How can students prepare to avoid this employment gap? By creating their own opportunities as entrepreneurs. What steps should you take if you think being a business owner is in your future? John Robitaille, executive in residence at Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship at Johnson & Wales University, suggests the following tips to prepare to launch your own small business:
1. Find your passion. Entrepreneurs often spend countless hours toiling away before they earn any money. It's important to choose something you enjoy and are willing to commit your time, effort and energy to doing. Robitaille says, "Entrepreneurs should love what they do and be passionate about it. The money will come later."
2. Prepare for a lot of hard work. Robitaille reminds would-be entrepreneurs that the difference between a hobby and a successful business is hard work. "Be prepared to make personal sacrifices, take risks and learn from failures," he says. "Some entrepreneurs get lucky, most achieve success through focus, hard work and persistence."
3. Create a plan. While not every business starts with a formal plan, formalizing your idea by creating a business plan can help you avoid roadblocks and make your dream a reality. Robitaille says: "Start by drafting an outline for your business plan. Be as comprehensive and detailed as you can and try to flesh out many important areas [such as] your executive summary, mission, value proposition, key competitors, differentiators, pricing, financial projections, start-up capital requirements, formal business type and operations timeline."
If you have a tough time getting started, you can find sample business plans online. Robitaille suggests you keep it simple and remember you'll probably change it many times.
4. Take advantage of on-campus resources. Make a point to try to identify a mentor. Robitaille suggests you "seek guidance from faculty members, alumni, professors and career counselors. They have the experience, skills and even networking connections to point you in the right direction."
If your university has a business or entrepreneurship center, be sure to take advantage of it. He notes: "A mentor or adviser will be able to help get you started as you map out your business plan, as well as connect you with key tools and resources such as financial and legal professionals. They can also help you identify and resolve potential obstacles."
5. Learn business fundamentals in the classroom. Even if you're not a business major, you shouldn't miss the opportunity to select classes in business, marketing or finance. If you're a new grad, look for continuing education opportunities or weekend seminars to pick up additional skills and learn things you may need to know. Topics Robitaille suggests include accounting for small businesses, marketing and operations management. "You need a good understanding of how business operates to commercialize your ideas," he notes.
6. Intern in the industry to get real world experience. A great way to get hands-on experience in your target field is to intern. Not only can you pick up tips about how other companies or entrepreneurs handle the types of issues you may face as a small business owner, you'll find out whether or not you really love the field and industry and if it's worth the time and effort it will take to launch your own business. Robitaille reminds college students and recent grads that on-campus career centers should be able to help connect you with internship opportunities. However, even if they don't offer suitable positions, using social media to network, you should be able to connect with influencers and key contacts yourself. Successful people are usually willing to share their experiences with fledgling entrepreneurs.
7. Fund your venture. While many companies can start off on a shoestring budget, ultimately, you may need funding to scale your business. Robitaille notes: "Many universities offer entrepreneurial scholarships and awards for students who are working to jump-start their dream businesses."
Crowd funding may also be a good option for you. Websites like Kickstarter.com can help you solicit the needed funds to take your business to the next step. You won't be the first startup to be funded primarily by family, friends and networking contacts.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.