Andrew Dark is Director of the printwear and branding specialist Custom Planet, which he co-founded while he was still at university. Here, he shares his top tips for starting a business when you also need to juggle lectures and student nights out.

Some of today’s most notable entrepreneurs founded businesses while they were at university. Mark Zuckerberg created the earliest version of Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, and other tech giants such as Google and Microsoft were dreamed up by university students who felt like their lectures and exams just weren’t giving them enough work to do.

If you are studying at the university, most probably you are gaining a huge amount of knowledge about leading a business. So, there is a great opportunity of using knowledge in the real world, such as writing a business plan, doing proper research, following small business leadership tips that you may learn from books, etc. It would be a great advantage for you once you graduate from university with valid work experience.

Of course, embarking on a new venture is never easy, but you’ll come up against some unique challenges if you decide to take your first steps into business while you’re at university. So, I’m going to offer you my top tips to help you get off on the right foot.

Use your spare time wisely

It mightn’t feel like it but, when you’re at university, you’ll typically have a lot of free time to play with. Once you graduate, you’ll want to concentrate on your job search, which is likely to lead to you working full-time. So, put your freedom to good use while you have it! You first have to create a business plan and transfer your ideas into pen and paper. You won’t have to memorise every thought that comes to mind when it comes to setting up your business. An effective business plan will not only let you see the opportunities but also the risks you might encounter in the future.

Obviously, starting a business at university isn’t easy — everybody would be doing it if it was! You will have to make sacrifices like spending fewer nights in the pub and resisting the urge to spend hours scrolling through social media. But, you’ll be glad you put in the necessary work once your business is up and running.

Ask other ambitious and hardworking students for help

While some people go to university for the house parties and nights out, there will be students who want to get ahead just like you. In general, it’s a good idea to surround yourself with these like-minded people, because they’ll inspire you to do your best, and you can do the same for them. Plus, when you decide to start your business, you’ll have a group of smart and driven people who might be willing to help you out in order to develop their own skillset.

I wouldn’t recommend sharing your business idea with too many peers when you’re just starting out. But, if your plan requires skills or knowledge that you don’t have, it can offer the perfect opportunity to network with a small group of people you trust, respect, and want to work with. You’ll be surrounded by business, marketing, design, and even engineering students that might be interested in getting involved. And, you might even find the perfect business partner who can help you to develop your idea and put it out into the world.

Get the word out about your business

Going to university is a unique experience, where you’ll meet and befriend people from all over the world. But, at the end of each semester or academic year, most people will return to their native cities or countries. And, if you show your fellow students that your business has value, they might be open to telling their friends and family about your work when they get home.

Of course, marketing your business through the likes of social media is incredibly important in our current climate. But, nothing beats word of mouth. In fact, word of mouth marketing is one of the most valuable tools for businesses just starting out, according to Social Media Today. And, best of all, it’s free! So, once you’ve hit the ground running, make sure you tell all of your friends about the work you’re doing, and they’ll hopefully help you to grow your customer base organically by passing the information on.

Don’t be afraid to use your university’s resources

If you require any equipment or guidance while setting your business up, don’t be afraid to ask your university for help. They might even have schemes that allow you to access their services for a number of years after you’ve graduated, so it’s worth asking about that, too. Universities like to invest in their most driven students, because success stories can work as positive PR for them. So, it’s likely they’ll be up for helping you in any way they can.

Of course, you’ll be able to call on your usual lecturers for help, but there will also be guidance counsellors and mentors you can speak to. These people will be very well connected too so, if you have a question that they can’t answer, they should be able to point you in the direction of someone who can help you out.

Setting up a business alongside your university studies isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. And, if you have an idea you believe in, you should give it a go too. As long as you have the ambition and motivation that it takes, as well as a strong support network you can rely on, there’s no reason why you can’t succeed.