On Campus

Don’t want a boring summer job? Start a business instead

Some students are using the Summer Company program to start businesses to save for tuition

University and college students will be liberated from the classroom in a few weeks, and many of them will land in part-time or full-time summer jobs that are not so interesting or glamorous. But that wasn’t the case for Ottawa resident Matt Whitteker. In the months leading up to his last year at Carleton University, he started a summer business offering boxing lessons.

“You see what your own work produces, rather than making money for someone else,” says Whitteker, who was 22 at the time. By the end of the summer of 2006, the business he launched had made somewhere in the range of $3,000 to $4,000, says Whitteker. Since graduating last spring, he’s been able to expand his operation to the point where he now has his own boxing gym.

But starting your own summer business isn’t for everyone, he admits.

Kevin Dane, vice-president and Toronto area manager for the Business Development Bank of Canada, says there are two reasons to go into business for the summer — to gain experience and to make money. “You have to understand what your objectives are. What you’re trying to accomplish is going to dictate the type of business you’re going to try to take on,” he says. Students should start planning now since it takes time to build a client base, he adds.

“There’s a lot of competition out there,” says Dane. “How are you going to get your piece of your pie? You can’t be figuring that out in June.” An important thing to have, he says, is a business plan — a thorough blueprint that outlines how to run the business.

“It’s not just looking at the sales aspect, but the customer satisfaction, the financial (aspect), what’s involved in your expenses and your revenue, that kind of thing,” says Brian Thompson, who is the Alberta, Central Prairie and North regional vice-president of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation.

Jeff Phillips, a University of Waterloo arts student, started Humane Bat Control last summer. He says it was a daunting experience to draw up a business plan, but it was worth it in the end. He says his business, which created and serviced devices to prevent bats from re-entering homes, exceeded his business plan’s forecasted revenue of $15,000 to $20,000. “If your business does take off and get busy, you won’t have the time to plan anymore,” he says.

Thompson says students should figure out how much money they would like to make in a summer, and then plan backwards to figure out what they should charge and how many clients they will need to achieve their goals. Students will need to build a loyal customer base and offer a service which generates repeat business, he adds. Examples include car detailing and yard work, since people require these services throughout the summer.

Getting clients in the first place was one of the biggest challenges Whitteker says he faced.

Phillips posted fliers at local grocery stores and libraries.

Along the way, students will also need to take care of the technical side of a business, in particular, getting it registered. Guidelines vary from province to province. Some regions have programs that help youth start a summer business, such as Summer Company in Ontario or Students in Business in Nova Scotia.

Both Whittekar and Phillips participated in the Summer Company program, which provided mentoring support and financial assistance. Thompson says students may wish to seek out a mentor who can help offer advice as the summer progresses, and that it shouldn’t be someone close. “Friends and family tend not to be objective or necessarily critical,” he says. “Sometimes it’s better to take your plan and bounce it off somebody in the industry, somebody who’s got business experience to give you a critical view of your plans and your thoughts.”

While Phillips admits to working long 16-hour days, he says he has no regrets about his decision to go into business for himself, and the extra cash it put into his pocket. “I knew I could pay my tuition and I knew I could eat,” Phillips says. “You can only eat so much Kraft Dinner.”

-with a report from CP 

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.
  • By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.