College students are broke – a fact for many which, like taxes and death, is inevitable … or so the stereotype leads them to believe. Other students, however, refuse to follow that seemingly unavoidable path and have taken their financial security into their own hands, ensuring themselves a steady income while peers fight over stale pizza crusts until a check arrives from home.
What’s the source of this fiscal independence? Small businesses owned and operated by the students themselves. According to 21-year-old Tom Carroll, more students could achieve similar financial freedom through starting a small business, but most simply lose interest too soon.
"Anyone could do it," said Carroll, who has been running his own small business since 1999. "Most people give up too easily."
For Carroll, a native of Wilmette, Ill., economic liberty comes via the Internet – more specifically, through internet advertising.
During his first year of high school, after visiting several websites that listed video game codes, he wondered how hard it was to create and maintain such a site. So, he began to investigate.
"It looked like I could make that kind of [web] site," Carroll said. "So I bought my own domain and went for it."
After constructing the actual site, which was the most time-consuming task according to Carroll, he started exploring the world of Internet advertising. His search led him to various advertising networks, including one by Google called "Google AdSense," which matched advertisers with his website based on content, and then sent him both text and image advertisements to post on his site.
"The ad networks act as a middleman," Carroll said. "They affiliate with thousands of different advertisers … and after a while some of the advertisers started coming right to me."
At first, the work far outweighed the return, said Carroll. But eventually, his hard work paid off.
"It took me six to eight months to make any money at all," he said. "I started to make money when I figured out which ads to keep consistently and which ones I should change. I started to really make big money after about two years."
In fact, he made enough money to cover his cost-of-living expenses during his freshman year at the University of Dayton. And, after transferring to Columbia College to focus on a music career, Carroll decided to expand his business. In the summer of 2005, he created new websites that listed guitar tablature and song lyrics. Although it hasn’t been hugely profitable yet, he plans on "sticking with it."
While students such as Carroll utilize a new technology to create a steady income, others use old-fashioned elbow grease. Christopher Herbert, 21, followed that road to financial freedom. In 2001, Herbert, a Tiffin, Ohio, native, started working for a lawn care service his brother started three years earlier. The next year Herbert bought the business, which was called "Herbie’s Yard Services."
"When I bought it, we did painting, power washing and mowing," Herbert said. "I added landscaping, maintenance and design."
When he took over the business in 2002, it employed three full-time employees and one part-timer. By 2004, the payroll expanded to include six full-time employees – a three man painting crew and a three-man landscaping crew – and a host of part-timers who helped out when needed.
"We did some advertising in newspapers, especially at the beginning of the planting season," Herbert said. "But mostly our advertising was just word of mouth."
Even after paying all employees and expenses for supplies and equipment, Herbert still made enough money to provide for his own cost of living through his first two years at the University of Dayton.
"It’s nice not having to worry about money," Herbert said. "Like if our house is trying to do something and it comes down to money, I can kick in a little extra if needed."
Luis Hernandez, one of Herbert’s housemates, agreed.
"He pretty much has more financial freedom than anyone else because it’s his money and not his parents, which a lot of other people use for spending," Hernandez said. "Herbie was also very smart with his money, and he seems to have a greater confidence in knowing what he can do."
Both Carroll and Herbert used their businesses to create their own fiscal independence. However, recently each decided to head in a different direction. In 2005, Carroll was making enough money to give everything else up and focus on his dream of becoming a musician. He currently lives in Denver where he still maintains his sites and is writing and recording music.
In 2004, Herbert decided to start focusing on his career goals and sold his business to a competing lawn care service. Even after selling his business, Herbert still lives off money he made through it.
Though each has gone a different way, both men encourage students to look into starting a small business.
"Don’t stop until you succeed," Carroll said. "You can do anything if you keep your mind open."
Herbert echoed that sentiment.
"If you get the opportunity to start one, do it," he said. "You might work harder at first, but you’ll reap the benefits … especially in college."
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