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How to start a successful summer business

Planning to spend summer on the Xbox, in your pyjamas or at the job centre? Use your long vacation to start your own business instead and you could be quids-in and set up for a career, say the money geeks at Save the Student.

A few years ago you could hardly wade through the Internet for lolcats, or blog posts on how work experience = a career after graduation. Skip ahead a few years and cats are out, Kimye's in, and jobs are harder to find than your self respect after a night of unbridled karaoke.

​If you're feeling the frustrations of mounting student debt and a stack of rejection letters, we feel your pain. Working for yourself instead is a chance to do something you love, sidestep the dormant job market and even make some cash. You may find you like the lifestyle enough to stick with it – or it could open the doors to the career you've got really your heart set on. Either way, let's take a look at some business basics.

What's great about working for yourself?

  • The hours suit your studies, travel plans or social life
  • You can choose your clients and cherry-pick the best projects
  • You get the kind of responsibility from day one that takes years – and countless coffee runs – to get working for someone else
  • You get to dry-run your career plans: Accountancy may not be the den of fun and frivolity you've been led to believe
  • Try it out for the summer, for a year or for a fortnight: if it's not for you, you don't even have to put it on your CV. Either way, you've just hand-crafted your own internship. Boom.

    It's not all sunshine and lollipops, of course. You can choose your own hours, but expect to work a lot, and without immediate pay initially. If you're not disciplined, you may struggle meeting deadlines and, if your idea involves dealing with other businesses, you'll need to be available when they are (office hours!). Finally, managing a business may be the last thing you need after slogging your way through exams: it's your call.

    Top tip: don't go it alone. Whether you need funding, feedback or someone to drive the van, find like-minded folk to pitch in or help out.

What kind of business can you start?

Start with these to hone your inspiration:

  • What are you good at/what do you love doing?
  • What do people want or need?
  • What kind of gigs could help you score work or further studies later on?

    Don't limit yourself by only considering projects identical to your dream career. It's the transferable skills and how you overcame the problems that make you a contender, not the job title.

     Still need ideas?
  • Be a freelance writer, marketer, web guru or graphic designer
  • Schlep a gourmet burger stall round music festivals
  • Run face painting parties for kids or henna gigs for the grown-ups
  • Start your own music/art/film/food festival
  • Set-up as a tourist guide or organise local walks or runs
  • Start an Etsy or eBay shop selling hand-made gifts, toys or cards, or your own art/photography
  • Spend the summer writing blockbuster fiction and publish your own book before you go back to uni
  • Take your camera to local events and sell the photos to visitors, organisers or the press
  • Start a website or newsletter about local events and charge businesses to advertise
  • Start an online T-Shirt business
  • Talk to other students to see what businesses they want to start, and then create the tools to help them
  • Run through more of our money making ideas here

10 steps to starting your business

1. Got an idea? Great. What's your core business idea? What service or goods will you offer, how much will you charge, and how much will it cost you? Who's your market and how will you reach them? What's competition like? Get it all down on paper, and then get honest feedback.

2. Check the law and licensing details. Do you need certificates, clearance or courses (particularly if you want to trade at events or work with food or kids)? Are you treading on any trademark toes or running foul of copyright?

2. Start looking for clients or contacts. Consider a pre-launch marketing campaign offering discounts and rewards to early adopters for when your service goes live.

3. You can invent the best thing since sliced bagels but if no one knows about it, you won't get any sales. Plan how you'll get free publicity and advertising, or set aside a budget for an ad campaign (even if it's just sticking flyers in newsagents windows). Get a website. Network, or tell everyone about your business, including newspapers and blogs.

4. Do you need funding to get off the ground? Talk to friends and family (but make sure you talk terms). Try sponsorship or crowdfunding: there's www.kickstarter.com for creative projects, and options out there for everything else – talk to the uni's enterprise centre or local small business forums. Be wary about taking out loans or sinking loads of money into your project: aim to grow slowly and only fund further development through profits.

5. Pick a date and start trading. Launch party optional (but can be a great way to get free publicity!).

6. Tell the tax man once you're in business and making money – it takes five minutes on the HMRC website. You can offset money you spend on the business against any tax you have to pay … and you may not have to pay anything at all if your annual income is under £10,600.

7. A Paypal account will allow you get paid easily online, while a mobile card reader (try the free iZettle Lite) lets you take card payments when you're out and about at events. Check if you'll be charged commission, though.

8. Don't expect overnight success. Starting a business and making money take time. Becoming profitable could take longer still. If you want to make quick cash, keep your overheads as low as possible. Think low-cost services using equipment and skills you already have and which can be run from home – and don't charge so little that you can't turn a profit.

9. If your business isn't just seasonal, think about whether it will fit around your post-summer work or studies, or whether you can come back to it next year.

10. Review, review, review. What's going well and how will you do more of it? What do you need to improve? Keep updating your CV with any skills and experience gained so you're primed and ready for future job applications and interviews.

​If we've got you champing at the bit to get into business – great. Use this article as your stepping stone to a start-up and research things a bit more for yourself. We're not saying working for yourself is easy, or about easy money. We are saying it's rewarding, a unique challenge and well worth trying for yourself – even if confirms that, next year, you'll just go to Halkidiki like everyone else. Good luck!

Guest blog post from Ruth Bushi at Save the Student​