Matt's Grand Ideas

Yes, a teenager can start a business. Here’s why you should.

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I often get asked by teens and parents for ideas for jobs. I always answer, “you should start a business.” Usually I’ll include suggestions based on what I know about the person who is looking for work. In my opinion, there is no better time in life to start a business than as a teen.

Why? You may ask? Well, here are a few reasons:

  1. No one is as risk tolerant as a teen
  2. Few people are as undervalued
  3. Learning to fail (aka trial and error) is one of the most important lessons you can learn and it’s better to learn it when you are young and the stakes are low
  4. You can make way more than minimum wage and you’ll more likely be doing work you enjoy

I could prattle off a few more reasons, but let’s dig into these.

Teens are risk tolerant

To put it frankly, as a teen, you have nothing to lose. You’re supported by your parents and just need the money to achieve your goals, wither it be buying a car, saving for college, or pocket money. There is nobody counting on you to “bring home the bacon” and you’re not going to get evicted or have the utilities shut off.

Every adult in the world wishes to be in your situation. Essentially, this means that you can afford to do whatever you like for work, if you can just convince someone to pay you to do it. (← that is essentially what it means to start a business – convincing someone to pay you for work)

You may think you have a busy life, and no doubt you do, but you will never have as much free time in life as you do now, until you retire in about 40 years. You’re main job is to learn skills that will help you succeed later in life (when people are counting on you).

Teens are way undervalued and underutilized

There is a concept of the experience vicious cycle. This means that, to get a good job, you need experience, but in order to get experience, you need a job, but nobody wants to hire you because you don’t have experience! It stinks.

The only places that tend to hire teens are the lowest of the low-wage paying businesses. And in many of these cases, they’re possibly being generous even to pay minimum wage. As I’m writing this, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. To put this in perspective, if both the mom and dad in a family of four worked minimum wage full-time they’d barely be above poverty.

A manager in Iowa as of 2012 averaged $41 /hour, a computer pro made $33, an artist or designer made $27/hr, a sales person made about $26/hour, and an executive (i.e. business owner, president, etc) made over $75/hour.

On one hand, I can see why, as a teen, you might get excited about making $8/hour, but on the other hand, wow, it’s hard for me to get excited about such a low wage.

What do teenagers have to offer? Creativity, energy, fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, a willingness to try new things and, often, a thirst to learn. These are incredibly valuable assets that most businesses wish more of their employees had.

Why do businesses pay teens so little? For one, they tend to be less reliable, have difficult schedules and, to be frank, learning involves lots of mistakes and failures, and usually it is the business who pays the cost of those failures.

Because of these risks, businesses place teens in the lowest of menial roles. Breaking down boxes, washing dishes, carrying groceries and collecting carts. Jobs that leverage exactly zero of the strengths teens can offer.

Failure is a critical part of learning

Starting a business, wither its your first or your fiftieth, is a lesson in failure. In the startup world there is a respected concept called the pivot. What this means is, your idea didn’t work, so now you’re going to try something else. In other words, you’re taking your idea in a new direction (pivoting).

Rarely does a business idea work out the way you intend. You get new information, you learn from your customers (or, more likely, the people who decide not to be your customer), you enhance your ideas. People will say, “hey, that’s a good idea, but what I really need is ____.” So you think deeply about pursuing that.

Sometimes you’ll lose a customer or sale because you’re not organized enough. Or maybe your communication skills need some improvement OMG LOL! Or you were just a little optimistic on your deadline, and instead of two weeks it took six. Woops, you’ll need to get better at that.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, learns lessons like these the hard way. If the startup thing isn’t you’re cup of tea, having learned them on your own makes you more valuable. This is the kind of experience companies look for.

What I’m saying is, you need to learn these things, and it’s way better to learn them earlier, when the stakes are lower, than later in life, when people (like your children) depend on you.

There’s a lot more money to be made

Here are a couple business ideas a teenager can do with some potential income:

  • Selling stock photos and artwork – $300/mo (after you ramp up) residual income, which means you keep making money, even if you don’t do any work (but I know of some who make $10k passive income per month)
  • Computer services – social media marketing $500+/mo, designing websites or blogs $600+/mo, mobile app development $600+/mo (I’ve met people who make $thousands per day off of app revenue)
  • Training, tutoring and coaching – $400/mo (experienced coaches and speakers make at least $1k per day)

In each of these cases, the consequences of failure are very low. If you take on a computer service project and fail miserably, you don’t get any money. Compare that to baby sitting where someone is literally trusting you with their children’s lives.

Also, in each of these cases, I was trying to be a bit conservative on how much you make after you get going. You won’t make that much money in your first or second month (probably) but, after you’ve got some experience, it would be easy to far exceed these numbers.

I’ve conceived of a few ways I can continue this article into a series. If there’s something you’d like to know, please leave me a comment.

Web guy, big thinker, loves to talk, teach and write. I make technology easier to use @ John Deere ISG.

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