These summertime tips for young entrepreneurs come from new Champlain College alumni and BYOBiz program graduates Pete Jewett and Pete Bruhn, founders of Go Trading Post , an eBay auction company located in Burlington, Vermont. They started their business as college students in 2004, registered their company in January 2005 and now run it as a full-time career.
- Don’t relax, get after it. Most of your peers are going to spend their summer break relaxing and slacking. You need to make sure that you keep on your grind and keep pushing. Summer is the time to refocus and achieve all the goals you have been working on. When school comes again you are going to be buried in projects and homework, so make sure you take advantage of your summer.
- Need a business plan? Need to get your accounting in order? Time for a Web site? Take a class that is relevant and applicable to your business. Take one that lasts the whole summer so you can delve in deep. Try to apply all projects and concepts to your business concept. In this way, you will pass with more than just credits, you will have something tangible that will help your business go to the next level.
- Take advantage of faculty and advisers at school. They will be more relaxed during the summer months and will have more time to spend working one on one with you developing your business. College faculty members have a wealth of experience that they can share and this is one of the few times that you can tap into it for free.
- Get your B2B on. This is a perfect time of year to network with other businesses and plan for the upcoming year. In our experience, established business owners are a lot more open to building partnerships and trying new things in the summer. There is no holiday or tax season stress and they are a lot more likely to give your start-up operation a chance. Show them what you’ve got during the summer and they’ll be calling year-round.
- If you need to find more customers on a limited budget, summer is a great time for guerilla marketing and market research. Get your name out any way you can and schedule a couple of trips to similar businesses. You might not have a lot of money, but at least during summer break you have plenty of time.
Three summers in Burlington, Vermont:
A quick rundown of our business experiences
Summer 2004 — Sophomores at Champlain College We had been operating Go Trading Post as a hobby and decided to get serious. We used the summer of 2004 to put together a basic business plan and establish our business as a legal entity. We were both working part-time jobs to cover the bills and were working at networking to get any inventory to sell. At the end of the summer we were doing around $300 in sales a week and decided to rent a small second-floor office. Our 19-by-11-foot closet was serious to us but a bit of a joke to our customers, but along with LLC status it allowed us slowly build our local reputation. By January of 2005 we were set up and running as an "official" business; it was no longer our part time hobby.
Summer 2005 — Juniors Business had been increasing throughout the spring and when summer came we decided we needed a larger location. We spent the summer of 2005 coming up with a business plan with increased scope and scale. We did a lot of guerrilla marketing this summer, everything from hanging brochures on doors to visiting yard sales to running charity auctions. At the time it did not seem like these campaigns were getting results, but in hindsight it did a lot to build our brand. We also began searching for a larger location. It was tricky because we could not commit to an expensive lease and still had doubts about the volume of sales we could handle. We ended up finding a month-by-month warehouse lease on Craigslist that we rented from a development company while they worked through permitting. By fall we had managed to secure a micro-loan from our parents based on our newest business plan. We were in our new location by the end of September, right as classes got heavy.
Summer 2006 — Seniors We wanted to use this summer to really ramp up the volume of sales we were handling. We had set a goal to graduate by December, to secure a new location and funding, and to grow 500% over the previous year’s volume. We finally had cash flow to cover luxuries like advertising, shelving and a new computer; we were up and running "full scale." We were helping to promote Champlain’s BYOBiz program and were getting a lot of press and business from doing so. Over this summer we really had to work hard to handle the volume of items that were coming in, we even had to hire a couple of friends during the hectic periods. We also used this time to experiment with different processes so that we would know exactly how to scale as volume increased. After two years of struggling and waiting for the phone to ring, this was the first summer that we felt like a real business.
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