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How To Encourage Your Teens Who Wants To Start Their Own Business

At age 13, Microsoft mogul Bill Gates started programming computers. Now he's one of the richest individuals in the world, and Microsoft employs more than 32,000 people.

Does your child yearn to start a business? Kids don't have to flip burgers for someone else or wait until age 16 to earn extra spending money. Even preteen entrepreneurs can work for themselves.

"My friends and I were bored with watching TV and wanted to make some extra money," says 12-year-old Carrisa Barcon of Arizona. Barcon started a babysitting club with five friends.

Eleven-year-old Jacob McLaws of Utah wanted to save up money for a California surfing trip, so he opened a weeding business. "Jacob was weeding for me one day and he said, 'I bet people would pay me to do this,'" says his mother, Chris McLaws. "I agreed." She's proud of her son's initiative but wasn't surprised that he wanted to start his own business. "Jacob's dad is always thinking up new things to do," she says. "My husband started his own Internet company last year so Jacob was familiar with this."

Choosing a Business

How can you help your child decide which business to start? "Look around and find something your kid likes to do," Barcon says. "My friends and I like kids and we had free time so we decided on a babysitting business." Some ideas for young entrepreneurs are:

  • babysitting
  • weeding
  • lawn care
  • raking leaves
  • tutoring
  • pet-walking or washing
  • newspaper delivery
  • snow shoveling
  • car washing
  • doggie duty (cleaning up waste)

Seventeen-year-old Michael Stahl mowed lawns before opening a dot.com business. "I [decided to] start ... an employment Web site for high school and college students, with a focus not only on finding students jobs but educating them about the hiring process and being extremely community-oriented," he says. His Web site evolved into the 4Teens Network LLC, with multiple educationally-focused Web sites.

How did Stahl come up with his business idea? "There is a 10 percent unemployment rate for youth and that number climbs to 29 percent for black youth," he says. "Students need a simple, convenient outlet to find employment. We provide that."

To spark a business idea for your child, look around and spot a need in your community like Stahl did, or sit down and discuss your child's likes and dislikes.

The Secret to Success

Stahl credits his parents with helping him succeed. "My parents have been extremely supportive in everything I do," he says. "They work hard every day to give me the opportunities to pursue interesting and creative endeavors."

Stahl's parents allowed him to take a year and chase his dream without requiring him to make a profit. They encouraged him to write his book, a project that took three years. "They supported that and that means a lot to me," he says.

You can nurture your child's dream by asking questions to help form a business plan. Which hours is your child willing to work? Would weekends be best, or one night per week after school? Help kids decide on an hourly rate or flat rate per job, such as $15 to mow a lawn. If your child isn't driving, help her find a way to get to and from work. McLaws rides his bike to jobs that are too far away for walking, or sometimes his mother drops him off. "Students need to be supplemented by adult help but not too much help so as to squelch their creativity," Stahl says.

Don't forget to publicize the new business. Barcon's babysitting club asked a parent to help design flyers, which the 12-year-olds posted in stores and group mail delivery areas. The club also prospered by word-of-mouth referrals. "My mom helped me make flyers and I delivered them door-to-door," says Jacob McLaws.

Chris McLaws feels that her son has benefited from starting his own business. "It gives him a sense of accomplishment and he's doing something constructive and helping people instead of watching television or getting bored," she says.

Learning Life Skills

Barcon is even learning some crucial negotiating skills. While it's fun to work with friends, she admits that problems do come up. But a little communication and compromise solve them. For example, when the club's first customer specifically asked Barcon to baby-sit, the girls drew a name out of a hat as they had agreed to do. "We talked about it and decided if someone requests a specific name and that person is available, that girl gets the job," says Barcon.

Stahl often speaks to students, teachers and parents about the lessons learned through entrepreneurship, such as motivation, drive, persistence, confidence, speaking skills and the ability to persuade. He feels entrepreneurial skills are useful in all parts of life and failure should be met with ambition.

"Many times even the most successful business people failed at one venture or another," he says. "If [kids] have the true entrepreneurial drive, keep at it again and again."

To enhance your child's chance of start-up success, Stahl advises performing in-depth research on business concepts, markets and business models. This can be complex or simple depending on the business and the age of the entrepreneur. Jacob McLaws simply looked around his neighborhood, saw busy families with weedy yards and now he's well on his way to a surfing vacation.

So talk with your young entrepreneur, encourage the business ideas they have and help work out details. You could be grooming the next Bill Gates.

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