The gig economy has never been bigger. Approximately 36% of US workers are involved in the on-demand gig economy. What used to be restricted to writers and repair workers is now how we conduct business today.
How exactly is this beneficial to students? Let’s take a step back. As a student, you may be restricted by time (everyone has classes and assignments), location (attendance is important and encouraged), or even skill (if you already had the skills required, you would already be doing the job). Given the popularity of online work and the resulting demand for workers, starting an online business is the obvious choice.
While working as a Teacher’s Assistant or Barista will continue to be popular among students, you now have the opportunity to flex your entrepreneurial skills while earning on the side. While output is correlated to effort, this experience counts toward your career and helps you build a network of allies before you have even entered the workforce officially.
Now that you’re sold on starting an online business as a student, the question is where to start. While there are many options, like our article on 15 Online Freelancer Business Ideas, there are some roles that are perfect for students. Below are some suggestions to get you started on thriving as a business owner without disrupting your education.
Have a knack for visuals? This one is for you. Starting your own graphic design business might seem far-fetched, but it is fairly easy. The only barrier to entry is knowing how to do graphic design. And even if you don’t, there are several programs and tutorials each design software provides to get you started.
Besides the above and the cost of the software, there is only an upside to this business. The demand for graphic designs continues to grow as companies adapt to exponential growth in visual media. Additionally, you get to set your hours and time commitment. Rough semester? Take on a project or two. Need extra cash this quarter? Go ahead and take on bigger projects or more clients.
This is a good way to get introduced to the world of graphic design. Before diving into this idea, we recommend you check out our article on the goals graphic designers should set.
E-commerce Through Marketplaces
Is building your “thing”? Whether creative or functional, if you are someone who makes or can acquire a product that others would be willing to pay for, you are in business. As an e-commerce business, you will need to push and promote your shop and product to stand out from the crowd. However, once you gain a handful of customers who are willing to vouch for you, your shop will only grow.
As you can guess, this does have significant upfront costs. Setting up a shop, acquiring or creating a product, and marketing spend to kickstart your store standing out from the rest. If you have ever tried to sell something on eBay or Etsy, you already know the importance of marketing to stand out in a marketplace that is flooded with sellers.
The biggest constraint to your earnings is the rate at which you can produce or acquire products that are sold in your store. If you are making the products, it adds another limit: there is only so much you can produce while being a student. However, once you figure out production capacity and build up a presence in the marketplace through your initial marketing investments, you are set! As long as your store has a supply that is in demand, you can continue to optimize the price to make the largest profit possible.
One of the easiest online businesses to start is a freelance writing business. If you have a passion for writing, can meet deadlines, and are willing to meet customer expectations, this is one of the best businesses to start. As a freelance writer, you can write articles, blog posts, copy for websites, and more. You can work from home and set your own schedule.
As a student, this can be great if you’re used to writing papers. However, keep in mind that writing for clients is different than writing to get an “A”. Depending on the projects, clients will expect a certain level of quality, formatting, and understanding of topics. Good clients will let you know their expectations ahead of time and will allow you to revise your work if it doesn’t meet thier standards.
Also, be sure to meet deadlines. In school, it’s okay to miss a paper here and there or ask a professor for more time. When working as a freelancer, needing “more time” may cost your client money. This means they will be less likely to continue to work with you or leave a good review if you do not meet their expectations. Just be sure that you can follow directions well. Writing in the real world is much different than writing in academia.
YouTube Lifestyle Channel
You may already have a YouTube channel where you may or may not publish videos. YouTube has hundreds of niche topics that visitors love watching. This means that just about anyone can make some money from a YouTube channel. The key is catering to your audience and publishing videos consistently.
To begin getting paid on the platform, you must meet some criteria, however. To qualify for monetization on YouTube, you must have at least 1,000 subscribers with 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months, or 1,000 subscribers with 10 million valid public Shorts views in the last 90 days. Depending on your ability to publish content and how engaging you are, you could accomplish this very quickly or slowly over time.
The best approach is to vlog about what you know and are passionate about. Here are some examples:
- Life of a Division 1 basketball player
- Cooking meals as a student
- Study skills as a college student
- “Life as a student” comedy videos
If you’re into video but prefer to be behind the camera, there are still opportunities to earn. The demand for video content is only increasing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, film and video editing is expected to grow by 14% from 2021 to 2031. Which means there is a growing need for skilled video editors, and starting a video editing business can put you in a prime position to capitalize on this trend. Usually, a Bachelor’s degree is needed to land a job as a video editor. However, as a freelance editor, you can get hired independently based on your skill set, not your level of education.
Many college students are already learning video editing skills as part of their coursework. By starting a video editing business, you can put these skills to use and gain valuable real-world experience. Plus, the more you practice and work on projects, the better you’ll get, which will only increase your earning potential.
