I started Charles River Web Connections (CRWC), a web development and database management firm four years ago while in high school. I am now a sophomore enrolled at Syracuse University, triple-majoring in finance, information studies and technology, and entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises.
Although I have a lot of schoolwork, CRWC has still managed to stay strong. With ten employees and counting, CRWC is working with big names like Cornell University, Crossman Engineering, the Wireless Grids Consortium (a research group with participants including IBM, Nokia, and French Telecom), and various emerging politicians and political groups in the New York /New England area.
College-aged business owners aren’t a rarity these days, but starting a serious business as a high school student is still intimidating. Getting a business off the ground is the first and most debilitating obstacle young entrepreneurs face today. Good ideas are everywhere, but to make them into great ideas, you have to put them into action. You can start your own company at any age. Entrepreneurship isn’t just for people with specific business training; it’s for anyone who wants to take advantage of an opportunity. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1) Starting a company at an early age can give you a competitive edge. Young people have many creative ideas flowing, and often a substantial amount of free time. If you’re doing something you love, thinking about your company becomes your daydreaming. I had always been around computers, and my business grew out of that. Another key motivation for me was the desire to manage my own schedule, and be able to plan my work around my other interests.
2) Be prepared to make mistakes and ask for help. When I first started CRWC I did a lot of shooting in the dark. If I didn’t know how to do something, I found someone who did. At first, I was surprised to realize how much information and advice was available. People love giving advice about things they have a passion for. The knowledge was there, I just had to ask the right questions. Don’t be timid; learn as you go – you don’t need to have it all figured out at the very beginning; it’s an educational process.
3) Perfect your time management skills. Handling a triple-major workload and a rapidly growing company requires an extraordinary amount of efficiency. Once you reach the level of being able to plan out your time and sit down and work through projects, you’ll find that you can get a surprising amount of work done at once. Standardizing and streamlining day-to-day processes to minimize inefficiencies is often helpful in both the short- and long-term. If administrative processes are "lean"-efficient and easy to duplicate-entrepreneurs can spend less time supervising and more time expanding on new ideas.
4) Balance, balance, balance. Earning an undergraduate degree and running a business both require a lot of time, but I still make time for other things I love, including dirt biking, woodworking, photography, and some occasional XBOX. Having other interests and a social life is crucial to avoiding early burn-out. Don’t develop "target fixation"-concentrating too hard on one problem. Being creative and efficient often requires a fresh mind, so time away from work is imperative.
5) When you’re ready to grow, choose carefully. Be selective about who you hire when the time to expand comes. Make sure their goals are aligned with your own, and pay close attention to their work habits. Hiring people who bring out the best in your company, people you can work with, is very important. It’s important to have well-written contracts that minimize liability and protect both the owner and the employee. Being clear about expectations from the very beginning is central to creating a healthy work environment.
6) Creative marketing is key. One mistake I made early on is that I wasn’t innovative enough in my marketing strategies. Since then I’ve learned to keep my target audience in the forefront of my mind at all times. It’s important to think like potential clients and walk through each step to get an idea of what the marketing piece looks like from the other end. You have to be in the places where they’d look for you, otherwise you’re just wasting time and money.
7) Stay focused. Don’t let your entrepreneurial spirit shut off the second you take the leap into starting your business. That’s just the beginning. Stay opportunity-focused. There is a way to use everything to your advantage, so keep being creative! And a special piece of advice for college students: there’s a useful little thing I like to call "the morning." Don’t forget to use it! From nine to noon the dorms are quiet, and your clients are already at the office – it’s a great time to clear administrative work out of the way.
© 2007, Robert Sherman