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Graduate Student Survival Guide

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You know those kids from high school, the ones who couldn’t decide what they wanted to do with their lives and got full time jobs straight after graduation? They looked at you with a twinge of envy as you headed off to college while they loaded up on dress suits and sensible shoes. They were certain they’d be following after you in a couple of years; you were certain they’d spend the rest of their lives picking up the boss’s dry cleaning and making coffee for high-powered executives.

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Now, however, you are beginning to doubt yourself. After four years of undergraduate life, a crummy part time job, and riding the bus everywhere, your friends’ lives are starting to look rather enviable. Their full time wages dwarf your measly graduate student earnings and their lifestyle clearly sits a few rungs higher up on the socioeconomic ladder than yours. Resist the urge to start comparing accomplishments because, at this point in your life, you won’t come out ahead.

Help me I'm poor

Your friends in the outside world have been working for a few years now, and they have the consumer lifestyle to prove it. They drive around in the latest hipster-colored micro car while you are still riding the bus on a student pass. They dine out at restaurants with tablecloths and menus that change with the seasons, while you subsist on microwave dinners and cafeteria food. Their clothes reflect the latest fashions and they hang out at trendy bars sipping expensive cocktails. You live in jeans and khakis, topped with t-shirts bearing such witty slogans as “Come to the nerd side. We have pi.”

Come to the nerd side, we have Pi

Your version of a night out on the town is Two Dollar Tuesdays at the student pub, where the antics of freshmen students reveling in their newfound freedom long ago ceased to be entertaining.

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Your friends rent condos in the heart of the city, furnished with matching sofas and chairs, big screen TVs, and bathrooms all to themselves. You, on the other hand, are possibly still living with your parents, accepting home cooked meals and complementary laundry service in exchange for house rules that haven’t changed since you were 15 and frequent interrogations regarding your study habits and social life. Or perhaps you are sharing a shabby rental house with five other students who are equally cash-strapped and lacking in domestic skills, and with whom you compete for hot showers and space in the refrigerator.

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Yes, compared to life as a graduate student, your working friends out there in the Real World seem to be doing very well. But trust me when I say that this is merely an illusion. What you need is a glimpse into the future to put things in perspective…

It’s twenty years from now and your friends are mostly married with children. The earnings that seemed like a windfall fresh out of high school aren’t so flush now that there are mortgages, health and life insurance premiums, and kids who need orthodontic work. Your friends long ago gave up their fancy bachelor pad rentals downtown and now live in cookie-cutter subdivisions way out in some far-flung suburb. They traded in their micro car for a minivan but they commute by public transit because it’s faster and less expensive. At work, they are still waiting for the fourteen guys ahead of them in seniority to either retire or die so they can move up the career ladder, but the most they can hope for is a lower management position because the upper ones are filled exclusively by those with—you guessed it—college degrees.

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Oh, they didn’t plan it this way. But you see, you were smart: it’s easy to decide on a few more years of student poverty when that’s all you’ve known since graduating high school. But when it came time for your friends to consider going back to college, they were already living lifestyles that were hard to give up. The idea of going back to pizza nights and dormitory life was too difficult to endure, so they put it off and put if off and now most of them are just looking forward to retirement so they can finally do something interesting.

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So hang in there, graduate students. The grass may seem greener on the Real World side of the fence right now, but in a few years you’ll see that you made the right choice. You’ll find that, since your friends were too immature to save any of that money they were earning while you were in college, in the end they didn’t come out ahead of you at all.

What like it's hard? Harvard grad student

And while you now have an enjoyable and upwardly mobile career ahead of you, they are waking up to the realization that they inadvertently made a career out of a job that was supposed to be a holdover until they decided what to do with their lives. Try to keep that image in mind the next time you see one of your acquaintances looking all sharp and fashionable on their way to the newest club. You’ll have your revenge one day, I promise.

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5 Things To Do Before Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

As our economy changes, more people are starting businesses, developing and marketing product that will make a difference for the world, and reaping the rewards of being an entrepreneur. All entrepreneurs have the drive and passion but many lack the preparation. Without preparation, the largest hurdle for most entrepreneurs is the financial success. Many people start with great ideas only to crash and burn nine or eighteen months down the road. Here are five things that every entrepreneur must do before he or she charges down the leadership path of entrepreneurship.

1. Take care of your personal finances.

The key here is to pay down your personal debt. If you are carrying more debt than you can handle with your current employment, it is time to downsize and pay off or eliminate debt before you follow your entrepreneurial spirit. Develop a monthly budget that you can stick to and takes into consideration emergencies such as car repairs, medical bills, and extra household expenses. Make certain you have at least a 12-month reserve of money to pay your bills. As an entrepreneur, you might not get your first paycheck for many months so be prepared to pay your bills from savings.

2. Make certain any of your contractual obligations will not affect your focus.

Look over previous employment contracts and make certain what you are deciding to pursue will not be in violation of that agreement. Review all current agreements you are involved with and if you plan on working part or full time as you follow this dream, make certain you can explain to your current employer how this will not affect your work performance.

