If you are looking to start a small online business as a student, to: 

  • Pay bills, save money, and help uplift your parents’ burden.
  • Learn a skill related to your degree, like marketing, finance, medical writing, etc., so you can gain experience and boost your CV while job searching.
  • Or you just want to hone and monetize a skill or hobby you have, like painting, writing, drawing animations, and lots more.

Then you’ve got to keep my tea warm while I walk you through this guide on how to start an online business as a student.

Before I dive into the crux of this piece, here’s what I’m walking you through.

Why Should You Start A Small Online Business As A Student?

As much as I would love to give you numerous reasons as to why starting a business now would be to your advantage in the long run, I’d rather you have your WHYs.

Why are you doing this?

Starting a business alongside schooling isn’t a rosy path to thread. You’ve got an endless school schedule to attend to, assignments, extracurriculars, and then a business to worry about.

It’s not going to be a walk in the park.

So is it for the money? Your future? Whatever the reason, write it down and write down the consequences of not accomplishing that benefit.

Your consequence could be insufficient funds for your academics the next session, or that your future might not be as glamorous as you’ve been imagining it to be. Whatever it is, write it down, and let it be your drive not to give up once you start your online business.

Enough of the TEDx talk as to why you’re starting an online business. Now, let’s dive straight into the step-by-step guide on how to start your online business.

How To Start A Small Online Business

The Big Idea

All businesses sprout from an idea, and that idea is aimed at solving a problem. Not just any problem, but problems people will pay you for.

You don’t want to go about telling people you’re good at fixing pens. It might be a problem, yes, but most people would rather get a new pen than ask you to fix theirs.

So when you start putting down your business ideas, make sure you’re putting down solutions to problems people will pay you for!

Plus, as a student, you don’t just write down any idea that pops into your head. Your ideas need to be very flexible and easy to run, so your academics don’t take a hit for your business to thrive.

To avoid business and academic imbalance, ask yourself these questions when you come up with your online business ideas.

  • Is this business solving any big problems?

Research and check on social media platforms like Reddit, Quora, and Facebook for people who have gone through the problems you’re solving, how they overcame them, and more.

If they got help from someone, chances are people would pay to get the solution from you too.

  • Am I passionate about it?

While passion is not a determining factor, as a student, you don’t want to delve into a business you’re not interested in as it will cost you more time and energy, which might affect your studies.

  • Will my online business become profitable if I put in the work?

You don’t just start a business because you’re passionate about it; it has to be something that’s in demand in the market. We’ll talk about this more in the next step.

  • Are you ready to invest most of your free time in it?

Your business won’t pick up if all you do is talk about it once a month. You have to constantly invest your free time, get the hang of it, and stick to it to get your desired results.

By now, you should have narrowed down your ideas to maybe 3 or 5 with these questions, so what next?

Research: Market research and Product research

Remember when I said you don’t want to jump into any business just because you’re passionate about it?

This is because your business might run down if people are not interested in what you’re offering.

And that’s the deal behind carrying out research.

First, it introduces you to what your future customers want, what your competitors are doing, how your customers perceive your product, solution, or service, and lots more.

Second, it gives you a good enough insight into whether your business will pick up or not and how to go about it.

Even If you’re starting an online business to complement your degree, you still have to research whether it’ll be relevant in the workforce and can give your CV the boost you seek. You can also ask your seniors how they got a job or internship position at any firm.

This research will give you a good view of what to expect, where to start, and how to start.

You don’t want to launch your business and end up realizing you can’t launch it for one reason or another.

So spend enough time researching and learning all about your product, solution, or service and its market.

Target Audience

Not knowing who your target audience is could make or break your online business.

An outrageous claim?


How would you feel, as a college student, if someone kept telling you to buy a grade 2 book?


What if someone starts advertising companies you could buy when you cannot even afford a car?

It’s ridiculous, right? 

Imagine the person only advertises companies to people who can’t even afford a car, would he make any sales?

That’s exactly how people feel if they’re not your target audience and you try selling to them.

These examples might seem ridiculous, but you need to figure out your target audience to the core. Even though your target audience is the student body, you have to figure out who exactly they are.

  • What type of students are they?
  • Are they life-of-the-party students or serious students?
  • Are they males or females?
  • Are they freshmen? 
  • Does their religion matter?
  • Where do they live?
  • What’s their thought process like?
  • What are their lives and dislikes?

Be as specific as possible.

The idea behind figuring out your target audience is to come up with that one person you want to sell to and sell to them.

If you’re selling chocolate, you probably want to target girls, couples, and people who value relationships.

So your ideal person could be a girl who’s in a relationship or has a group of friends she values.

If you are into art, who are those people likely to appreciate your artwork?

You want to look into art workshops that buy artwork.

So your ideal person could be an art manager who loves recruiting young talents or buying talented artists’ artwork.

Figuring out your target audience is the crux of making sales and profits. Be sure to figure it out well.

Search For Online Products

This step is for you, especially if you don’t have any ideas in mind and would love to delve into affiliate marketing.

Even if you have an idea in mind, affiliate marketing is a platform that mostly requires good copywriting or marketing skills.

Affiliate marketing involves helping others promote their goods and earning commissions while doing so.

You might want to channel the same energy you use to recommend a football club or a TV show into the products you’re recommending.

Let’s say you love cooking. If you can’t come up with any ideas or don’t have time to run your business ideas online, you could start promoting utensils, recipe ebooks, or cooking courses via affiliate marketing.

