By Rickey Miller
Being your own boss can be a tough job. It can be even more challenging when you are the boss and a student, but fortunately there are some students who seem to manage. DIG caught up with five exceptional students who have started their own businesses all while balancing a demanding scholastic schedule.
Twenty-three-year-old marketing major Sean Byrant has quickly become one of the most successful young entrepreneurs in Louisiana. His business, Absolute LED Solution, is something he can truly be proud to call his own. Byrant, who is now a senior at LSU, says that he began his business straight out of high school.
“It was actually something I just started doing on the side to make some extra money,” said Byrant. “It kind of got sparked when my mom was a student at UNO [University of New Orleans] and she had to make a website for one of her classes; so I said well I can make a website for this little small business I’m doing right now. So that’s kind of how I got my first website.”
After Bryant created his website, he says that he begin putting products on the website that customers would be able to purchase and it wasn’t long before his business took off full speed.
“Before I knew it a lot of people were buying my products,” he said.
Bryant says the first summer after creating his business he made $58,000.
“That’s when I realized, maybe I am not going to college to get a job, maybe I’m going to college to take things and apply them to what I’m already doing and make this a career,” he says.
He furthers his statement by explaining that halfway through his career as a student at LSU he realized that he didn’t want to get a job somewhere else but rather focus on his business.
“Things have tripled every year since,” he said.
He continues by explaining what his business has to offer.
“It actually starts from residential and goes to commercial,” he said. “So we sell things from simple light bulbs that you would put in a lamp, all the way up to lights you would see at a stadium – like Tiger Stadium. We have a lot of variety. We sell lights for your business, we sell boat lighting; we try to cover all ground. The only thing we don’t cover is automotive lighting but we just recently got into marine lighting.”
When it comes to his education, Bryant says that a lot of the classes he has taken at LSU have really helped him in his business, especially his marketing classes.
“Some of the finance classes kind of made me cut back on some things,” he said.
Once Bryant graduates, in less than two weeks, he plans on taking his business to the next level.
“In the past I’ve really focused online, just trying to be an e-commerce store; when I get back I’m really going to focus on the global market trying to like push my business to contractors, electricians, interior designers, architects, you know people that actually go out in the field,” he said.
Bryant says one of the biggest challenges is also being a student.
“It’s hard. Every day when I leave school I head straight to New Orleans to take care of everything and then drive back to Baton Rouge.”
Bryant has an office in Harahan, Louisiana and a company warehouse in Metairie, Louisiana. He says he is looking forward to focusing more on the local market once he graduates.
“I want to do those type of cool lighting that you see on hotels; where one night you pass by and the entire hotel is blue from the lights,” he said. “That’s the kind of cool things we like to do, so I’m looking forward to getting more into that.”
Bryant’s hard work and dedication to his business are paying off in a very big way.
“I got my first camera, my first DSLR, when I was in 7th grade,” she said. “I just kind of started from there doing photo-shoots for my friends and then once I was a sophomore people started offering me money to take their photos and I thought ‘Why didn’t I think of this sooner?’” I had always taken photos but not really charged until then.”
LaGrange explains that the one thing she loves about her business is she has the opportunity to meet people, learn their background, and create art that reflects them and their personalities.
“I try not to plan my shoots. I go in, learn a little about the person, and then based on what their personality – I create something that will reflect them,” she said.
She says that social media and word of mouth are her two main forms of marketing to her potential customers. She says that she has even created a senior rep program that has allowed her to expose her business to a greater market.
“I will do one senior from each high school photos for free and in return they will get their business cards personalized and hand those out to their friends and say—‘Hey this girl is awesome, you should get her to take your pictures. Here’s some of the picture that she did and you should totally go for her,’” she said.
She says that her program has been a success thus far and has really gained her a lot of business. However, LaGrange says when it comes to school and working it’s hard finding time to balance.
“I don’t really have a schedule, I just try to do my school work whenever I get the chance and keep my schedule as open as possible. And editing takes so long so I have to just section off time to do that,” she said.
LaGrange says she looks up to her grandfather when it comes to business.
“He is so successful in every way,” she said. “He really values relationships, which I think is great and it really relates to photography. People want photos of things that are important to them and their relationship – whether it’s their kids, their dog, or them getting engaged, they really value those relationships. So I think he has taught me to put value in that and that’s helped me a lot in capturing those portraits.”
Her advice to other students who are thinking about starting their own business is “try it, but don’t be reckless about it.”
“Definitely have some kind of business plan and definitely think about marketing that’s one of the biggest keys,” she said.
Emily Ray began her jewelry line in September 2014. Since then, Emily Ray’s jewelry has become a hot commodity and can be found in four local boutiques like Hemline (Corporate and Highland locations), Head Over Heels and LD Linens and Décor. Rixen Jewelry can also be found in six other boutiques ranging from North Carolina to Texas.
“My jewelry can be found all across the South, really,” she says.
Rexin Jewelry is best known for its dainty, small, and unique look.
“My chokers are my best-sellers,” she said. “You can like layer the pieces. They are just really great pieces to have. They go with almost any outfit or look.”
The 23-year-old interdisciplinary studies senior explains her business began with a spark to create affordable pieces.
“Well, I started my business because I was sick of being obsessed with jewelry that I couldn’t afford and that was just so overpriced – prices that were just ridiculous. I wanted people to be able to afford pieces that were quality, handmade, beautiful, not going to break, not cheap, and worth the money that you’re going to spend on it. And my mom used to make jewelry when I was little… so those two things is what really sparked my interest,” she said.
