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Want to make a little extra cash or simply turn a hobby into a successful business? With these low-investment business ideas, you could test your creativity, resilience, and entrepreneurial spirit while at university.
Research from Santander shows that one in 10 university students are currently running their own business alongside their studies, and almost one fifth plan to continue with their business when they graduate.
The rise of the side hustle among university students is clear to see, but how can you join this growing trend?
Before we get into the fun stuff and explore some of the best business ideas for students, we want to give you a few practical tips to support you getting set up. If you’re not sure of your legal and tax responsibilities, or simply want a bit more information on becoming a small business owner, we’re here to help.
Write a business plan – think about what problem your business can solve for consumers. Even if you’re starting out small, your business plan is something you can develop over time. It helps you get the best out of your exciting ideas by exploring opportunities, identifying any potential obstacles, and planning your marketing.
Understand your tax responsibilities – you get a £1,000 tax-free trading allowance before you need to tell HMRC about your income in any one tax year. If you’re earning more than this, you’ll need to register as self-employed – this has its benefits as you can claim back tax on certain expenses related to running your business.
Protect your business with insurance – this protects you from everyday risks like accidents, damage, and legal fees. For example public liability insurance will cover you if someone is sick or injured as a result of your business. Find out more about the types of business insurance you might need, and why.
Manage your budget – it’s a good idea to create a budget both for your personal student life and your business venture. Having a business budget means you keep track of income and expenses, helping you plan for future growth. When you’re just starting your side business, it’s a nice idea to save any money you make and put it into a pot for investing in the business or spending it on career development courses you’re interested in.
Secure finance and funding – while the ideas we list below are relatively low-cost to get set up, you may still have some initial expenses for materials or tech, so you’ll need to know how to fund this. You could consider crowdfunding or take a look at the government’s finance and support to see if you’re eligible for any grants.
Chat to your university careers service as they’ll have loads of tools and resources to help you with starting out as an entrepreneur. You can also check out our in-depth guide to starting a business.
Looking for inspiration? Here are popular side business ideas you could start at university. If you’re hoping to make it your full-time venture after you graduate, it’s important to keep in mind your strengths, values, and what you’d enjoy doing most.
You really can sell anything online, but it’s important to think about what’s going to give you the best profit margin. You could work with a wholesaler to bulk buy the products you want to sell, or you might sell vintage clothes or homemade items.
Think about what’s popular right now and you could even test out some of your products with a focus group of your student mates. For more tips, check out our guide to finding a product to sell online.
If you’re artistic and looking for a creative business you can start from your university accommodation, why not try starting a craft business? Popular ideas include candle making, jewellery making, or selling your own framed art prints.
The great thing is this is something you can do from home, but you can also get out and about by running your own craft stall at local markets. Your university is bound to have events for crafters, particularly around the festive season, so keep a look out for those on campus.
According to Student.com, 20 per cent of students are making money through tutoring. And why not? If you’re further along in your university career, you could support first-year students with their studies in your specialist subject or even support school-age kids with their GCSE maths and English.
The good news is you don’t need much to get set up, just your knowledge and any specific materials for the subject. And if the past year has shown us anything, you can offer this as an online service too.
Lots of students are making money without leaving their bedroom by promoting brands on their social media accounts in return for cash. If you’ve got a strong following and an engaged audience, brands may be interested in working with you as an influencer.
You don’t necessarily need thousands of followers, you just need to find your niche and be willing to post a few times a week.
Get yourself a camera, sound equipment, and a nice background and you could be the next big vlogger. Fashion vlogging, makeup tutorials, and travel vlogs are all popular trends on YouTube. You could even document the challenges, joys, and experiences of student life.
Making money on YouTube can take quite a bit of time and effort, but if you start seeing your viewing figures go up, you might be able to make money through advertising revenue or channel membership.
If you have a love of animals and want to spend more time with dogs, you could use your time in between lectures to offer dog walking services.
Our guide to dog walking covers everything you need to get set up, from training and licences you might need to how to attract new clients and work out what you’re going to charge. Or check out our guide to jobs working with animals for more ideas.
Becoming a freelancer is a great way to earn a little extra money on the side, but with a bit of hard work and networking you could make it your full-time income. Copywriting is a popular service to offer as lots of businesses are looking for support with writing blogs and news articles, for example.
Other common freelancing opportunities include photography and graphic design. Whatever your skill, freelancing is a low-risk way to start building your client base and finding your niche.
If you have a passion for food, why not bring your culinary creations to the public by starting a food and drink business? You could start a cake and baking business from your kitchen and sell at market stalls on campus. Or you could deliver meals, offer cooking lessons, or even work towards having your own food truck business.
There are laws and regulations around selling food to the public though, including providing allergen information. Make sure you check guidance from the Food Standards Agency and register your business with your local authority within 28 days.
While starting a removals business may sound like an expensive option, it’s something you could start small to test the water. Hiring a van for a couple of hours or using a city car club is relatively inexpensive and can often be arranged last minute. This means you can book in student movers before committing to any financial outlay.
Bear in mind that most students will need help moving at the beginning and end of terms, so you’ll likely be very busy around June, July, and September but fairly quiet the rest of the year – useful for fitting your business in around your studies though.
If your side hustle takes off, you might consider whether to buy or lease a van for your business.
University life is known for being full of parties and nights out. If you love bringing people together and want to show off your creativity, you could start your own event and party planning business.
As an event planner you’re responsible for organising a venue, food, drink, music, and decoration. You’ll need to be a good communicator and build relationships with a network of suppliers. It’s also a good idea to gain experience of event planning before you go it alone, but there’s plenty of opportunity to develop these skills while at university. For example, you could join the Students’ Union and get involved in organising student nights and on-campus events.
If you’ve got in-depth knowledge of your university town then you might consider becoming a tour guide alongside your studies.
Striking the balance between fun and entertaining is an important part of being a tour guide. Can you offer something unique for tourists to see and learn about? From food tours of independent restaurants to walking tours to see cool street art to chauffeured punting tours in Cambridge or Oxford – there’s plenty of ideas to explore.
For those wondering how to become a tour guide and start marketing your business, Airbnb Experiences is a great platform for reaching people visiting the area on holiday.
Are you planning on starting your own business at university? Let us know how you get on in the comments below.
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Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.
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