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Student business owners take on benefits, risks of starting a business while managing school, personal life
April 26, 2021
During her sophomore year, senior Mary Grace Jacko developed a newfound passion in her jewelry class.
“After taking that class, I started making my own bracelets and necklaces throughout the entirety of my junior year,” Jacko said. “Many people started to compliment my earrings, bracelets and necklaces I wore.”
But Jacko said it took another experience to incentivize her to take the next step: creating her jewelry business, Jacko Jewelry.
“After realizing I could continue to make something I love for others, I started talking to my boyfriend, closest friends and my family about potentially selling my jewelry,” Jacko said. “But what really sparked Jacko Jewelry was when I started to get more into crystal healing. I believe that crystals have healing energies that help not only better ourselves but the environment around us.”
Jacko is one of many student business owners, who balance fully attending school with actively running a business. For example, senior Marissa Cheslock runs a sewing business in which she alters and creates different clothing items. Similarly, junior Julia Henn runs a self-care business, in which she creates gels, rollers and spritzers. Although Cheslock’s motivation for her business, like Jacko, came from a hobby and passion, Henn’s inspiration was slightly different.
“(My friend, mom, aunt and I) made this company because my friend is a dancer and has a muscle tissue disorder.” Henn said. “She gets extremely sore all the time, and many creams and gels to help her pain go away never helped. So we all did some research and made our very own gels, and it worked amazingly. These products aren’t just meant for dancers; they are meant for anyone who experiences pain in their muscles.”
Beyond helping their customers, running a business can be beneficial to the business owners themselves. In particular, Christina Carnes, assistant professor in management and entrepreneurship at Indiana University, said via email, “The flexibility and freedom to work at times and places that are best for you and your clients as well as the chance to work on something that you’re passionate about are unique benefits of starting a business. But more generally, it can teach you skills vital to navigating everyday life, including task management and leadership.”
Jacko said she can attest to what Carnes said as opening her business has taught her several lessons, including the fact that taking risks is necessary to help grow her business.
“Obviously understanding what your customers consistently purchase is something every business needs, but taking risks and broadening horizons is one of the most important things I have done for my business,” she said. “Taking risks is what created my brand and what really changed my business from something that I liked doing to something I love doing.”
Additionally, Cheslock said her business has taught her other aspects of life as well. She said, “Running a business has really taught me about time management. Sometimes I’ll have five orders to complete in a week where I’m also working six days, volunteering and keeping up with school. So it has taught me how to make and stick to a schedule.”
However, both Jacko and Cheslock said starting their business came with risks as well. And according to Carnes, that’s to be expected.
“Despite how hard you work and how much you want it, [your business] may not work out,” she said. “You might struggle convincing others to take a chance on you and your firm, building enough support to get it off the ground and/or keeping it running. There’s also always the risk that something completely outside of your control might happen that could harm your business and livelihood, and you’d have to adapt quickly.”
For Cheslock, she said one risk that may come from opening a business as a student is issues with pricing.
“When running a business catered for high school students, your prices can seem overly expensive even if they are fair based on the cost of materials and time,” she said. “This can be discouraging as it may mean that you go two to three weeks with no orders, but just give it time and try new things.”
Jacko said one risk she found with her business was that it took up a lot of time and impacted her school work.
“Some days you may feel there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done. The time I put into my business, while necessary, has affected my grades and even how much I can see my friends,” she said. “After you get into the groove of running a business, things really start to feel less stressful and more scheduled.”
Despite school work posing some challenges to her business by limiting the amount of time she has to actively work for her business, Jacko said school has also helped her in other ways, specifically by teaching vital transferable skills.
“One class that really has helped me run my business would be my TV staff class.” Jacko said. “That class really has shown me how to manage my time and get things done on time.”
Cheslock said she agrees and said in addition to offered classes, certain opportunities and extracurriculars helped her business as well.
“The fashion and textiles classes have definitely helped me,” Cheslock said. “I’ve learned many skills and techniques that I probably wouldn’t know had I not taken those classes for the last four years, which allows me to offer more products and services. I’m also very active in FCCLA—I’m the Carmel co-president and the Indiana State First Vice-President—which has helped with the time management aspect as well as given me more confidence in myself and my business.”
While these student-run businesses have had the fortune to keep operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, not all businesses were as lucky. In fact, according to the Federal Reserve Bank, 30% of small businesses in the United States, approximately 9 million businesses total, say they won’t survive 2021 without additional government assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to check out other small businesses in Hamilton County and how you can support them during the pandemic.
Contrary to this general trend, Jacko and Cheslock both said the pandemic failed to hurt their businesses.
“With the hybrid schedule I have a lot more time to deliver and make my jewelry but other than that I haven’t faced many negatives,” Jacko said. “I definitely have had to pick finishing an essay over posting new jewelry some nights, but the key is balance. Planning out when I can make, post, package and deliver jewelry has been a learning experience, but I try to block out time specifically for jewelry or specifically for school.”
Cheslock said she agreed with Jacko and said the pandemic has actually helped her business grow.
“I have way more time to practice my skills, which made me more confident in offering a wider array of services,” she said. “Also, a surprisingly large number of people tried on their entire closet while quarantined, which left me with a lot of alterations to do.”
Overall, largely because of her experience with running a business and the benefits it’s provided, Cheslock said she will major in fashion design.
Cheslock said, “Designing and sewing provides me with a creative outlet that I have not found anywhere else in my life, and if I had not started this business freshman year and become fully emerged in it, I’m not sure what my future plans would be.”
While Cheslock said she sees herself continuing her passion of fashion design through and after college, Jacko said she doesn’t see it that way for her business, although she noted it doesn’t undermine her current experience with it.
“I see myself continuing selling jewelry through college, but I am not sure if I will after college. It all just depends on my job and how busy I am,” Jacko said. “Currently I continue selling and making jewelry because it is something I do to de-stress.”
Given her experience and the benefits it’s brought, Henn said she encourages those considering to start a business to do it, even if others try to discourage it.
“Even if you aren’t sure your business will be successful or if you are doubting yourself, don’t let the things inside your head stop you from what you could achieve later on,” Henn said. “You will never know until you try.”
Carnes said she agreed, adding that although running into challenges may be inevitable, the benefits will outweigh them.
“Strategy is all about building a plan to achieve your goal—and that goal can be anything you want, from starting and growing your own business, to taking a current one to new heights,” she said. “Everyone has to decide for themselves what they want to do, but for those that want to start their own firm, it is incredibly rewarding despite the challenges.”
All in all, for those who consider starting a business, Jacko said she strongly advises people to emphasize promotion and be dedicated.
“Wear or use what you sell, post about it on Instagram, tell everyone around you about it. That is how you grow your business, [by being] your own personal billboard,” she said. “But also, dedicate time to growing your business. I found the more time I dedicated to my business, the more successful and rewarding it became.” Click here to check out other CHS students’ stories on their student-run businesses on a small business blog by Chloe Sun called “Biz Buzz”.0