How Steven Li Balances School and Business
If recent research is any indication, Generation Z is poised to become unprecedentedly entrepreneurial. One 2017 survey conducted by Babson College in Massachusetts found that 41 percent of the cohort plan on becoming entrepreneurs, and a whopping 64 percent of college students want to start their own businesses.
Though a lot of young people want to start their own companies, it's not always tenable due to a busy queue of priorities including attending school and completing job applications. But Steven Li, founder of current events and commentary site The Rising -- which boasts more than 500,000 monthly impressions and 30,000 monthly readers -- proves it's not impossible. After starting his entrepreneurial pursuits (Li also co-ran a popular publication titled Youth Business Collective while still in high school) with money he earned from internships, Li currently runs The Rising while studying Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
I recently caught up with Li, who shared the five principles he followed to grow The Rising while still in school, lessons applicable to entrepreneurs of any age balancing their core business and another significant time commitment.
1. Communicate often, but only meet infrequently.
Though communication is central to any successful team’s ability to finish projects in a timely manner, meetings -- whether in-person or over the phone -- often take up a lot of time. Assuming the default Google Calendar meeting time of one hour, just four meetings a day could take up half of a standard eight-hour work day. That's why Li advises that, “Though it’s always fun to meet with prospective clients and partners, what I’ve found is that most, if not all, of what can be achieved in meetings can be done through email.” He adds: “And when you do need to meet, blocking out 15-minute slots instead of hour-long ones can save you, and whoever you’re meeting with, a ridiculous amount of time.”
Meeting infrequently and planning for shorter meeting times can help keep both parties engaged in discussing what truly matters, and for young entrepreneurs juggling school, doing so makes it possible to simultaneously excel in academics.Related: Why Young Entrepreneurs Are Better Positioned to Succeed
2. Be careful about resource allocation.
Almost everything that comes with your business costs money, including when you are choosing someone to hire or selecting a service to use. But even beyond monetary costs, resource allocation includes time investments as well. As Li tells it, “Even when you’re not necessarily spending money, investing your time in a project has inherent costs too.” In other words, when you spend time on a project that doesn’t pan out, that’s often a financial loss. Effective resource allocation is particularly important, especially if you’re balancing your company with another gig, be it school or a 9-to-5 job. If you neglect thinking about where your resources are being distributed, you could easily run out of both time and money.
3. Avoid distractions.
As your business continues to grow, many opportunities will present themselves. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to join boards or work on projects. And the invite to join new initiatives may be tempting, but taking on new responsibilities inherently takes away from your ability to fulfill existing ones. “In a lot of cases, the problem isn’t that there aren’t any resources out there, but rather that there’s a lot of noise and few good opportunities among them,” Li cautions.
Knowing which resources are most helpful for you and your company is often regarded as one of the most important skills required to build a successful business. Without the ability to discern between what your business needs and what you want, it won’t be able to reach its full potential.
4. Minimize confusing workflows.
Every team is different, and you should recognize that by establishing a workflow that function best for your whole team. For example, while some staffs may work well on Slack, others may prefer communicating via Facebook, Skype or even email threads. Don't simply adapt workflows to your own preference. Subsequent confusion among employees can be one of the biggest disruptions in a business’s productivity, so you're better off minimizing moving parts.Related: How These Entrepreneurs Under 20 Are Changing Industries
5. Choose clients wisely.
Though it’s true that onboarding new clients will help boost your company’s revenue in the short term, it is often a good idea to choose wisely when optimizing for long-term productivity. “When you can bring value to clients, that’s always a good thing for them,” Li tells me. “But if you’re not vetting your clients wisely, there will be tall communicative hurdles that will bog you down.”
By being diligent in this regard, you’ll be able to get on the same page quickly and avoid conflict later on. And by doing so, you’ll be saving yourself the time and energy that you could put to good use in other ways.