College life is the land of the frugal lifestyle, but this shouldn’t put a damper 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:
- Chambers of Commerce. Almost every U.S. city and county has organizations to promote business, networking, and resources to accelerate your business. Best of all, their programs are often subsidized and primarily volunteer-driven. What better way to meet executives than to work alongside other ones? Check online for the nearest one in your area.
- Facebook business pages. Facebook is the world’s largest social network, period. Just as impressive are the 4 million-plus businesses that have created profile pages on it. Claim yours to get started.
- Twitter business profiles. Twitter is equally as powerful as Facebook in terms of influence and reach. Its viral nature is built-in, allowing anyone in the world with a Twitter to account to read your daily company updates, who you follow, and what you like (and even the photos you take). It's also a great way to find out what your customers are talking about online as you develop your business' offerings.
- Business plan contests. These are generally free and sponsored to incentivize top ideas and entrepreneurs to win. 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.
- 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 Group to learn more about nationwide programs -- they are available in almost every state.
- 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 advisers alike.
- LinkedIn company pages. 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.
- Charitable causes. The power of giving can lead to receiving. Well-run 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. Find the right charity for you.
- 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. The first option is usually the most popular and easy reason. 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.)
- 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. My suggestions aren’t the only options, of course; feel free to create your own list. One final word of advice: never forget to give back and benefit 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.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.