The college years are lean times for most students, but this shouldn’t put a damper on your ambitions to think (and be big) with your new business. From social media and networking to pitch events and even volunteering, you can market yourself and your college business on a budget by employing some of these 10 simple, no-cost strategies:
1. Chambers of Commerce. Almost every U.S. city and county has organizations to promote business, encourage networking and offer resources to entrepreneurs. Best of all, their programs are often subsidized and primarily volunteer-driven. What better way to meet executives than to work alongside them?
2. Social media. Facebook is the world’s largest social network, period. Just as impressive are the estimated 4 million-plus businesses that have created profile pages on it. Twitter is equally as powerful as Facebook in terms of influence and reach. Its viral nature is built-in. It's also a great way to find out what your customers are talking about online as you develop your business' offerings. LinkedIn is the de facto social network to connect with business-related contacts and organizations. Like Facebook and Twitter, they offer a wide array of company page profile features, ranging from free to paid.
3. Business plan contests. These are generally free and sponsored to incentivize top ideas and entrepreneurs to submit their best ideas. Prizes include cash, services (legal advice, marketing aid, etc.), but more importantly face time with successful entrepreneurs and business people who volunteer as judges and coaches. Every year, more competitions are being held both locally and nationally.
4. Entrepreneur network organizations. What’s better than bonding with fellow collegiate entrepreneurs, meeting mentors and getting free resources to help your business execute faster? Check out the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization to learn more about nationwide programs; they are available in almost every state.
5. Startup Weekend. Attending high-profile events like Startup Weekend, where aspiring and current entrepreneurs get together to launch new ideas, collaborate and network, not only helps the entrepreneur ecosystem overall but gives you valuable face time with your prospective users, investors and mentors alike.
6. Charitable causes. The power of giving can lead to receiving. Successful charities are typically well-oiled machines for business networking and promotions. Take the Susan G. Komen Foundation: Almost every chapter has award banquets and mixers to celebrate community leaders and supporters. Volunteering and/or helping raise money for an organization that aligns with your business values can be a great marketing tool.
7. Employment. Yes, you read correctly. Work for someone else and learn from them, give ideas and feedback, and even find ways to market your business. Working for another company can help you hone your sales skills, marketing tactics and even learn best organizational practices that can benefit your own business. Someday, your boss or co-workers could become your first clients.
8. College career center. Become a "marketing apprentice" and work for your college career center. While you're doing this, you will interact with employers, fellow college students (who could one day join your organization), and have the opportunity to get your hands on a ton of valid career advice.
Good luck with your entrepreneurial journey. One final word of advice: Never forget to give back to and acknowledge the people who help you along the way before asking for anything in return. Gratitude goes a long way, in business and in life.
Ash Kumra is an award-winning entrepreneur and public speaker, recognized by the White House as a top 100 young entrepreneur. He's also the co-founder of DreamItAlive.com, an online Dreamboard community guiding people to create, believe and live out their dreams. Kumra is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.