College Application Booster​®: High School Seniors, Get ahead on your college application!

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Starting a Business as a High School Student

If you are a high school student with dreams of helming your own company, you don’t need to wait until you graduate from college to begin pursuing your career ambitions. Ambitious high school students can use their skills and passions to get their business off the ground now!

One of the best parts about starting a company as a young person is that you have time on your side—you aren’t established in your career yet, so you have the luxury of trying something new with the time to course correct if needed. So, what do you need to know in order to get started? And what steps can you follow to set your fledgling business up for success?

First and foremost, starting a business as a high school student will require a lot of hard work, commitment, and self-motivation. It can be an incredibly meaningful and pivotal learning experience, but you will get out of it what you choose to put into it. High school students’ businesses come in all shapes and sizes—from lemonade stands to military-grade drone empires. No matter what your ambition or interests may be, there is likely a way to grow them into a business. From choosing your industry to growing and maintaining your company, here’s what you need to know to become a business owner as a high school student!

Choosing your Industry:

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to create your own company, the first step is to decide what industry you intend to enter. If it’s not immediately clear to you, then you may want to consider these preliminary guiding questions: Can I solve a specific problem in my community? What am I passionate about? What are my areas of expertise? What are the services, products, and brands I like to interact with? What are the needs of my community? Where can I make a difference and add value?

Perhaps you’ve had a longstanding interest in detective work. You’ve spent hours watching CSI and Law & Order and even though you’re not a so-called “expert,” you are more knowledgeable than most of your peers. Being a private detective requires extensive training and isn’t something that you’re going to be able to do while you’re in high school. However, perhaps there is a related niche for you. Do you walk by signs of missing cats and dogs in your neighborhood? Maybe you could consider creating a personal database of missing pets in your local area and offering a service to investigate their whereabouts in order to collect rewards. Admittedly, this is a little far fetched, but this is the type of creativity and passion that it takes to enter an industry that wasn’t designed for you.

If you choose to take on a more traditional route in an industry with a smaller barrier to entry (such as starting an Etsy shop, lawn care business, or tutoring company), you should still be putting a spin on your company that leverages your skillset. Let your quirkiness and originality shine through!

Building your Business Model:

Once you’ve picked the industry, you will have to figure out how exactly you’re going to create value and generate interest in your product. There are 3 basic types of businesses that you can choose from:

Services (examples include music lessons, babysitting, and tech support)

Merchandise (examples include selling used clothes, reselling sports tickets, and hosting garage sales)

Manufacturing (examples include hand knitting scarves, building birdhouses, and, yes, lemonade stands).

Service-based businesses tend to be the simplest to pursue because they don’t require much overhead (costs for things like supplies and materials) and allow for a very direct and simple way of doing business. For example, students who are talented photographers can offer their services to take photos at events and charge per image & per hour fees. These types of businesses offer the quickest way to monetize an idea, and the profit margins are generally high since such businesses don’t have many expenses.

Selling merchandise or manufacturing a product will require a more strategic approach because the necessary operating costs and expenses can make turning a profit a bit more of a challenge.

Finally, there is one other type of “business” to consider: a nonprofit. This class of business is registered under the IRS as a 501c3. All of the other rules and advice applies, but a nonprofit requires extra steps such as registering as a nonprofit and choosing a beneficiary. These types of businesses are considered charitable organizations and therefore don’t have to pay taxes on their income; nonprofits make money, just not for their founder or staff’s personal gain.

Acquiring Clients:

What do all successful businesses have? Clients! You can have a stellar product or idea, but without a client base, your company won’t last long. Companies often experience one of two pitfalls—they either fail to reach enough customers or pay way too much money to do so.

In your case, acquiring clients and building brand awareness should primarily cost time, not money. Building a website is a great place to start, and there are plenty of free or inexpensive website design templates you can use on sites like Squarespace. Once you’ve picked out a template and reserved a unique domain, you’re well on your way to publishing your own website.


Always remember to keep it simple. Overwhelming or busy sites are hard to navigate! In the early stages of building your company, your goal should be to do one thing well rather than offering dozens of services and options. The single most important thing you can do is highlight what makes you different and distinguishes you from your competition!

Along with a website, you should use the resources at your fingertips such as social media accounts, community email lists, Nextdoor, printed flyers, and word of mouth to spread the message that you are open for business. Always maintain a professional tone in every advertising material you post, but feel free to be creative!

Relationships with Teachers

While your college recommendation letters will likely be written by your junior year teachers, it is important to make a good impression on your teachers and begin to establish relationships with them during your first two years of high school. Your teachers will be an invaluable resource in planning your coursework for the coming years, and if you plan to attend a summer program or enroll in a summer class, you will likely need to ask them to write letters of recommendation on your behalf. Freshman year and sophomore year are prime opportunities to develop strong communication skills with your teachers and become comfortable asking for additional support and feedback outside of the classroom. These skills will not only be valuable during your time in high school, but will carry you through college and beyond!

Managing Growth:

As your business grows, you may start to feel like you’re getting the hang of things and have a desire to expand your offerings or reach. Before you decide to offer another service, upgrade your website, or pay for promoted posts on Instagram, make sure you’re ready. You should only take a step forward if you’ve sustained a basic level of operating for a substantial period of time—this will protect you from becoming overwhelmed, failing to meet demand, or diminishing the quality of your product or service.

In order to avoid these mistakes, be sure to set realistic expectations. If you have started a babysitting network, don’t book dozens of gigs if your staff will not be able to meet demand. It may sound simple, but it’s easy to get distracted by the lure of money. It’s best to err on the side of caution, especially since you only have one shot to protect your business’s reputation.

Maintaining Momentum:

Just as many new business owners get overly ambitious after their first bout of success, many fall into the opposite pitfall—becoming complacent and coasting when their business starts doing well. As your business takes off, be sure to protect yourself from losing steam in the process.

If you need motivation to keep working hard to grow your business when you start to feel tired or less passionate, revisit your mission and the reasons you chose to found the company in the first place. Asking yourself, “Would I hire me?” will keep you accountable and hopefully motivate you to continue working hard and improving your business. Remember to stay positive—building a business is an uphill battle and most adults struggle under pressure. If you’ve made it this far, you’re a huge success already!

Finally, don’t let your age inhibit you. You might run into certain obstacles due to your age, but there is no reason that you can’t succeed. It may require a little more creativity, but just know that you can overcome all hurdles. If you’re willing to hustle a little bit, make deliveries by hand, promote your business by posting flyers, ask for help when needed, and seek partnerships from more established companies in your industry, then the odds are in your favor.

Recap: The Essential Steps:

Pick an industry that you’re passionate about and brainstorm a way to add value to this industry with your current skill set. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, rather you should emulate other successful businesses and add a unique flair to your product or service.

Next, create a website and gradually recruit clients. Make sure you can handle increased demand before you ramp up your advertising. Slowly increasing your advertising will provide you the time to do some quality control and work out some of the inevitable kinks in your plan.

Once you have seen steady revenue for a few months, begin to look for ways to expand your business. This could include a new product, a second employee, or a partnership with a larger organization.

Keep reminding yourself that you are more than capable of running your company! Confidence is the key to success, and maintaining a composed outward appearance is crucial for building trust with your clients. Don’t be discouraged by failures, learn from them and try again!



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