Developing a successful student entrepreneur is very self-fulfilling for a teacher. We spend countless hours training and preparing students for entrepreneurial life, but it is in their hands to act on it.
And when students take the plunge and are successful, their entire future can shift.
High schools embed the thought in student’s minds that the proper path for them is post-secondary education. Although vocational school programming is increasing, there still seems to be a negative stigma attached to this route.
However, post-secondary education isn’t always the best answer for all students. They can find success in many different career paths. It can even start through an apprenticeship or internship program in high school.
Another trend that favours the untraditional educational route is the growth rate of freelance jobs. Students are currently preparing for a job market that could look drastically different in 5 years. We could potentially see companies seeking out skilled entrepreneurs instead of internally hiring.
Getting a student into an entrepreneur mindset early will better prepare them for this reality.
The Traditional Sales Methods for a Student Entrepreneur
In my entrepreneurial classes, I encourage my students to take advantage of as many selling channels as they can. Although many want to just stick within their classes allocated time, that is not how students make money.
If order to be really successful, a student entrepreneur must maximize their selling opportunities in the time where others are present.
Some of the selling channels we take advantage of include:
- Selling products at the school during lunch hour, where student and staff foot traffic is at its highest.
- Selling products in a school store, if possible, to maximize exposure in the school.
- Running an in-school trade show, where community members can come to see and purchase products. I explain how I structure mine in the attached link.
- Taking advantage of community events, like farmer’s markets or fairs.
- Using cold call approaches, like going door-to-door, putting up flyers, or contacting individuals within your target market.
- Using social media, such as local Facebook groups or personal accounts, to promote and sell your product.
- Contacting local small businesses to sell your product at their store at a commission rate.
These are all possible for our existing students. Although they may not take advantage of them all, students who are willing to try different approaches will traditionally become more successful with their sales. And some can sell hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of product by using these.
The Often Untouched Sales Channel for a Student Entrepreneur
If students are so successful with the above options, why don’t they pursue e-commerce as an option as well?
E-commerce accounted for $3.763 billion in sales in 2019. These figures show that people are turning towards online purchases more and more. Additionally, a lot of industries that were looked at as being physical locations only, such as grocery stores, now have online purchasing options.
At this time, online sales are one of our only options for customer purchases due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. This has forced students to completely adapt their approach.
For students, the cost of setting up an online store is too much. However, there is an option for setting up a central hub for their products without any upfront costs.
1) Set up a Square Account
Square has allowed many small business owners and event holders to take credit card and debit card payments remotely. It typically takes an expensive setup to allow this to happen from places like farmer’s markets. Now that can all be done with a cell phone and internet connection.
I created a Square account for our school store, and attached the store’s bank account. This allows all transactions that go through the Square reader to deposit directly into that account with a processing fee.
Typically, it takes a bit of time for the Square reader to be mailed to you. However, the reader isn’t necessary for our needs. Once our account is approved, we can move forward.
2) Create Items for Student Entrepreneur Products
Once we have our account, we can start adding our student’s items to our listing.
Students can include a description of their product, pricing and style options, images, and inventory. You can also add and apply any taxes in your state or province.
It is very important to ensure that the inventory amount and styles are correct at this step. When selling online, Square will automatically sell it down to a zero inventory, then list it as sold out. If you do not specify inventory amounts, it could oversell what the student has and will cause some extra headaches.
3) Start Building the Online Store
Once you have your items ready, you can start building your online store.
Since Square acquired Weebly in 2018, they use their interface to build your online store. The Weebly interface is very user-friendly, and does not take a lot of time to figure out.
Also, because Square is automatically integrated, all of the items you have created will be there for you as well.
There are a few different options you can choose from when developing your online store. However, if you are just creating another option for student entrepreneurs to sell their products, you do not need to go past the free online store option. The capabilities of this are enough for those needs.
By using the Square app on your phone, any face-to-face sales will also automatically deduct from your inventory. This makes your inventory management extremely easy if you are offering your products in different places. We typically offer student products in both the school store and online, and we have never had an issue of inventory being tracked incorrectly.
Once you have formatted your online store to your liking, and have added all of the student’s products, it is time to launch!
4) Have Students Market the Website
A large piece of any entrepreneurial class is marketing. Students need to know how to correctly market their products to their target market through different channels, such as social media.
Many students are eager to start setting these up. I typically get my students to develop their marketing plans in advance to build hype for their products. We complete a 30-day social media planner and aim for at least two weeks of marketing buildup before our product launch.
Our newly formed online store becomes the landing page for these social media accounts. Students can move past the marketing stages of their products, and start to turn their engagement into conversions.
I push all my students to market the school store website to their target markets and encourage as many of them to go to the site as they can. Not only will this promote sales for one student, but it could snowball into other student products being sold as well.
The online store also has built-in analytical information. Students can learn how to accurately read and analyze this data by comparing it with their social media analytics, and see the ratio of social media impressions and clicks to site visits and conversions.
5) Fulfill Orders
When orders are placed, the account holder will receive an order confirmation in their email inbox.
When this happens, we approach it in a number of steps.
- Let the student entrepreneur know that an order has been placed, and what the order is.
- Forward the order confirmation to the student.
- Determine fulfillment options, whether it is pickup or delivery. We default all orders to pickup, but since our school is currently closed, I allow the student to determine how they want to proceed by contacting the buyer.
- Fulfill the order in a timely manner.
- Issue payment to the student through e-transfer or a cheque at a time of your choosing. We choose to do monthly reimbursements.
Because of the transaction fee, I typically withhold that when reimbursing the student. However, that is up to you. If you make a profit in other areas of your school store, you can choose to eat that loss.
Square makes running an online store very simple. It is almost a no brainer as an additional sales channel for a student entrepreneur.
I believe it is important to create one online store as a hub for all student products instead of allowing students to create their own. Because the Square website is attached to one user and bank account, it is much easier to manage orders and sales. However, that doesn’t mean web development should be ignored. I still encourage students to create their own business websites using Weebly, WordPress, Squarespace, or another website development tool. They can create a Buy Now page that redirects to the main website.
I have been able to teach my students a lot of relevant concepts through this tool as well. Analyzing analytical information, creating mailing lists, email marketing, reducing abandoned carts, and social media engagement can be covered through theory. Teaching them with physical evidence of their hard work has a much larger impact on their learning.
Finally, the most important aspect of our online store is a noticeable increase in sales for each student entrepreneur. Friends and family from all over can purchase products and guarantee their choices. Students also do not have to worry about late payments or promises.
The online store has been extremely valuable without being in school. Our entrepreneurial journies have not stopped because classes have. In fact, they have taken a more relevant turn.
Good luck in your journey with e-commerce in your entrepreneurial programs. I encourage you to share your current experiences or future expectations with this.
Thanks for reading!