A recent poll of American Millennials found that 16 percent are planning to start their own businesses, and 8 percent already have started one. The Millennial generation is ambitious and independent (with entrepreneurial spirit coming out of their ears), but student loans loom above, casting shadows on those potential ventures.
More than 60 percent of Millennials polled have student debt, and about 50 percent say it’s a major obstacle when they think about founding their businesses. Some work in unrelated fields so they can keep up with rent and loan payments. And some are tempted by the path of least resistance that allows them to write off student debts -- for instance, working for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for 10 years post-graduation.
This period of constricted growth can feel highly frustrating and possibly discourage some from building their startups. But even if college debt is stifling and Millennials are spending most of their time working jobs they aren’t passionate about, the process of being a successful business owner starts now.
Here are three ways to make sure college debt doesn’t put a damper on your entrepreneurial mindset:
1. Draw on your college experience.
I saw my college career as my ticket to “the dance” that is the business world. But that ticket wasn’t free: It cost four hard years of working two jobs on top of classes. I’m far from alone. In 2015, 70 percent of college students in the U.S. also worked. That struggle taught me determination. I learned I could do anything as long as I had confidence in my abilities and the drive to push forward.
The most successful people are not always those with the highest GPAs. They’re the ones who know the value of hard work. Channel the work ethic and determination that helped you succeed in college to stay on the path to your business goals.
2. Find a great mentor, and watch him or her.
Prepare to be a great entrepreneur by taking every available mentorship opportunity. Find great business owners and pay attention to how they handle themselves in a business setting. Ask to shadow them for a day, accompany them to a meeting, or practice your pitching skills with them as sounding boards. Pay attention to the details of their day, how and when they exercise patience, and how they speak to and treat the people around them.
Finding a great mentor may be easier than you think. Richard Branson, for example, names his Uncle Jim as the person who taught him it’s OK to make unexpected choices -- a principle Branson continues to apply to his business decisions.
3. Fail for free.
Similarly, find every possible route to continue learning. Read books and articles by entrepreneurs you admire. Go on a training course. Find an internship. Working a job you hate to pay the bills? Let those negative experiences teach you how not to run your future business. Make mistakes on someone else’s time and dime. Better to fail and learn for free than wait until your own startup is on the line.
Without the struggles of turning youth into maturity, no one is prepared for the challenges that being the boss can present. Use this struggle as the first stage of entrepreneurship. Only a truly great entrepreneur can turn frustration into patience, disappointment into determination, and ideas into a business.