We’ve all heard the stories of kids starting businesses at young ages. It’s a tempting scenario: Your child develops a passion for something, turns it into a business, and before you know it, they’re supporting you in your not-so-old age.
It doesn’t always happen quite that way, but the number of young entrepreneurs is rising, and more of them are more visible than ever. And many ultra-successful business people started young.
Here are some tips if your child wants to start a business:
The idea for the business should be theirs, not yours. Nothing shuts a kid down faster than being told what to do, so let your child come up with their idea. Then support and encourage them, being the voice of reason when necessary.
- Stoke their passion. If there’s one thing kids have in abundance, it’s passion, and that’s how most kid-run businesses get started. Encourage their passion, but direct it in such a way that it’s productive.
- Don’t let them cut corners. Just because your budding entrepreneur is not yet old enough to vote, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to follow the rules. Make sure they get the necessary permits for their business, pay their taxes, and protect themselves with small business insurance. But be smart; obviously, there’s a big difference between running a lemonade stand and running a thriving startup. Use common sense to gauge what’s appropriate for your child’s business.
- Be supportive, but don’t be a crutch. If your child is going to be an entrepreneur, he/she needs to do the work—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t gloss over the difficult parts, like managing the money or dealing with dissatisfied customers. If you only let your child do the ‘fun’ parts, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise as they move toward managing the business on their own.
- Let your child make the decisions. You can certainly point out things they should be thinking about, and help them evaluate the pros and cons when they’re faced with a dilemma. But the final decision should be theirs. One caveat: if your money is at stake, you can certainly veto an bad choice to protect your investment. This is a business lesson, too.
- Share your knowledge and experience. If you’re a business owner yourself, tell your child what you learned and what you would do differently if you had it to do over again. Then, stand back, and let them use that information the way they see fit.
- If it goes well, don’t let them become complacent. Mark Cuban and his wife make an effort to make sure their children are not raised with a sense of entitlement – not an easy task when you’re a billionaire. But Cuban recognizes that being hungry is an important part of starting and running a successful business, and he wants to pass that trait on to his children.
How some of the greatest entrepreneurs got started
Billionaire investor and Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffet made his first investment when he was 11 years old. At age 13, he sold newspapers and published a horse racing tip sheet. He claimed his bicycle as a business expense on his first tax return.
Mark Cuban, technology entrepreneur, and billionaire sold garbage bags at 12 years old, so he could buy a pair of basketball shoes that were too expensive for his parents to justify. When they told him he would have to earn the money for the shoes himself, it’s doubtful they knew what they had started.
Some of today’s young entrepreneurs to watch
These two young entrepreneurs started out on their own, but with encouragement and mentoring from the adults in their lives, they’ve built businesses that are the envy of innovators three times their age.
Mikaila Ulmer started Me & the Bees Lemonade when her parents encouraged her to enter a business contest at age four (four!) As she was trying to come up with an idea, she got stung by a bee – twice! This got her thinking about bees, and she learned how they affect the ecosystem. Then, her great-grandmother sent her a cookbook which included her recipe for homemade lemonade made with flaxseed. Mikaila got thinking about honey and lemonade, and her recipe for Me & the Bees Lemonade was born. Now 11 years old, Mikaila sells her lemonade through Whole Foods Market and many other locations.
Moziah Bridges started his bow tie business, Mo’s Bows, by trading his handmade bow ties for rocks on the school playground. When he was nine, he realized that cash was more valuable than rocks, and with the help of his seamstress grandmother, he started selling his ties online. Now 14, Moziah is the CEO of Mo’s Bows. He was the fashion correspondent for the 2015 NBA draft and has been to the White House, where he presented President Obama with a custom-made ‘Obama blue’ bow tie.
If you’re the type of parent who believes that their child can change the world, there’s no reason for them to wait until they’re 18 or 21. With some guidance and help from you, they could join the ranks of teenage—or younger—entrepreneurs.