The first thing my students see at the start of the new school year is a framed dollar. I usually see a mixture of confusion and interest, but most know it has to do with student run businesses.
By this time, the reputation of the graduating business students at our high school has grown to unbelievable heights. Each student begins the year developing a side hustle that they will grow and facilitate. Students create businesses as both a profit centre and to practically apply the content they learn in their graduating year. It is easy to create marketing methods and do case studies on existing businesses. It is an entirely different undertaking to try to market and manage a business that you are both emotionally and financially invested in.
Many people ask me how I get each student to buy in to this approach. What happens if a student has no interest in entrepreneurship? What if a student cannot commit fully to their idea? How can you convince a student to become financially invested into a side hustle? These are all issues that arise with every group, and are not easy to combat. However, I find that a stronger understanding of their passions leads to thoughts on different ways they can monetize those passions. Once that “one best idea” starts to develop itself, students start to buy in to this approach very quickly.
Turning Passions into Ideas
Everyone is passionate about something, regardless of how broad or specific it is. The first thing I do is I sit down and talk to every student individually. This is the most important component of the entire process for two reasons. Firstly, you will get to know your students on a more personal level. Secondly, it will also help you when dealing with students who are having difficulty developing their ideas. Once we talk about their passions, questioning students on the ability to monetize them becomes a much easier process.
One key approach is finding an example of an entrepreneur who does something related to the students passion. Once this happens, they start to think more critically about how they can accomplish the same thing. I encourage students to steal, but not the idea. By taking things that the entrepreneur has used to succeed, the students can find a better path for success.
Narrowing the Mindset
Students then have to brainstorm a list of ideas. Using that list, they then analyze each to narrow it down. I get each student to rate each idea based on:
- Profitability – Can you make money with this idea? Can you make money more than once?
- Feasibility – Can it be profitable in a short period of time? Do you have to make a large investment?
- Maintenance – Can you work on this for an hour a day and will it still be profitable?
- Interest – Are you actually passionate or interested in this concept? Will you continue with it, or will you abandon it when things become difficult?
Many students will resort to some of the more popular business ideas. I can’t keep track of how many told me they will make clothing based around a specific sport . Once they start to analyze, they soon realize that clothing lines may not be the best idea. All of a sudden, the secondary choice ideas start to become the front-runners.
Goods vs. Service Side Hustles
Students always think they can only sell goods. I don’t know why this is a common thought, but the majority of students always choose to make something. Once students realize that a lot of these good-based businesses require a large initial investment, frustration levels rise.
By complimenting their passions with other factors, developing service-based businesses starts to become a better reality for many students. Many services these students can complete require zero initial investment. Also, the community may be willing to assist with some startup costs.
One example of this is a former student who played high level hockey. His focus was on hockey-related clothing, but soon realized that his strict schedule limited his time and finances. After a few minutes of frustration, we talked about his influence in the school, and how he was one of few to develop his skills to a point where he had an ability to play hockey professionally. After picking his brain, he came up with the idea to coach elementary-aged players with high hockey goals to show them what he did when he was their age to get to the point where he was at that time. With the generosity of local rinks, he was able to create around $3000 in residual income before graduating.
Dealing With Financial Limitations of Student Run Businesses
It is no secret that students do not have a ton of money. Even with that money the focus is on their wants. I quickly realized that this was going to be my biggest issue with keeping each student engaged through the year, while also trying to maximize their profit opportunities. By accomplishing some front-end work, I have found some opportunities within our community that you can take advantage of as well.
It took some convincing, but by working with our principal, he has allowed the school to supply $50 to each of the student run businesses. This may not sound like a lot, but $50 to a student can go a very long way. Luckily, my Marketing and Digital Commerce students work in our school store, so we are able to use profits from the store to fund them. In the end, they are working to get themselves equity. If your school does not have a school store, there may be other opportunities you and your administration can work through.
Another opportunity we have taken advantage of is performing odd jobs for businesses in our community. One example of this is sending groups of students to complete annual inventory counts at different businesses. One agriculture-based business requires six students to come in for a few hours and pays them $500 for their services. After taking advantage of a few opportunities, each student can quickly earn a couple hundred dollars towards their business.
Investments from Community Business Owners
People within a community want to support student run businesses. When people here that a specific person or business has helped a student fulfill their entrepreneurial dream, the positive talk happens very quickly. By encouraging the students to seek out opportunities like this, they gain a mentor and a financial boost.
Partnerships with Local Banks/Credit Unions
Our local credit union creates accounts for every business at the start of the year. Each student receives a chequebook and debit card to use for business purchases, and a place to store their earnings. I have tried allowing students to manage their own money. However, what happens is business earnings start to get spent on other purchases. By having students deposit their money into an account, I have found that the likelihood of this happening drops.
Turning the Business Dream into a Reality
Once students have come up with their idea, the next steps are going to be different for everyone. Everyone will approach the creation of student run businesses in a different way depending on the complexities of their idea. This is usually the point where I step back and allow the students to learn through trial and error. Because they are facilitating small-scale side hustles, mistakes are more of a learning opportunity than a major impact on their business. I use this time to assist them when they need it, but encourage them to seek out advice from mentors or other students. By turning the learning opportunities from teacher/student to student/student, I find that deeper learning happens at a much faster rate. Also, students become more connected in their overall quest for financial freedom.
Framing The First Dollar
By now, you may be thinking of the relevance of the opening sentence. I find that putting your students on a pedestal when they make their first sale helps encourage the others to try to meet that same goal. I ask every student to bring in their first dollar, and I frame it for the entire class to see. Very quickly, I find that my room is full of framed dollars. No student wants to be the only one who has not had their accomplishments praised by the rest of the group.
Resources I Find Helpful
Side Hustle School Podcasts – Chris Guillebeau releases a new podcast daily. I have found this to be a great resource when trying match passions to student run businesses.
This Online World | Side Hustles That Pay – Having students see real-world examples of how others have earned money in a similar position they are in can help expand thinking.
The College Investor | 50+ Ways to Make Money Fast by Side Hustling – Another resource which gives students a basic list of how college student run businesses were able to succeed.
I hope you found this information useful. I understand that developing student run businesses can be a daunting task, but taking this path with your students can be a very rewarding experience. When students can apply course content to their own business, deeper level learning happens at an unbelievable pace.
The path to developing student businesses is easier than you may think. A lot of this information is not only for high school students, but can also for earlier grades through some modification.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions, or to share your own experiences with student run businesses.
Thanks for reading!