When you’re heading off to college, there’s a standard checklist of what you’re going to bring with you: an alarm clock, shower shoes, a shower caddy, extra-long twin sheets and so on. But there’s one thing that people don’t talk about as much: How much money should you bring to college… and how are you going to get it? Like many incoming college freshmen, you could get a summer job scooping ice cream or bussing tables in a restaurant…. but what if you could have a summer job that built up your resume, let you be your own boss and had the potential to make a lot more money than minimum wage?
Forget the summer job — enter the “summer entrepreneur.”
When Scott Gerber was growing up in New Jersey, he realized that his interest in magic could actually be a lucrative gig. This was a great excuse to learn more tricks. “Then I started marketing myself to perform at parties, bar mitzvahs and other events.” With far more savings than he otherwise would have amassed from any other kind of part-time job, Gerber headed to his freshman year at New York University (www.nyu.edu) with a slightly more flexible budget despite the expense of going to college in an expensive urban center. Today, he’s the author of the book “Never Get A Real Job,” which instructs young adults to stop thinking about their resumes and start thinking about how they can make the most of their skills by creating their own jobs.
It’s easy to take any job that you could see yourself applying for this summer and reconstructing it as an entrepreneurial venture. Instead of reporting to the lifeguarding stand at the pool at 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings this summer, you could start a business that connects parents throwing pool parties with local Red Cross-certified lifeguards. You can send out fliers or knock on doors in your neighborhood to meet potential clients and recruit certified lifeguards from local high schools and get introductions from high school guidance counselors. The same business model can apply to starting a babysitting agency with Red Cross-certified babysitters or a landscaping business!
On that note, take your casual lawn mowing gigs to the next level by making fliers and business cards to pass around your community; offer a week of free mowing and weed-wacking to any of your current customers who refer a new client to you who signs up for a summer of weekly mowing. That’s essentially what Josh Bostick, a high school junior in Fort Worth, Texas has done with his rapidly-expanding car wash business. Bostick realized that going to the car wash involved a lot of work for parents with busy schedules and kids, so he brings the buckets, the soap, the rags, the wax and even a vacuum to clients’ homes and he cleans their cars while they go about their days. “It’s something that I started doing after school, and then during the summers, it’s all I do.” Bostick initially started by knocking on doors, but his service grew rapidly when he asked his regular clients to refer him to friends. Bostick charges different amounts for smaller coupes, big SUVs and trucks with a boat attached. And, is he making more than minimum wage? “Yes, ma’am,” he says.
If you’re not excited about the idea of working outside during the hot summer, you can fuse your start-up business with your (indoor) passions. Do you love music? Scout out graduating high school seniors who played in band and offer to sell their old instruments on consignment to the parents of elementary school students starting their first year of band. You will make a profit, you’ll make money for high school seniors whose old trombones were just going to gather dust and you’ll save local parents lots of money on instrument rentals.
Does the idea of spending all day on Facebook sound like paradise? Perfect: You can start a thriving business by reaching out to local business owners and offering to design and maintain their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and blogs to attract new customers for a flat hourly fee. You earn extra credit if you write to local newspapers to promote your new business, either by asking a reporter in the business section to write a story about you or paying for a small ad.
Skylar Alcala was barely out of middle school when Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus started getting famous and people were constantly telling Alcala, now 18, how much she looked like the rising Disney Channel star. Instead of getting irritated, Alcala got paid. She bought a blond wig and a microphone, learned a few Hannah Montana songs, and started marketing herself to perform at children’s birthday parties. Now she performs at multiple children’s parties each Saturday and Sunday afternoon, charging $50 for a “meet-and-greet with Hannah Montana” and $200 to sing seven songs.
Alcala is putting this money in the bank for college, but she’s not stopping here. “Sometimes I would bring my friend who looks like Justin Bieber to parties with me and he would perform after me!” Now Alcala is getting ready to “retire” from her double life as Hannah Montana, but her protégé is now a source of residual income. “I got him started and he works with a lot of the people who hired me, so I get a cut of whatever he does.”
Want more advice and information on creative ways to save up for college? “Consult Start It Up” by Kenrya Rankin, a business book for teens on “turning your passions into pay.”
Liz Funk is the New York-based author of “Supergirls Speak Out,” a non-fiction look at the lives of overachieving girls in high school and college.