3. Limit your distractions.

We all need to have our “fun” and have time for family but it is critical that anything outside of family time be evaluated for how it may take away from your focus on entrepreneurial activities. Keep in mind that you need a few diversions to help you balance your health and mental welfare but you just might have to give up a few of the extra-curricular activities. As a good way of planning your time, limit those extra activities to no more than 90 minutes a day on average.

4. Clean up your social media look.

You are going to be meeting with investors, bankers, potential partners, and of course, those who will purchase your product/idea/service and you need to look professional. Of course, you will dress the part but many of the people you will meet might check out your Facebook or Linked-In profiles, stop by your Instagram or Twitter accounts, and even read your blog. Sometimes when we are having fun, we might post pictures or say things we do not want to share as an entrepreneur. Clean up that image and show your best side.

5. Have a 12-month plan.

This plan needs to include your personal as well as entrepreneurial/business budget. Write, rewrite, edit, review, and seek counsel from trusted friends, colleagues, or professionals on the business plan. Include your vacation, medical appointments, and important events on the calendar portion of your 12-month plan. All of these ideas are very important for people setting off on entrepreneurial projects. The important thing to note is that these ideas also apply to anyone wanting to apply for a new job, write that first book, or set out on any new adventure.

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10 Surefire Tips for Securing Capital Investment

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1. Protect your idea with a patent/copyright/trademark.
Depending on your business venture, you will need to take precautionary steps to protect your idea. This may involve filing a patent, copyright, or trademark. In any of these cases, it is important that you develop quality documents, easy to read figures, tables, and graphics so that the reviewer can determine the merit of your work. Venture capital investors may want to review these documents and along with your business plan, this might be the first impression of you and your capabilities.
Please remember that these protections do not keep someone else from trying to develop your idea, but they do give you the right to fight it out in court.

2. Write an excellent business plan.
Your business plan is a dynamic document. One investor group may need a particular format while another group may ask you to present the plan in their preferred review layout. The business plan needs to state who you are, what you are doing, why you need investment, the scope of the market (what is the valuation of the market), how you intend to proceed with the investment, and what the return on investment will be should someone invest. Most importantly, the business plan needs to be grammatically correct and have no spelling errors.

3. Have your business plan vetted and reviewed by experts in the field.
You need to take the time to have someone in your field read your business plan. Possibly a trusted colleague or a subject matter expert/reviewer/editor can help you with noticing the little things that are missing. These people can also help find areas of weakness in your business plan. With investors, you often have one opportunity to impress. Make sure that you put your best and most developed idea forward. In the business plan, it is important to point out how much you are investing of your own money into the idea.

4. Valuation is important.
Spend time thinking about the valuation and show that you did some real work on the projections. Find a banker or investor who might give you some time and help you develop the corporate valuation.

5. Develop a slide show.
To go along with your business plan you will need a slide deck that puts your business plan into pictures, graphs, text, and images that people can review. Many people are visual. Reading a long business plan may not be the first choice some individuals. Give them a slide show that they can scroll through and begin to “see” your idea.

6. Have your marketing plan developed and ready to show.
The success of many businesses comes with the marketing plan. It may seem like having your marketing plan all developed is not going to help you gain investment, but the truth is that investors will be far more impressed if you can show them the details of how you plan to make money on your idea and their investment.
Consider having flyers, a short video, and other items that will help you market to your target demographic. It is important to note that by developing your marketing, you will be able to fine-tune the demographic most likely to purchase your product or idea. Make sure to have all the documents, videos, and flyers proofread by multiple people. Nothing ruins a good marketing plan more than having bad grammar, typos, and spelling errors.

7. Invest your own money in the venture.
Invest at least a few thousand dollars in your new business. If you are not willing to invest, why will someone else want to loan you money? The capital investment you put in represents a material percentage of your net wealth and shows that you are dedicated to the success of the project.
Many entrepreneurs tell everyone about the sweat equity they are putting into the business. The truth is that everyone starting a new business is putting this type of effort in and potential investors expect this effort.

8. Have a working prototype available.
Investors do not want to take on product-development risk. If your idea is fabulous, they may take this risk but they will likely want a larger portion of your company. Have a working prototype available for review. A working prototype shows the investor that the development and proof-of-concept risk is mitigated.

9. Acquire Investment first from “friends and family.”
Many investors want to see that you have raised money from friends and family because it validates that people who know you think you are capable of making this idea come to life. How much should you seek from friends and family? This depends on your idea but $25,000 to $50,000 is a good sign that you are seen as capable and competent by family and friends.

10. Generate revenue.
This is a difficult task but very important. The company does not need to be making millions in the first month but a small amount of revenue will show that you have a good marketing plan and your idea is moving forward.

On a final note, raising capital is challenging and time consuming. If you take these ten steps, you will be better prepared to be a success in the capital investment round of funding.