Entrepreneurs are made, not born. Learning how to think about work this way can (and should) start at an early age. To get your children to begin thinking like entrepreneurs, just pick a classic “kid job”—and give it an entrepreneurial twist.
Kids have always worked. They’ve raked leaves, washed cars, and supervised children while Mom and Dad go out on dates. There’s only one problem, says Gregory Downing: While these typical kid jobs do result in a bit of pocket cash, they do very little to teach kids the all-important principles of entrepreneurial wealth building.
Directly trading your time for money is very limiting. This has always been true, of course, but when prices are skyrocketing and “good” jobs are scarce, it’s an even more critical lesson for kids to learn.
The old path to success—get good grades, go to college, get a good job, work hard for 40 years, and retire comfortably—may no longer be enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Multiple streams of income will be necessary (I stress the importance of having all three types: earned, passive, and portfolio) and kids need to get their minds around this reality now.
Kids need to learn how to think about working and building wealth in a profoundly different way. They need to see firsthand that the old paradigm of getting paid for your time is no longer adequate. The great news is that kids’ minds are open. They learn by doing. When you can help them experience the reality of entrepreneurship, they’ll embrace it.
The entrepreneurial mindset isn’t just about wealth building. It’s also about finding fresh solutions to problems no one has ever thought to solve, figuring out how what you offer can be applied to new markets, and teaming up with other people in such a way that everyone wins. It is about learning to build teams and learning to manage profitability.
There are plenty of ways for kids to earn money that demonstrate the principles of entrepreneurship. In fact, parents can help them put an entrepreneurial twist on classic childhood jobs—or at least take their earning potential to a higher level. Here are ten ideas to help you get started:
The Tutoring Source (and Babysitting Broker). School is back in session and, as always, there will be plenty of students who need a little extra help to thrive academically. Perhaps your child can provide that help. But rather than being just another service provider in a crowded market, why not suggest she be the front person? She might create a database of qualified locals and book appointments for her subcontractors. She can charge $10/hour for the services, and pay each of her contractors $8/hour. The same principle can work for babysitting.
This is great management experience and really illustrates the magic of passive income. On any given afternoon, she might be earning money from four or five or even more tutoring jobs. Meanwhile, she can be enjoying a fun extracurricular activity or perhaps earning even more money by holding a tutoring session of her own.
The Thriving Cider Stand. The lemonade stand is a classic childhood business. And just because summer is over doesn’t mean your kids have to close up shop. As the weekends get cooler and the leaves begin to change, they can simply switch over to, say, hot apple cider. No matter what they’re selling, the refreshment stand can teach many valuable lessons.
Kids can learn about profit by buying their own ingredients and doing their own marketing. They can shop around for better pricing, learn the benefits of buying in bulk, or negotiate with a local grocer for a better deal on repeat business. They can differentiate themselves by holding “buy two cups get one free” sales or throwing in a free cinnamon sugar cookie with each purchase.
Want to kick it up a notch? Let’s say there’s more than one hot spot in the neighborhood for set-up. You can guide your child through “franchising” by forming a partnership with other neighborhood kids. He can provide the supplies and set-up, and they get paid for managing the table.
At some point your child may find out franchisees aren’t doing what they are supposed to do (giving away drinks to friends or leaving their stand unattended, for example). This is a chance to walk him through the tough conversation he must have. You might even brainstorm ways to stop the problem—say, by giving kids a cut of the profits instead of paying a flat salary.
The Dog Days of Entrepreneurship (Dog Walking). Taking Fido for a walk every day is a good way for kids to make a little extra money. (This is especially true in the cooler months as the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler and people are unable—or just unwilling—to venture out in the evenings.) Add two or three more canine clients to the mix and it becomes a great learning experience in multitasking and client management.
Help your child set up a client database to keep track of client contact information, schedules, payments due and received, and any special requests or needs. Help her learn to gauge her own limits. Once she feels she’s at the outer edge of her ability to serve clients well, it’s time to stop accepting new clients or to bring on a partner or employee.
Taking this business to the next level can be easy and fun. Your child might offer every tenth walk free. Or, she might throw in a free dog washing with every new contract. Likewise, there are good opportunities to “spoke off” a whole new service: If she does a great job as a dog walker, she might offer her clients pet sitting services.
The Savvy House Sitter. Being given the keys to someone’s house, and perhaps the temporary custody of a beloved pet, is an honor. Explain to kids just how much trust clients are placing in them—and explain that if they go “above and beyond” they can shore up the relationship in a big way (not to mention generate enthusiastic referrals).
For sure, kids need to clean up any pet messes or spills, water the plants, check the mail, and take out the trash on trash day. That’s just basic good service. But they might also offer to tackle other projects for a small extra fee: scrubbing bathrooms, washing cars, mowing the yard, or organizing photos.
