times and assignment hand-ins. Remember that you will be taken away from your business at these junctures, and that you will need to work this into your medium-term planning and goal-setting. If you are to succeed in both business and study, you need to maintain the discipline necessary to separate those two lives while devoting enough time to each.

Don’t pretend you can do it all

Running a business, keeping up with your studies, and, perhaps, working a part-time job - this combination will be exhausting. It is important to understand your limits, and to recognise when you cannot do it all.

For many entrepreneurs, study will remain the key priority. Most wish to secure the best grades they can, while still giving their business the push it deserves. You should understand, though, that this may require you to make sacrifices elsewhere in life. You are unlikely, for example, to be able to live the ‘classic’ student lifestyle. While this may not sound like too big a deal, it is important that you recognise the impact that running a business will have on the rest of your life.

Use the facilities

It is likely that your university offers a range of services and facilities for startup businesses. Many campuses now include business ‘incubators’, which offer space and support to new firms. These can be a key means by which startups get the help they need in their formative periods.

Even if there is no incubator at your university, there will almost certainly be other facilities to help you get your venture off the ground. You may be able to seek advice from business mentors, or even just use the library to conduct research for your business plan. You might also consider joining a business society, in which you may be able to find other, likeminded entrepreneurs with whom you can swap ideas.

Think carefully about debt

With the launch of the Start-Up Loans Company, non-bank business finance is easier than ever for young people to come by. Start-Up Loans are generally extended on the basis of the strength of the application, rather than on the applicant’s credit history, and they are actively aimed at young entrepreneurs.

These may therefore seem like an appealing proposition for students starting a business. However, some Start-Up Loans ‘delivery partners’ have been criticised for targeting university students too aggressively. You should remember that taking on debt of this sort is a major commitment. Although Start-Up Loans are backed by the government, they are not grants; you will need to pay them back. While you are also accruing student debt, you should make sure that you give proper consideration to the long-term implications before you borrow more.

Don’t be afraid to fail

One of the great advantages of running a business while a student is that it gives you the opportunity to try, but fail. This might not sound like a good thing, but in reality failure can be a hugely valuable experience. Although you should, of course, treat your business with exactly the same care and respect as you would if it were a full-time pursuit, running a firm as a student provides you with the fall-back of your student loan and, potentially, a part-time job. This means that you can take risks and learn in a potentially safer environment.

Good luck!