If you’re an organized person and can follow directions, being a virtual assistant could be a great online business. A virtual assistant (VA) is a person who takes on administrative tasks for clients. Think of an administrative assistant but without needing to go to the office to work. Their responsibilities usually include managing schedules, organizing files, answering emails, conducting research, or updating spreadsheets. Sometimes, but not often, they are asked to write content or manage social media accounts.
As a student VA, however, you would most likely not take on those responsibilities, as they can be too labor-intensive as a part-time job.
Given the remote nature of their work, they must be adept at communicating via various digital channels. You’ve got to be well-versed in email, messaging apps, video conferencing, and project management tools. For students, this is a great online business because you can do the tasks before, in between, or after class. Most tasks given to VAs have reasonable time deadlines.
You can also set your own rate. Depending on the complexity of your work, you can charge anywhere from $10/hr to $30/hr. Note that in order to get jobs, you may need to start out charging less. This will help you get used to the work and build a portfolio of experience.
Social Media Management
In the last section, I mentioned that as a virtual assistant, you may be asked to take on social media management tasks. However, if you’ve got the skills to do that kind of work, a social media management business may be a better choice. The term “social media management” can mean a lot of things. It can refer to managing ads for a client, but it can also mean just posting images on Instagram. Depending on your level of comfort and how much time you have, you can start an online social media management business with very little experience.
The first thing you want to do is decide what kind of management you want to take on. Knowing this ahead of time will help you be specific when pitching your skills to a client. It will also prevent you from taking jobs that are way over your head.
This type of online business is also really easy to get started. There are no upfront costs, and the work can be done at any time. The thing that will help you stand out the most is your knowledge of the different social media management tools available. Get familiar with the most popular ones, as your clients will likely use them.
Here are some of the most popular social media management tools that are out there:
- Sprout Social
We’ve got an article on how to start a social media management business that is worth checking out.
This one needs no description; online influencers are everywhere. The challenge is that online influencers are everywhere! They need to be everywhere. They are the product – you see them, you follow them, you are influenced by their lifestyle and make decisions as a consumer accordingly. An influencer needs to project a version of their life that is desirable – and let the sponsorships follow.
Even with a saturated market, this is still a lucrative gig for a student. Not only do you build your brand, you learn how to market yourself (a skill that will be required throughout your life) and source/develop partnerships.
However, your success as an influencer requires you to excel in two areas:
- You need to have a significant number of followers.
- You need to be able to influence them to purchase/interact/use what you are promoting.
As a result, this has a significant ramp-up. Your business will only be in the green once you have the user numbers required to be deemed influential (usually starting from 10-50K).
Once you make it, though, the upside is significant. We have all heard of the influencers who are paid $50-$100K to make a single Instagram post. While you may want to remain conservative, the upside if you are successful is undeniable. And as a successful influencer, you can also add negotiating, sales, and customer acquisition to your skill toolkit.
Affiliate marketing is one of the oldest and still one of the most lucrative ways to make money online. Similar to being an influencer, affiliate marketers promote products for brands and get paid when one of their recommendations turns into a sale. Think of it as getting paid for recommending a product to friends and strangers.
One of the main reasons affiliate marketing is an attractive business option is its low entry barrier. With little to no capital required, you can get started by simply signing up for affiliate programs and promoting products on your blog, social media, or other online platforms. You can promote these products on social media, email, YouTube, and more.
Affiliate marketing allows you to capitalize on your niche expertise and passion. You can choose to promote products or services that align with your interests and your audience’s needs. The best part about being an affiliate marketer is its passive nature. You can make money while you sleep, and there’s something truly satisfying about waking up in the morning and seeing a sale.
As of 2023, the average pay for affiliate marketers is $177,000. You will most likely not make that as a part-time affiliate marketer, but this goes to show that the earning potential in this industry is fantastic.
Online Tutoring or Coaching Services
Students are always learning. What they learn may or may not help them when they graduate. However, it could help others who are still in school. This is why online tutoring is a great online business for students to start.
The benefits of this type of online business are many. For one, you can choose to tutor based on your skill set. If you’re great at math but not a great writer, you can focus on teaching what you know. Also, you’ll have many client opportunities. You can choose to work with a diverse range of clients, including fellow students, professionals, and learners from different countries.
In addition to these benefits, it is also rewarding to know that you’ll be helping others learn and overcome academic challenges. You can expect to earn between $20-$50 an hour.
We’ve all known (first- or second-hand) the times we were running late for our office hours because we needed to submit an assignment. Or the days we were tired after a long day of work but needed to put on a smile for the customer that required service. While it would be naive to say starting an online business is easier or does not require those days, the flexibility and ownership it provides are incomparable.
Being able to work on something that has an endless ceiling that you get to set and keep pushing is crucial during your academic career. Especially in the US, where student debt is the conversation of every news outlet and leader, being able to independently own and run something that supports you through your learning years makes you an invaluable asset once you graduate.
There are several types of online businesses out there. So set yourself apart, “hustle” a bit, and test out one of the ideas above. Even if you don’t succeed, you can always say you started a business!