The Music Moneymaker. If you have a child who is musical, perhaps a skilled pianist or budding violinist, he might offer his talents at weddings, birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, and the like. Help him get his business off the ground by developing business cards and fliers or perhaps a simple website that includes a video or audio sample of his work. Above all, tell him to make sure he is never, ever less than 100 percent professional and accommodating—people’s special events are precious to them and most will not hire anyone without a glowing referral. Be referable!
Once your child has a handful of successful weddings and parties under his belt, he might move on to offering his talents at corporate functions. While this may seem a daunting prospect, it will give him a valuable look at how the business world operates. (Many business professionals will appreciate the courage and initiative he shows by asking and may very well give him a chance!)
The Birthday Party Business. Putting together a great party is a lot of work for busy parents, between buying supplies, sending out invites, and managing activities during the party itself. By offering to help execute all the exhausting details (from following up with non-RSVPers to dishing out the ice cream), your child can free up frenzied parents to just enjoy the big day with their child and 20 of his or her closest friends.
To get the business rolling, she might call neighbors and family friends who have small children and explain her services to them. (Yes, it’s daunting, but it will be a great lesson for your child in the value of picking up the phone.) She can offer a discount or free trial for the first customer or two and let referrals and word of mouth take it from there.
When your child is ready to take the business to the next level, she can offer to paint faces, make balloon animals, or do the pedicures and manicures at the sleepover. And as the business grows in popularity (or the parties grow in size), she can start putting together her own power team and learn to manage others.
The Gumball Machine Maestro. This is a great way to teach kids about passive income as well as help them polish other critical business skills. Setting up a gumball machine requires developing a nose for a great location and knowing the demands of a particular demographic. (Obviously, a gumball machine at a high-end restaurant won’t do as well as one placed in the lobby of a kid-friendly diner!) It also will require diligent maintenance: refilling the machine, keeping it clean, making sure the mechanism works, and best of all, collecting the money.
The hardest part may be convincing the owner of the property to let him put his gumball machine there. (It would be a tough task for most adults!) He may need to experiment with different tactics: Offer the store owner a flat fee? Offer her a percentage of the profits? Promise a cut to the owner’s favorite charity? He’ll quickly find his stride and start to develop serious negotiation skills that will serve him well in the future.
The Bead Business Wizard. Designing and creating bracelets and necklaces to sell teaches kids to manage inventory and pay attention to the trends so that their product can stay new and interesting. Are more bracelets selling than necklaces? Are bright colors selling better than pastels? Is there an unmet market niche selling jewelry to boys, and might your child be able to come up with some cool designs that appeal to them?
This might also be a chance to learn about business philanthropy. Help kids devise a campaign for selling the jewelry so that part of the proceeds goes to a charity of their choice. Perhaps the bracelet designs could coordinate with the colors of a particular charity. If the business really takes off, your kids might hire others to make the bracelets and expand their operation.
The Brainy Bake Sale or Smart Car Wash. These events are classic fundraisers but they tend to be indistinguishable from one another. Encourage your child to think differently about the one he oversees. Teach him about the value of pricing goods and services competitively: Just because he’s charging more doesn’t mean he’ll make good money—especially when a less expensive car wash event is happening in another part of town.
You might help your child conduct market research by visiting other area sales. See what others are doing in the way of advertising. Help him devise a marketing strategy (using social media where age-appropriate), draw up a flier, visit local businesses and ask to advertise, and so forth.
The Next-Level Landscaper. Your child might offer “free samples” of his work around the neighborhood in an effort to expand his business. He might work up a flier that offers a free service—for one leaf raking, weed pulling, or yard trimming (even better if you make the bonus something you’ve noticed a particular yard really needs).
Does he own a lot of equipment? He might rent it out when he’s on vacation or away at camp. He can arrange for a friend to keep up with yards while he’s away: This will keep customers happy and give the friend an opportunity to earn a little extra money on the side.
Worried that this level of entrepreneurial thinking is over your kids’ heads? You might be surprised.
Kids are generally open to new approaches and new ways of thinking. Their minds haven’t become “programmed” like those of adults, so they don’t have to do a lot of unlearning old, outdated ideas. They’re creative and fearless and they realize this way of thinking makes sense.
Frankly, it’s the parents who struggle with the entrepreneurial mindset. I always say that the toughest part of the journey takes place in the mind. But it’s absolutely crucial that you take the first step, right alongside your child. Both of you can learn together. Your family’s future depends on it.
Gregory S. Downing is a nationally known author, speaker, family expert and organizational consultant with over 20 years of experience in management, leadership, training and business ownership. His latest book is entitled Entrepreneur Unleashed. To learn more, visit GregoryDowning.com.