Andrew Dark is Director and Co-owner of printwear and branding specialists, Custom Planet.
Born in the peak of the recession, the company was set up while owners John and Andy were still at university. And, since then, has gone from printing T-shirts in Andy’s family garage to becoming one of the UK’s leading custom clothing suppliers with a turnover of £1.2 million. Here, Andy shares his top tips for setting up a business when you’re still at university.
Going to university can help you to discover your true passion and inspire new ideas and career paths for you. So, whether you want to take the next step with your passion for fashion or you want to get your foot in the door with digital marketing, setting up a business at university can put you in a good position for success.
Although it might seem impossible to fit in between lecture hours, coursework and exams, I’ve rounded up my top five tips to help you manage everything and build a business while you study.
Use your spare time wisely
At university you’ll find yourself with more spare time than you might have first imagined. So, while you might have initially used your free time to take a midday nap, I’d recommend you start using this time to brainstorm ideas for your future business.
This could include coming up with an idea, thinking about how you’ll afford it, or even what the name of your business could be. By being proactive in your spare hours, you’ll be one step ahead of your fellow students and be closer to reaping the rewards of your planning. Plus, this doesn’t have to be boring and tedious. You can take the opportunity to get some new stationery and files to organise all of your paperwork, or play around with new software to create an iconic logo.
Utilise resources from your university
There will be plenty of resources provided by your university that you can use. Whether that’s seeking information from the careers staff or taking out a library book on business planning, I’d strongly suggest taking advantage of what you have while you’re there.
If you’re starting a new venture that’s relevant to your studies, it’ll be a good idea to ask your lecturers for help and advice. Scholars will usually have lots of connections with people in their field of expertise, so they could point you in the direction of help, even if they can’t offer it themselves. People will always be happy to help somebody starting out, so don’t be afraid of asking for guidance whenever you need it. And, as many people won’t charge for their time, you should take these opportunities to develop your understanding and assist your business plan.
Observe your fellow students
If you’re not sure how to market your products or how to target your future audience, it’ll pay to watch those around you. Discovering people’s interests and being in the know about current and upcoming trends is bound to inspire your planned services and products. I’d recommend starting by finding out which products and marketing tactics are most successful. Whether that means observing your friend’s shopping habits or you keep an eye on the promotional offers in stores, there’s plenty of opportunity to learn useful things that’ll apply to your business.
In this industry, innovation is everything so don’t simply copy the things you’re seeing fly off the shelves. You need to have a unique selling point which’ll make you stand out from the crowd and offer something to your customers that’ll compete. For us specifically, that means always investing in new equipment to provide the highest quality branded merchandise. But, for you could mean always providing new varieties or flavours of your product.
Work with other talent
When you’re planning your own business venture, it can be tempting to keep other people out of it. But, don’t forget that university is a hub of talented people who are specialising in all sorts of fields and career paths, so use this to your advantage. Joining socials and taking other opportunities to mix with those in other disciplines could potentially help you a lot. So, if you’re not so good at the financial side of business, befriending a maths student could be a good place to start. Or, if you need help designing a logo, an art or graphic design student may be happy to help.
Plus, if you find somebody who is as passionate about your idea as you, you might just find yourself a future business partner. After all, we think two heads are better than one!
Create an online presence
Once you’ve got a solid idea that you think will stand up, it’s best to devise an in-depth marketing plan. This will help you to be taken seriously when you approach others for help, whether that’s fellow peers for knowledge or the bank for a loan. I recommend starting with a website, and even if you’re not tech-savvy, there are plenty of online resources to help you create this. Or, if you can find a good enough deal, you could pay somebody to do it for you.
As well as having a site, you should consider setting up social media profiles to create an initial buzz around your business. This is a great way of marketing your products and services, even when they’re not completed yet, as you can play on people’s curiosity and build up anticipation for it. There are even online forums and groups you can join where people will be able to offer help and advice for start-ups, so you can learn some tips and tricks from those who have been, or are in, your position.
Starting up your own business while you’re at university can seem stressful and daunting, but with my five tips, a great business plan and a determined mind, you’ll be well on your way to sharing the products and services you’ve worked so hard on. Just don’t be disheartened if you experience failure along the way, it’s all a learning curve and your hard work is sure to pay off eventually.