I worked full time throughout college. It gave me a lot of character (in my opinion, anyway), a diverse group of friends, “experience” doing just about everything, and many stories. But it’s not the path I’d take today.
Balancing a full work week and a full course load brought stress, missed classes, impressive debt, and list of other stuff that bums me out. If I knew then what I know now, I would have launched my business and become my own boss about a decade earlier.
So, what do I wish college-age me would have learned about becoming an entrepreneur?
Ignore any stigma
Most people admire entrepreneurs, but often have trouble wrapping their heads around folks who are freelancers, digital nomads, or those with other nontraditional working arrangements. These folks may never have envisioned another way to work.
I can’t say it any better than Rob Erich, a digital nomad who blogs at Money Nomad, so I’ll let him do the heavy lifting for this one:
“One of the biggest challenges for me was convincing myself that I didn’t need to work in a ‘real’ job. You’ll notice that there seem to be a lot more full-time bloggers and freelancers that are stay-at-home moms than married men (at least in the US). I think there is a bit of a stigma around men not going to an office or field in order to work.
Of course, as an extrovert I certainly need to go somewhere so that I can connect with other people, but it’s still a bit strange to answer the question ‘what do you do?’ – especially when speaking with those in Corporate America.”
You can make your own career
The virtue of hard work was pounded into my brain as I was growing up, as was the value of a job that paid well and provided good benefits. I was told I had to get a “real” job if I wanted to get anywhere. But I’d worked plenty of jobs, and I wasn’t going places with those.
My “real” jobs were passionless, and if they weren’t what one would consider to be “dead end,” they felt like it. I could have found another job, and then another, but that wasn’t cutting it. I wanted truly infinite growth and ongoing challenges.
So I created my own career. I started freelancing, writing blog posts and articles for the then-budding content marketing industry. Not too many folks were meeting this need, so I got busy fast; my agency was born out of necessity. Now my “made up” job is CEO, which doesn’t sound too shabby.
You have (almost) nothing to lose
If you are like most college students, you have less risk when you enter into an entrepreneurial endeavor or start freelancing than those who are more advanced in age. This has nothing to do with having your parents there to support you if things go awry, but if you do have the privilege of parents you can fall back on, kudos!
If you are of average college age (and don’t have a dependent), you can dive in and become a freelancer, entrepreneur, or otherwise self-employed person with less worry than your older counterparts. Why?
- You probably don’t have to quit a really good, hard-to-get gig to take the plunge.
- If things don’t work out, there are plenty of entry level positions available that someone with more expenses wouldn’t be able to subside on.
- You probably don’t have to worry about paying for your own health insurance yet. (Thanks, Obama!)
- You likely don’t have a family relying on your income.
- If you fail, those around you will be less judgmental and really dang impressed anyway.
Not everyone can cut it
Failures happen—a lot. Many highly successful entrepreneurs have a long list of failed endeavors under their belts. So don’t be discouraged and drop out of entrepreneurship altogether if the first few things you try aren’t a hit.
Furthermore, not everyone is cut out for being an entrepreneur. Many thrive under the routine and structure more traditional employment offers. Others don’t enjoy the solitude that can come from working independently. And for some folks, it’s just something else. Anyone can be their own boss, but not everyone should go down that path.
It’s easy to start an online-based business
The idea of starting a business was daunting to me. I assumed starting any business would be expensive and prohibitive due to the dreaded “red tape.”
Then I looked online and quickly found a checklist on my county’s website outlining the steps to start a business in my area. I printed a few pages, filled out some forms, wrote a few checks, and I was in business. With licensing, bookkeeping software, web hosting, business cards, and a celebratory bottle of cava, my agency got started in about one week for under $1000.
You can make (and save!) a lot of money
When I was waiting tables, I thought I was making big bucks. But cash was slipping through my fingers after paying for fuel and parking, paying for uniforms, grabbing a tea on my way into the restaurant, and then partying with my colleagues after most shifts. Even if I made $200 on a shift, I rarely went home with all of it.
But now, I make more than my best night as a restaurant server if I have at least a half day of billable hours, and I don’t even put on pants to earn that!
Depending on what you decide to do, you probably won’t make top dollar when you are starting out. But you’ll likely make more than your peers in retail or admin work, and you may even eclipse your friends in the service industry. Then you can take that cash and save it, splurge with it, or use it for tuition and avoid student loans.
Flexibility > Security
Being able to go home for the holidays, skip work to study, and have control of my schedule would have been amazing in college. I hated having to call in favors to get shifts covered if I was struggling with a big assignment or had an exam.
As my own boss, if I want, I’m able to binge on work for a week and then essentially “take off” if I have something important (or fun) coming up. I enjoy that if an emergency pops up, I don’t have to explain it to anyone or ask to have time to take care of it. And if I want to work days, nights, or weekends I can, and if I don’t want to, I don’t—it’s that simple.
Of course, the security of a regular job is important too. If you have traditional employment, you know you’re making money at certain intervals, which helps you budget and may allow food purchases beyond packets of dried ramen.
But I’d argue the flexibility and quality of life greater independence offers is better than the security of a “real” job—at least for me. And there’s no reason why you can’t build up your own entrepreneurial income that’s as steady as what you’d expect on someone else’s payroll.
It just feels good
Folks are impressed with young entrepreneurs. Heck, even at 30, I got heaps of praise for being able to start my own agency. And that praise feels really, really good.
Even without outside endorsements, starting my own business and nurturing it feels amazing. Not only did I make my own job, I’ve made jobs for others as well, which is exhilarating and rewarding. And now I’m even helping others to launch freelancing careers, in part because working for myself on a bad day often still feels better than any other job ever did.