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When in Doubt

In tough times, which comes first: your business or your education? Start by exploring your options.
June 1, 2007
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/178550

Just as in your personal life, there will be times when your business is up against the wall and you find yourself facing major difficulties. Whether it's a sales crunch or a failed deal, if trouble hits while you're in college, you're going to have some tough choices to make. Do you continue to work on the business overtime while letting some of your schoolwork slide? Do you bring in extra help? Do you take a semester off to deal with the tough times? Or do you cut your losses and end the business?

Your first step should be enlisting the help of your network. If your business difficulty can be solved with a few extra hands, look to trusted partners for help picking up the slack. "The [trend] we found is that students who go it alone run into [problems] more than students who approach [things] as a team," says Jay Kayne, chair and professor of entrepreneurship at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

You might also meet with one of your business or entrepreneurship professors to discuss your business problems and ask for advice. "There's always free help available," says Raj Mahto, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at California State University, Fullerton. "In many cases, [because] professors are connected with [the] industry, they can refer you to somebody who can [help] you solve your problem."

The decision to take a semester or two off is a difficult one--especially if you're an undergraduate. Kayne recalls a situation in which a student ran a coffeehouse. When the coffee-house started going through tough times, the student decided to take time off school and focus on the business full time. "She then finished her last year and a half as a part-time student," says Kayne.

On the other hand, Lucas and Lee Brown, 22-year-old twin brothers and students at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, made the decision to close down a fashion business they'd been running from February to October 2005 when it became clear that their inventory wasn't selling. Instead of spending more time trying to build what definitely wasn't working, the pair immediately launched a new media website from their dorm room. Their dad wanted them to get jobs, but Lucas and Lee believed they'd learned from their earlier mistake and could grow a profitable business. "You've just got to know that eventually you'll hit something, and it'll be successful," says Lucas. "And if it doesn't work out, move on to the next thing." They moved on with fellow Babson classmate Lin Miao, 20, and today they run Tatto Media Inc., an online lead generation service with projected sales of $2 million for 2007.

Whether you stick with your business, take some time off school or bail out and start a new business, college is a time for learning and experimentation. Use the resources around you to help you make the choice that's right for you.