Editor’s note: Scott Gerber is a serial entrepreneur and author of “Never Get a ‘Real’ Job.” He is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council which recently launched #FixYoungAmerica, a campaign to overcome youth unemployment and introduce young professionals to successful small business practices and entrepreneurship. YEC also recently released a book, "#Fix Young America: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work."
Congratulations, class of 2012! Welcome to the post-recession-era “real world,” where one out of every two grads under age 25 were unemployed or underemployed last year.
Since 2008, fewer than half of your peers have managed to find jobs within a year of graduation. Half of young Americans aged 18-34 have taken jobs they didn’t want just to make ends meet—and yet one in four move back in with mom and dad anyway.
So even if you do find a job, there’s a good chance it won’t pay the bills. Wages have dropped steadily, and the student loan default rate has climbed 31 percent.
But that’s no reason to put a stopper on the champagne. You worked hard to get here. Do you really want to top off this milestone with a resume-emailing marathon?
Instead of passively waiting for the market— most job openings by 2020 will be in low-wage professions like retail sales and truck driving—why not create a job? It’s one obvious solution to the epidemic of youth underemployment that the Young Entrepreneur Council has highlighted throughout the #FixYoungAmerica campaign—and it’s one I can really get behind, because I’ve been there.
A few months shy of my college graduation in the early 2000s, I had less than $700, no job prospects, and student loan debt to boot. Everyone told me to get a “real” job. Instead, with no formal business education and no money, I launched Sizzle It!—a company that produces sizzle reel videos for brands and PR/marketing professionals—and turned it into a profitable business (which it still is today).
If you’re willing to sleep on a few couches and eat Ramen occasionally, I suggest you do the same. Here’s how:
1) Get over yourself. Facebook aside, entrepreneurship does not typically start—and very rarely ends—with a billion-dollar IPO, or even a million-dollar check. To succeed, you need to be grounded, practical and willing to roll with the punches (and work harder than you ever have before). If this sounds terrifying, fish that resume out of the trash can now.
2) Start boring—and bootstrap your way to the bank. Don’t waste time on “big” ideas you can’t execute. Service-based, hyper-local businesses require near-zero overhead (other than an Internet connection and a laptop) and, assuming you have a marketable skill or two, can start generating money tomorrow. In terms of a business plan, keep it simple and keep it fluid.
3) Embrace your age. Speaking from experience, older generations of entrepreneurs and C-level executives relish the chance to give back—so get out there and prove yourself like you’ve got nothing to lose. In doing so, you may attract mentors who see a little bit of themselves in you—and mentors will take you further than money at this stage of your life.
4) Put cash flow first. Financial forecasts are useless exercises for most first-time entrepreneurs; your business model should be lean and mean, and that means you will spend and make very little. Figure out what you need to live on, find ways to bring it in, and grow organically from there.
5) Roll out the welcome mat for failure. Most entrepreneurs fail many times over; it’s the reason your parents and professors say that starting a business is “too risky.” But this oft-cited wisdom is misguided—failure is just a cue to adapt. If you learn to accept failure now, you will execute better, faster and smarter next time.