It was a good job for a 13-year-old. I could make them in my free time around my school schedule and the pay was much better than the 75-cents-an-hour paid to teenage babysitters back in the day.
After my stint as a macramé artist, I went on to teach private swimming lessons both in my parents’ backyard pool and at the homes of my customers. It, too, was a well-paying job and definitely fueled my entrepreneurial leanings well before I finished high school.
My children have expressed entrepreneurial tendencies as teens and we have encouraged them. During her high school years, my oldest started a housecleaning business with two of her closest friends so they could earn money for a school trip to Washington D.C. They ended up keeping their business until they all went away to college. My son took a different entrepreneurial route, first selling snacks to his classmates to earn the money to buy his first laptop (also earning him the nickname “the Poptart King”), and then later fixing computers for friends and neighbors. He’s now well on his way to a computer degree and a career in the tech industry. I have no doubt that he will run his own computer company someday.
The job market, even for teens, is tough these days. Many teens have a desire for income of their own, whether it’s to help the family, save for a college or simply fund their teenage lifestyle. With many traditional teen-age jobs being taken by unemployed adults, it can be almost impossible to find a job, especially if it’s a summer job or there are school schedules to be considered.
Encouraging teens to take their skills and create their own jobs is an excellent alternative to a part-time job in a fast-food restaurant or as a stock clerk at the market. So how do you help your teen find a way to explore entrepreneurship?
Encourage teens to develop their talents and to look for ways to monetize those talents.
I learned to macramé in seventh-grade art class. I learned because it was a school assignment and financial gain never crossed my mind. But it turned out to be something I was good at and when a friend of my parents saw my handiwork, I was offered a commission, which turned into more and created a nice income one summer–and beyond. During that summer, I learned how to value my time, how to price my work and how to calculate the cost of goods. All important lessons in any business field.
My oldest daughter took piano lessons from a high-school student at our church. It was an excellent fit for both of them. My daughter wanted piano lessons that we couldn’t afford from the local music school and her teacher was not only an exceptional musician, but was looking for experience as she prepared to study music in college.
If your teens show an interest in entrepreneurship, help them to explore their talents and how they might use them to make money. Do they sew? Are they good at yard work or gardening? Are they ace housecleaners? Do they have a musical talent? This list could go on all day. For every talent, there is an opportunity to become an entrepreneur.
Allow teens to take reasonable risk.
Should your teen cash in his college savings to fund his lemonade stand? It’s not something I recommend. But most entrepreneurial ventures do require some kind of start-up capital, whether to purchase supplies or to advertise the business. Teach your teen and help them to make an appropriate investment, whether it is for photocopied advertising flyers to distribute around the neighborhood or their initial inventory of snacks for schoolmates.
Teach teens business principles.
Since this may be your teen’s first venture into the world of work, they are going to need some guidance and help to learn to be a good entrepreneur. They may need help with realistic expectations, both of what their business can earn and with what they can do. One of the problems many new entrepreneurs have is biting off more than they can chew—overpromising and under delivering. Help your teen learn how to accurately calculate the time needed for a project and how much time they will need to devote to their business for it to be profitable. They may also need help learning basic marketing, bookkeeping and customer-service skills.
Teach teens integrity.
To me, this is the most important thing for teens to take away from their entrepreneurial adventure. Teach them to conduct themselves with integrity. This means having realistic expectations (we all know about the exuberance of youth), but also dealing honestly with customers and suppliers (and investors, if mom and dad are helping fund this venture), keeping accurate records, keeping promises and conducting themselves maturely. These skills will serve them well no matter what road they take in life.
Encouraging teens to be entrepreneurs can give them great insight into finding their career path. It can also help them develop leadership skills and empower them for success.
What has your experience with youthful entrepreneurship been? Were you a teen entrepreneur or do you have any at your house? What advice would you give a teen-age entrepreneur?