Once people buy those products through your link, you get a commission.

You don’t necessarily have to make affiliate products student-friendly, but you can if you don’t want to rack your brain researching what makes your target audience tick.

Developing Your Brand

Like I said, you don’t want to open an online business that you’d only attend to once a millennium.

Consistency is one of your brand’s lifelines, but of course, that is not the only determining factor.

Other factors, like

Your Unique Selling Point

If you write poems, make beaded bracelets, or sell clothing, whatever it is you do, I’m certain there are a handful of others doing it.

But what makes you different is your unique selling point, and this is the very cornerstone of your brand.

  • Your logo
  • Your style
  • Your brand’s personality…

And lots more, contribute to building and developing a successful brand.

Establish An Online Presence

This is a part of brand development, but I’m bringing it out because of how important it is.

I mean, it’s the whole point of creating an online business, because you need to be online.

Whether you’re selling consumables, or a skill, or you’re looking for job opportunities related to your degree, you need to build an online presence around that.

Your online presence starts with your family and friends knowing what you do.

Can you write? Great! One of your friends might just need a great write-up to promote an event.

Do you paint? Your dad’s friend might require one to hang up his office wall.

Looking for clinical experience? Your mom’s friend working in a hospital or health center might just help you lock down an internship position.

The opportunities you seek are probably somewhere in your immediate circle, so start with them.

From there, you should utilize platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and any social media platform you’re active on to post about your work and what you do.

All this is to boost your network and help people discover your online business, so you can make money from your skills online.

Are we good? Cool

Having gone through the non-negotiables of starting an online business as a university student, what are those businesses you could delve into?

What Are The Best Businesses To Run Online As A Student?

Before you pick just about any of your ideas to sell, you have to look at the market.

Most start-ups or businesses fail because they fail to research the market.

Let’s say there’s an abundance of stalls selling chocolate in your school. Selling chocolates as a business becomes harder in your school because of the saturation.

But let’s say there aren’t many stores that sell dates, and the few that do probably sell them at high prices. Then that’s a business you can easily run as a student.

One, because there aren’t many competitors and you can tell your friends and coursemates you sell dates at maybe an even lesser price than others while still making a profit.

Two, because if the business is easy to run, that means you have more time to focus on your studies too.


Okay then, let’s move over to online business ideas you can run as a student at the university.

Online tutoring

This has to be one of the most popular online businesses to make money as a student at university. All you need to do is pick courses you understand and teach them to your fellow students or juniors for a token.

Also, you could look for someone who’s already making money through tutoring and offers to teach a course he or she doesn’t take to his or her audience.

If teaching college courses isn’t an easy online business to go alongside your studies, then tutoring high school students as a freelancer on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr is probably a better option.

You can check out Indeed’s comprehensive resource on finding online tutoring jobs for college students.

Clothing And Apparel

Unless the students in your university or people in your network are all in their 90s or 80s, then clothing is a business goldmine, regardless of your target audience.


I believe some people – students and young adults especially – obsess over clothing. They’re young adults or in their late teens and feel the need to look prim and proper during outings and whatnot.

So this niche would make a lot of sense, especially if you’re aware of what’s trending.

And the best part? You don’t need to stock up your market before you can sell clothes. You can easily become an affiliate for fashion brands.

Reselling Used Books

One of the first lessons you learn as a student is to cut down on your expenses.

Maybe not all students cut down on their expenses, but most of them do.

This is an excellent problem to help other students solve.

What goes on here is that you buy used handouts, manuals, and textbooks from other students and then sell them at lower prices to other students.

You could repurpose this idea of buying and reselling into furniture, used clothes, and other things you’re sure people would buy.

Here are platforms where you can sell and resell products online.

Helping Others Promote Their Goods

The student market is such a bustling and thriving market that if you know how to sell, you can thrive with any business that aligns with students.

And promoting goods that appeal to students in your university, or at the very least, people in your network, is such a great way to start!

You could go on platforms like Jumia and become an affiliate for their goods like kitchen utensils, gadgets, utensils, and more

Or you could move to course marketplaces like Coursera Affiliate, Skill Share Affiliate, and others to promote their courses.

For your fellow students, courses like how to read efficiently and how to retain and recall information actively would appeal to them.

You can check this for more affiliate programs to choose from.

Polishing And Selling Your Craft Online

Whether you’re good at making beaded bracelets, realistic paintings, feet-sweeping poems, or you’re good at indulging readers with your writing.

There’s no craft you have that you can’t polish up and get people to pay real money for. Yes, that’s how much of an advantage having a small online business is.

Even your thoughts are monetizable.

You could just start a podcast or create a video on your take on a topic, and if your stuff is good and people love it, you’ll eventually make a mole out of nothing and, of course, tons of money while you’re at it.

If you are the product-centric type, you might want to check out our top 10 lucrative digital products to sell online.


It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? I know it has.

But if you’re going to start a business online, which could be in the form of freelancing, getting remote internship jobs to boost your future CV, or selling online, you need to get the very basics right.

And even after getting everything right, from your big idea or product to your target audience to performing deep market and product research to effectively building a brand for your online presence, always remember to research and check for something you can do better.

Always be aware of how you can spend less time and make more money, and be creative and open to new ideas. 

And all in all, make sure your studies don’t take a hit for your business.

We are rooting for you.


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