Considering starting your own business? Entrepreneurship is rising in prominence as people seek to pave their own way in the world. It’s a tough road but one lined with incredible rewards and career satisfaction. Admittedly, life as an entrepreneur is not always glamorous. Until you reach a certain threshold of income and success, you'll feel like you're playing a game of Monopoly that never ends—a game that could last for several years. You won't be able to sleep without contemplating your next roll of the dice. You don't need a concrete idea to start planning for a successful career as an entrepreneur, but if you already know that your future doesn't include an ordinary 9-to-5, there are a few ways you can start preparing now.
1. Build and strengthen every relationship you make
One of the first things you need to learn as an entrepreneur is how to reach potential customers. Having a strong network to call on when your product or service is ready to hit the market will put you way ahead of the curve. Sure, you should definitely keep in touch with your old crew; you never know where they will end up and how you might be able to help each other down the road. But don’t forget about the relationships with teachers, school administrators, professors, employers, friends of the family, etc.—these are the relationships that often mean the difference between success and failure for a young entrepreneur. Even if you have no intention of returning to your hometown, having many contacts (even hundreds) ready and willing to vouch for you to each of their many contacts throughout the country is priceless.
Related: How to Start Networking: Top Tips and Tricks
2. Build a social media presence, but treat it like your résumé
This one is for all students, regardless of your future plans. Should you have a Facebook page? Yes. A LinkedIn profile? Absolutely. A Twitter or Pinterest? Maybe. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to social media is forgetting that you will be judged according to what people see. Don't lie to yourself. Potential business partners and customers do not want to work with someone who has a Facebook page consisting of oversharing, angst-ridden status updates and pictures of your empty liquor bottle collection. For most people in the business world, your social media accounts are weighted as highly as your résumé and college transcript. Why? Because what you post on social media directly reflects what you do and say when you think nobody important to your career is watching. It's indicative of the person you really are behind your professional façade, so make sure the person people see online reflects the professional you are.
3. Build and maintain email lists
It's a brave new world in which almost everyone has an email address and compulsively checks it throughout the day. You should treat every email address you come across as a potential rent payment. Don't let a single one disappear. Consider making an investment in an account with YMLP.com or a similar service. This interface allows you to organize and store email addresses into specific lists. You can then do mass broadcasts to those lists. Make a list for your former teachers and professors. Make a list for your theater contacts. Make a list for all your former sports teammates. Make a list for your family. Try to make each list as focused as possible. And you can break it down by interest too; if you know 50 people with a strong interest in video games, you should make a list for video games! And don't worry about adding a single contact to multiple lists. Most of these interfaces will automatically prevent double-sending to a single contact.
Related: How to Write a Strong Professional Email People Will Read
4. Maintain regular and relevant contact with your email lists
You shouldn't be sending emails to your lists on a weekly or even a monthly basis. Let’s face it—you’re in high school or college, and there isn't necessarily a lot going on to interest your mother’s book club. Keep any email contact relevant and interesting to each contact group. If your Contemporary Lit professor recommends a book you think your mother’s book club would enjoy, send it their way. If you read an interesting article about education you think your high school teachers would find intriguing, forward it. Try to contact everyone on your email lists at least two to three times a year. For most people, your main form of contact will just be to update them on your life and to ask that they update you on theirs.
5. Live frugally and save as much money as you can
Most students (and their families) need to pay their own way through college, relying on scholarships and/or loans to fund the majority of their college education. You and the financial aid office at your school will calculate the bare minimum you'll need to pay for tuition, books, food, and other living expenses. Then you can almost always budget a certain amount more to make sure you have an adequate financial cushion. If you're going to live the life of an entrepreneur, you need to get accustomed to saving every penny you can now. Do not rely on your school’s calculations. Know exactly how much money you need to live on during school. Cut corners where you can. Put the rest into a separate savings account you can't easily access, then pretend it doesn't exist. Work a part-time job for your “play” money. Even if you only put away a few hundred dollars each semester, you'll be surprised how quickly it will add up. Moreover, when your big idea presents itself and it's time to bring it to life, you'll be forever thankful you chose to save and invest it in yourself and your future.
Related: Smart Money and Budgeting Tips for High School and College Students
When you're trying to develop and strengthen a business in difficult economic times, there will be months with money pouring in and there will be even more months where you'll be making less per hour than your grandparents made back in the 1950s. You will make mistakes. You will undoubtedly need to ask for help along the way. In business, your widget—your product or service—does not matter. You can be successful whether you're selling vacuum cleaners or tax prep services as long as you're well prepared for the road ahead. Good luck!
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