Ray explains that is wasn’t long before she was receiving so many jewelry requests that she had to turn some down.
“I still receive a lot of requests that I have to turn away because I don’t have the time to do them with school,” she says.
She explains that one of the most challenging parts of being a student and a business owner is finding time.
“It’s just so much work sometimes, but it’s worth it.”
Ray says she has several collections, her latest being Solstice – which she says is her favorite collections by far.
“It’s definitely one of the more edgy collections I’ve done. It’s a lot of spikes, a lot of chokers, dark colors, very wintery.”
When asked what inspires her designs, Ray replied it’s all in the puzzle pieces.
“I use mostly gemstones, and the stones just inspire every piece — they do the work for me, it’s really easy pretty much,” she said. “I do all my pieces in gold, I never use silver…so the gold mixed with the gemstones just makes really pretty, creative pieces.”
Ray offers advice to other students or individuals who may be looking to start their own business.
“You have to make a product that is unique. Create something that sets your product apart from everyone else and do something you love,” she said. “There are a ton of critics but you have to believe in yourself and in your product.”
Ray graduates in May 2016 and says she would like to really focus on her business once she graduates by expanding it more and being able to take more requests and orders.
Real Good Baked Goods
“I’ve always loved baking and in the back of my mind I always thought maybe I could eventually turn baking into a business but maybe when I was older,” she said. “But my sorority had Big/Little Week and I baked some decorated cookies and offered them to my sisters to see if anyone wanted to buy any and they sold out within an hour and so many girls were like you should start a business and I was like ‘ok, it’s time.’”
Willis is 20-years-old and is a mass communications major at LSU, concentrating in Public Relations with a minor in Business. A native of Baton Rouge, her business is completely brand new, beginning this past November.
“I’m excited because in the next two weeks I already have like four events I’m baking for,” she said. “So I just started but business has picked up real quick.”
Willis says that so far her biggest struggle has been not having a big kitchen to use. “I live in my sorority house so I don’t have my own kitchen. So I have to drive across town to my parents to use their kitchen.”
She also says because of her newly created business she is only focusing on perfecting her craft at baking cookies.
“I’ve been perfecting my recipes, trying to make sure it lives up to its name – Real Good Baked Goods…so I just want to focus on perfecting that first then eventually move into like small cakes and cupcakes,” she said.
Willis says time is probably one of the biggest challenges she faces when it comes to owning her own baked goods business. She explains that with all the extracurricular activities she is involved in she struggles finding time to do everything.
However, Willis says the most exciting part of owning her own business is just the possibilities of where it can potentially go.
“For instance, I just got my first big order and I was so excited to tell everybody,” she says.
She says most of her inspiration comes from her following bakers’ blogs and Instagram pages but she really looks up to her parents who are both successful.
“My stepdad owns his own business,” she said. “They are my investors and my mentors.”
In the next two months, Willis plans on giving back. She says in the upcoming months she will have a program where bi-monthly she gives back 15 percent of proceeds on pre-designed cookies to local charities.
Willis is in the process of creating her website and Facebook page but her yummy business can be found on Instagram.
From business consulting to personal consulting, Ashley Monaghan is the go-to-person. A junior at LSU, majoring in Public Relations with a minor in Graphic Design, Monaghan explains that consulting originally started as a hobby and turned into something that she really enjoyed and decided to make a profit from.
“Throughout knowing people that have started their own businesses, I would talk to them about what they wanted to do – how they wanted to see their business grow,” she said. “I eventually begin getting recognition for it and people coming to me for advice about business or like ‘what classes should I take’ or ‘oh, you’re doing this how can I get involved in that.’ So, I was talking to a lot of different young people about their future and what they wanted to do, and how they could craft certain things into their business or job and through that I kind of learned you can make a business out of it.”
She continues by saying she was also inspired by a lot of consultants and life coaches she would see on the Internet. However, she says one thing she noticed is that those consultants and life coaches were only targeting adults age 30+.
“I begin thinking, ‘how can I turn this information into something useful that a young person my age could take and apply,’” she says.
Monaghan says she discovered that she loves helping people build their business, especially on a digital front.
“Most of my consulting in the real world has to do with businesses. I do marketing and social media consulting, usually regarding like a brand’s visual like their Instagram and other forms of social media and how to make that more consistent, and like creating and helping them come up with campaign concepts, email marketing, content and things like that. So a lot of content grounded work,” she said.
She furthers her statement by saying she really enjoys working with young people because she is able to help their small businesses and guide them in the direction in making their businesses more successful.
“I love working with young people and students, which eventually led me to write [the e-booklet] Get Your Shit Together,” she said.
Monaghan continues by explaining that this booklet offers college students sort of a mentor opportunity where she helps students create business cards, cover letters, and talk to them about their career goals.
“It’s more like life coaching. I talk to students about how to reach those career goals they have. So, that’s kind of the other part to the type of consulting that I do.”
Monaghan has worked with many companies including jewelry & home-goods company, ETCH. Ashley says most of her consulting involves businesses in the fashion/apparel industry but she hopes to gain more student clienteles for those who are maybe looking for advice on career choices or making decisions about school-related issues.
Monaghan offers students who may be thinking about going into any type of business some advice on making it successful.
“Researching is most important. Take what you learn from other people and apply it to your own situations or business,” she said. “Yea, research A LOT!”