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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

From New Grad to Entrepreneur: Starting a Business Right After College

When Kelsey Fish was approaching college graduation last May, she, like her classmates, started applying for full-time jobs. But she found that her efforts to draft cover letters and submit applications were half-hearted—she wasn’t passionate about any of the positions she was qualified for or the companies that were hiring.

So, she decided to take a different route—and founded Kelsey Fish Creative, a marketing consulting firm in Detroit. “After doing some research, I quickly discovered that the majority of small businesses in my area have an online presence that is either nonexistent or severely lacking,” she explains. “My wheels started turning, and I decided that I should use my marketing knowledge to help businesses project a truer image of themselves.”

New grad Sara Monica Gaona took a similar path: She recently turned her food blog into a full-fledged start-up, deals site Small Chick Big Deals. While she initially started working at a PR firm after graduation, she realized that she wanted to spend her time and energy on her own business. “I don’t want to look back 10 years from now regretting not making my site what it could be!” she shares.

And these women aren’t alone—in a world where dream jobs aren’t easy to come by, many new grads are following their entrepreneurial dreams and opting to call their own career shots. I’ll admit that I’m a little jealous of this move—but, of course, creating something from scratch isn’t easy. If you’re considering taking this non-traditional path as a new grad, read on for Kelsey and Sara’s advice.

Consider Starting Part-Time

Both women admitted that the transition into entrepreneurship virtually straight out of the gate was tough. “There are a lot of online resources that were helpful when it came to the formation of the business—but that was the easy part,” says Kelsey. “One of my biggest struggles is money.”

To support their ventures, both Kelsey and Sara have second (even third!) jobs. In addition to Sara’s work at the PR firm, she’s done an assortment of freelance work and is currently looking for a more permanent position while she grows her business. Kelsey also works in fashion retail and has a part-time internship at a digital marketing firm, which has helped her grow her knowledge about her business and increase her offerings as a consultant.

Taking on these side projects has helped both women gain new experience and pay the bills—which makes the plunge into entrepreneurship feel a bit less risky.

Build a (Huge) Network

Starting your own business is hard—if not nearly impossible—without a solid support system of family, friends, colleagues, and others who have been down the entrepreneurial road before. Sara got a lot of her support from family during the transition, particularly from her father, who’s also an entrepreneur. “My dad helped me a lot along the way to start my site and now my business,” she says. “I probably couldn’t have done it without him.”

But whether or not you have friends or family members to serve as mentors, it’s vastly important to build new relationships in your community and field. Both women emphasized the importance of attending networking meetings to make connections, spread the word about your company, and learn about other businesses, too. “I attended a lot of early morning networking events, where I met business owners from all over metro Detroit,” says Kelsey.

She also recommends thinking outside of those official meetings and making an effort to meet new people wherever you are. “Whenever I receive an invitation to do something random, whether it’s a seminar or a friend-of-a-friend’s birthday party, I always take it, because I know I’ll meet and make a connection with at least one new person,” she says. “It really pays to know the right people, and you never know whose help you’re going to need down the road.”

Be Relentless About Gaining Business

Kelsey admits that one of the hardest parts of starting up her consulting firm was attracting those first clients—and that she had to be pretty relentless to make it happen. “I just got very comfortable with putting myself out there and always remained confident about my work and what I had to say,” she explains. “I think not being afraid to network and spread the word about my business has helped me.”

Another tactic she used was to do her services pro bono. No, it wasn’t paying the bills, but it got her name out there and also helped her build an initial portfolio of work for the future. “I scoured Craigslist and other job boards for businesses in search of marketing or advertising assistance,” she says. Then, she reached out and offered them her services.

Don't Compare Yourself to Others

Whenever you’re taking the road less traveled, it’s important not to compare yourself to others who aren’t on the same path. Especially as an entrepreneur, it can be easy to feel jealous of friends or peers who took the traditional career path—and of their salaries.

“I’m not going to lie, I do sometimes envy my friends who earn a salary with benefits, have their own apartment, and have their weekends off—when my income fluctuates and is hard to predict,” Kelsey admits. “But I’ve always believed that if you work hard and just do what you love, the money will come eventually.”

So, take it from these brave Gen Y-ers: If you’re passionate about your business, have a support network, and are ready to work hard, there’s nothing stopping you from launching your own company right out of college. In fact, right now might be the perfect time. “It’s going to be much harder to start a business when you are already committed to a secure ‘real’ job and have a family to provide for," says Kelsey. “Now is the time to do it!”

Follow these entrepreneurs as they grow their respective businesses: Kelsey Fish Creative and Small Chick Big Deals.

Photo of young entrepreneur courtesy of Shutterstock.