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Is running a business while a student a good idea?

With all the research and revision required to successfully complete a degree, students have to be self-starters. Usually, studying still leaves some free time and many students want to start helping themselves while still studying, often by starting their own business. You may already have what you think is a great business idea but where do you start? How do you get your product or service known? What makes your brand better than the rest? What are the legal considerations you must know to keep within the law? What happens if your business fails? What happens if it really takes off?

If you understand all of the answers to these questions and you don’t allow the business to affect your studies, creating a new start-up while you are a student can be a brilliant idea, beginning your journey up the earnings ladder before your final exams.

Know your target audience

The importance of researching your target audience cannot be underestimated. Whether you are selling a product or service, you need to know who you are aiming to connect with. It’s no good if your product is designed for 20 to 30-year-olds but the marketing attracts over 60s. Are you targeting other students or people with a huge pay packet? Are men or women more likely to be interested?

A good example of this could be a gaming brand. As the industry has very specific demographics they wish to target, they must make sure their advertising is designed around the profile of the person they are trying to appeal to. Casino sites face a rather more difficult issue; traditionally marketed at an older group, casinos are now attempting to woo millennials too, with the games at making use of both streaming technology and cryptocurrency to lure in younger fans. After all, getting your product or service in front of the right people can make the difference between success and failure.

You should also research your competitors. You need to identify why your brand is better and why people should use your business in preference to a competitor.

Do not disregard the power of social media

For many years, social media was ignored by businesses but now even large companies have Facebook pages, are on Twitter, and have pages on any other social channel that fits their brand. When used correctly, social media provides a great way to reach far more people than many other mediums, and for a much lower cost.

You should post things that appeal to your target market and not just a continual stream of adverts for your business. Most social media users are there to interact with friends and family, and will just scroll past adverts without even looking at them. You need to become part of their digital universe by maintaining a constant and relevant presence. This will help keep your product in their minds, build trust in your brand, and ensure that you will be the business they turn to if they need whatever you are selling. Using social media to promote your brand can be time-consuming, but well worth the effort.

Make sure you are legal

There are rules and regulations you have to comply with when you start any business in the UK and being a student does not make you exempt from them. The first thing you need to do is register as self-employed. Registering will kick-start some of the requirements with HMRC, the first one being issuing you with a unique taxpayers reference (UTR). This 10-digit number stays with you for life, and will always be used by the Revenue when they contact you.

It will also put you in the system for paying your National Insurance, which is collected each year with your tax if there is any due. There are limits for these to become payable and, if you are below those limits, you will not have to pay anything. Each year you will be required to complete a Self-Assessment Tax Return, and there are fines and penalties for not doing so. The Revenue notifies you that a return is due and, if you receive that notification, even if you haven’t traded, a nil return must be submitted to avoid them. It usually arrives within a day or two of the new tax year starting, which is on the 6th April, and you have until the 31st January of the following year to make your submission.

Although the limit is higher, there is also VAT to consider. Most people cringe at the thought of it but you can make more profit by being VAT registered and, above certain limits, you have no choice in the matter. There are a few trades and professions that are exempt from VAT and you need to know if your business is one of them.

All of these things can seem a bit daunting, which is why most business people employ an accountant to deal with it all for them. When you are starting out, you might think an accountant is an unnecessary extra expense but they could save you far more than they cost. Having someone to deal with all the different government departments on your behalf can give your business more credibility, and allows you to get on with what you should be doing – running your business.

Dealing with a failing business

Not all businesses are a success. Some people have two or three attempts before finding a good formula, hopefully, learning from their mistakes each time they fail. If this happens, you have to put it down to experience and do not let it put you off starting another business. You will hear horror stories of people who lose their homes and all their other assets because of their business failing but that is only when they owe a lot of money, and the official receiver thinks their assets will cover the debts.

Sometimes, you could have to deal with a partial failure e.g. you may miss a deadline for delivery. It’s important to stay positive; you will soon learn that these minor problems do not automatically mean the end of your business.

Photograph by Guido van Nispen

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