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Feel the Heat

We've got the hottest business ideas for 2008--and sizzling tips for getting in on the action.

This story appears in the March 2008 issue of Start Up.

Opportunity: College-Planning Consultants

When we say college students are hot, we don't mean the girls of Delta Gamma or the guys of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. We mean that the more than 17 million students who apply to college every year are a hot market for entrepreneurs.

Thanks to the complex application process, more students applying to multiple schools, skyrocketing tuition fees and parents in desperate need of information, there aren't enough high school counselors to keep up: The National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that the ratio of students to counselors is 315 to 1. "Given the challenges families face, there's tremendous growth potential for advising college-bound students," says Monisha Perkash, 33, co-founder with Paul Wrubel of San Mateo, California-based, which provides college-planning consulting services.

That demand has prompted an entire industry of college-planning consultants, specialized tutors, application experts, financial planners, publications and networking sites "all geared toward helping incoming students find the college of their choice and succeed once there," says Justin Baer, creator of college-prep DVD Cracking College. He points out that today's parents are willing to pay top dollar to help their children succeed.

Although Perkash agrees--families spend $5 billion annually researching and applying to colleges--she sees affordable college admissions and funding advice as an untapped area. Sites like hers--which expects six-figure sales this year--can tap that market at no cost to the customer.

Ready to help out some of the students applying to college every year? Consider these startup tips:

  • Understand your audience. Your clients have one thing in common: They're college-bound and don't know where to start. Aside from that, their demographics can run the gamut. Maybe they need help finding loans or scholarships, or maybe they're financially set but are struggling with the application process. Perkash says you need to understand your clients' needs and how you are poised to meet those needs.
  • Create a professional image. Because your college-planning services won't require a brick-and-mortar location, Baer advises building a professional website as your 's first impression on the public and then renting a small office in a professional building for meeting with clients.
  • Offer free services. provides much of the advice on its website for free, as well as some complimentary workshops and services for schools and nonprofits. This gets customers interested in the company's premium services, such as e-mail consultation and personalized reports, which require a yearly fee. If you can't provide free services, help students and parents understand why they should pay for yours when they could get them free elsewhere, says Baer, who compares this to the hand-holding experience of shopping at a clothing boutique vs. the chaotic experience of shopping at a discount liquidator.
  • Don't do it alone. "Work collaboratively with partners who can help you reach large numbers of families," says Perkash, citing examples like schools, employers, nonprofits and other companies that provide services that complement yours. "Other companies have vested interests in helping families with college students," she explains. "Find and leverage them."
  • Follow up. Baer suggests checking in with past students and parents and sending a card, gift basket or even a care package wishing the students well on their upcoming year at school. "This is a service business," he says. "Going the extra mile will get the extra referrals."

College-Planning Franchise:
College Assistance Plus LLC

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